Category Archives: Scotland

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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Indyref 2 – keep it simple

As minds begin to focus on a possible second independence referendum, lots of voices are calling for us to learn the lessons from the last one. Not enough analysis has been done, some claim, to find out what went wrong in 2014. For what it is worth I am not sure that much went wrong and that moving the Yes vote from around 30 % to 45% would seem to indicate that we got a lot right.

There is also the danger that revisiting the past condemns you to fighting last year’s battles, when what you need to do is prepare for the next one. Indyref 2 will be very different from indyref 1. At least we should aim to make it very different.

For me, this means above all we must work to ensure that the key message is as simple as possible. We must at all costs avoid getting dragged down into the “so many (unanswered) questions about independence approach”. Dundee University even ran a programme of events entitled 5 million questions. Interesting to note that they did not attempt anything similar, say 65 million questions, with Brexit.

There are not that many questions, answered or unanswered about independence. The questions that do get asked, on the economy, pensions etc, are the stuff of daily politics in all countries, and have nothing per se, to do with independence.

The key message we must repeat, again and again and again, is that independence is  a question of democracy. The question is who gets to decide on the future of Scotland? Our answer is – the people who live in Scotland. That’s it. Pure and simple. Even our opponents recognise this is the strongest argument in favour of independence. Which is why they try to move the debate on to other matters. Something we must strenuously avoid.

Now I am pretty solidly convinced that a large majority of our fellow citizens already agree with this. They do want decisions about Scotland to be taken by the people who live here. Unfortunately a significant number remain unconvinced of the underlying strength of the Scottish economy. Which is not altogether surprising, when all the UK parties, and almost all of the media are constantly repeating that Scotland is too wee and too poor to be successful as an independent country.

Before indyref 2 we need to have changed this perception. It should not be too difficult. After all Scotland has all the fundamentals to be a sustainable and successful economy. But we need to find a way to convey this in simple, non technical terms. I tend to fall back on comparisons with other similar sized independent countries. Denmark for example is perhaps the closet country in terms of size, population and geographic location. When Unionists say that Scotland is too poor, we should always turn this round. We should constantly ask Unionists to provide the evidence as to why Scotland is not as economically sound and robust as Denmark? What is it that Denmark has that Scotland lacks? We need to move from the defensive and always try and force Unionists into justifying with evidence their claims.

In a nutshell this is my recommendation for preparing for indyref 2 – Keep it simple. Independence is about democracy and not about specific policies. Scotland has the resources, natural and human to be a successful economy. Force Unionists to provide evidence of the contrary.

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Scottish independence – a pragmatic choice?

The possibility that there might be another indy referendum sometime in the not too distant future has brought out again some of the arguments for independence.  In particular the prospect that to secure victory in the next referendum we will need to broaden our support to include more of the middle class has upset a few folk. That some financial industry types are beginning to talk up the prospect of Scottish independence seems to have really frightened a few more.

The reason for this is that for many, particularly on the left of the political spectrum, independence is seen as primarily, or often, solely as a pragmatic choice. At this moment in time independence offers the real prospect of advancing the interests of the working class and/or making Scotland a fairer and more equal society. But what if this were to change and these new middle class converts to independence were to dominate politics in an independent Scotland?

It is an interesting question, though I fail to see what it has to do with independence. No matter where you live if you want to build a fairer, more progressive economy and society you have to campaign for it and to persuade a majority of your fellow citizens to vote for parties committed to these policies.

Independence doesn’t change this. What it does change is the people you have to persuade and convince. With independence this becomes the people who live in Scotland. This is the whole point of independence, for any country. It is not and can never be about particular policies.

It does seem to me to be a bit strange to argue that the people of Scotland should be given the power to decide policies, but only for the next few years. If after, say ten/fifteen years the people of Scotland have failed to live up to my expectations I will – what? Campaign for Scotland to rejoin the UK? Campaign for Scotland to join Denmark or whatever other country is deemed to be at that particular moment suitably left wing/progressive?

The choice of voting for independence should never be a thing of the moment, a purely pragmatic decision. Independence is a choice for the long term, if not for ever. I wrote about this way back in 2012, which you can read here, and my conclusion then still stands today.

Scotland the country, Scotland the land has existed for centuries with its own distinctive customs and laws. It is on the basis of its continuing existence as a distinct entity – a state – that I support Scottish Independence. Let it be us – the people of Scotland, wherever we come from – who decide our future.

 

 

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Without Boris – some clarity, but more questions

Well, who saw that one coming? The rise and fall of Boris in just over a couple days. Boris must have an awful lot of enemies, both within and without the party for this to happen so quickly. From the words of Michael Gove and his wife, it seems that Boris was not reliably Brexit enough. After all Boris was always a bit of a reluctant Leaver, and his vision of a post Brexit UK sounded too close to the current position for many. Too many as it turned out.

The key divide, post Brexit, it seems to me, is between those who will reluctantly accept the result of the referendum, provided the UK stays in the Single Market, and those who want completely out. Without Boris it looks like the outers have won. All the four remaining candidates for the Tory leadership are committed to taking the UK out of the EU. Even Theresa May seems to have come down on the side of leaving the EU completely. The sticking point for her appears to have been the need to control immigration from the EU. Something that is incompatible with the Single Market.

This is potentially momentous. It does clear this aspect up quite considerably. The negotiations with the EU should be simpler, if not easier, and over sooner rather than later. Some arrangement will be needed to ensure access to the Single Market for goods, but it will be almost impossible to get more, access for services for example, without accepting the free movement of people. Which all the candidates have more or less ruled out.

This has made life a whole lot trickier for lots of people, including Scotland’s attempts to remain in the Single Market, let alone the EU. But not just Scotland, the two Irelands and even tiny Gibraltar will feel the impact of the UK leaving the Single Market.

In the case of Scotland this will both clarify and complicate matters. Staying in the Single Market, but leaving the EU, while not optimum, would nevertheless be an acceptable outcome for many. You get most of the benefits, trade and the free movement of people, which most Remainers value highly. It also and most importantly means that there will be no land border between Scotland and England in terms of trade. The downside for those in favour of independence is that this option might well make independence less appealing to some of those No voters who are reconsidering their position.

If, on the other hand, as now seems likely, the UK leaves the Single Market, this makes the choice very binary. The only way for Scotland to remain, not just in the EU, but in the Single Market, would be to become independent. However, with the rest of UK no longer in the Single Market, the trade and other links with rUK would become crucial. England will almost certainly remain Scotland’s most important trading partner. Can we ensure open access to England if Scotland remains in the EU? The question of a hard land border rears its ugly head again. Even those most in favour of remaining in the EU might baulk at independence if it meant restricted access to England.

However these questions are just as important for the republic of Ireland, perhaps even more so. Ireland has always been closely tied to the UK. Ireland has effectively been part of the British Single Market for decades. The Common Travel area ensures hassle free travel across the British Isles. Ireland only joined the UK when the UK did, and may never have done so, if the UK had not. Now of course as an established member of the EU, Ireland will face some very difficult choices if the UK does leave the Single Market. Can the Common Travel Area survive? Will there have to be a hard land border between Northern Ireland and the republic?

Paradoxically, this could help Scotland. If Ireland manages to successfully adapt to the UK leaving the Single Market, while remaining in the EU, then there is no reason why Scotland could not also do so.

The withdrawal of Boris will also impact on the Tory party itself. It is most strange that the Tory party does not have even the option of electing a leader who is in favour of remaining in the Single Market. Remember, most of the cabinet were in favour of at the very least remaining in the Single Market. While some have clearly changed their mind on this, can the same be said for all Tory MPs? This must be dreadful for the likes of Ken Clarke, John Major et al. While they are the old guard, presumably some of the current crop of Tory MPs share their view that leaving the Single Market will be disastrous for the UK. After all around 40% of Tory voters voted Remain. if, even 30% of Tory MPs are opposed to leaving the Single Market, it may prove impossible for the new PM to get this through Parliament. Whilst most people, at least in England and Wales, accept that the UK has to leave the EU, it is less clear how many people will be prepared to accept leaving the Single Market. As the Chinese saying has it, we live in interesting times, and they only look like getting even more interesting!

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Brexit – Will it happen?

A week is a long time in politics, someone once said. Well that was ancient history, as it seems that now, even a day is a long time in politics. At least as far as Leavers are concerned. Barely had the result been announced before we had the hilarious spectacle of leading Leavers more or less confirming that their whole campaign had been a pack of lies. There will be no £350 million coming to the NHS, this was just campaign rhetoric. Even the central campaign claim that leaving was the only way to bring down immigration from the EU has been shown to be a big fat lie. Daniel Hannan on BBC Newsnight stated loud and clear that there would be no reduction in EU migration. Not only that but the free movement of labour within the EU would continue. Hannan told presenter Evan Davis: “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.” Well, I think going to be disappointed will turn out to be a bit of an understatement.

However things might get even worse for all those who voted to leave the EU. Will it actually happen? Before the UK can leave, the UK government has to invoke article 50 of the EU treaty. Once invoked this sets off a two year timetable, at the end of which the UK will be out of the EU. Having just voted in a referendum to leave, why has the government not already invoked article 50? It seems that the government has no intention of invoking this article, perhaps ever. Even the leaders of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, have stated that the government should wait. For a new Prime Minister to be elected by the Tory party? Longer?

Why all this delay? Tom Short posted on Facebook this comment from the Guardian, which may explain why Boris et al are backing off from taking the UK out of the EU. “And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step (leaving the EU) started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.”

Faced with this prospect it is no wonder that the likes of Johnson and Gove prefer to do nothing and wait and wait. David Allen Green, who blogs as Jack of Kent, has an excellent post in which he details just how significant article 50 is to all this. Or rather, how the failure to invoke article 50 effectively means there will be no Brexit.
How will this go down with all those who did vote to leave, expecting that this would in fact mean leaving, and leaving as soon as possible, preferably immediately? Not very well I imagine. As Green notes, “This will not please Leave campaigners, and rightly so. It means the result of the referendum will be effectively ignored.”

Could something like this actually happen? I have my doubts. Firstly the other 27 member states may try and force the UK to either invoke article 50 or to publicly ignore the referendum result. I cannot see the 27 being willing to just sit around waiting for the UK government to make up its mind. I also do not see the 27 being willing to engage in informal negotiations prior to invoking article 50. I suspect they will want to get this over and done with as soon as possible.

As will those who voted Leave on the basis that leave meant leave. To try and ignore the result in any way would be an enormous affront to democracy. All coming from a group that claimed that the EU was undemocratic! The damage a delay or any attempt to circumvent the result would cause is likely be catastrophic. It would probably make most of those who voted to leave feel even more alienated.

The fact that leading members of the Leave campaign can even consider any of the above, whether it is postponing starting the leave process, or staying in the Common Market, which would include the free movement of people and all these regulations that they claimed were so damaging, just confirms that the Leave campaign was run by a bunch of charlatans, unwilling to take responsibility for what they have unleashed.

Luckily for us in Scotland it matters not a jot what they do or don’t do. If they try to somehow delay or circumvent the result they simply expose themselves as undemocratic and untrustworthy. A perfect reason for leaving the UK. If they go ahead and leave the EU, this provides another justification for Scottish independence. Well done guys!

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Brexit – another self-inflicted disaster for the left?

The EU referendum campaign was a pretty dismal and dispiriting affair. This was essentially a nasty cock fight between two wings of the Tory party, ably assisted and abetted by UKIP and some minor Labour MPs. It was also as people like Anthony Barnett pointed out very much an English affair. Little positive about the EU was heard from the Remain side. So it was hardly surprising that a majority voted to leave. Not in Scotland I am pleased to note. All local council areas in Scotland voted to remain. A very positive result.

However across most of England and Wales a clear majority voted to leave the EU. Much of this vote came in what were regarded as Labour heartlands, the north of England, the midlands and Wales. Which is why for me, this dreadful outcome is primarily a failure of the left.

Step forward the Labour party itself. I am not going to indulge in blaming Jeremy Corbyn or his team. The rot at the heart of Labour predates Corbyn by decades. In particular I charge the Labour party with two massive failures. The first was its failure to mount a serious and vigorous challenge to the austerity and the neoliberal economic policies relentlessly pursued by the Tories since 2010. Labour weakly and without a fight, accepted the false accusation that it was too much government spending by the previous Labour government that was to blame for the crash in 2008. By effectively admitting to this, Labour was unable to mount any kind of credible challenge to the ongoing austerity that the Tory government imposed on the country.

Austerity that impinged most on working class parts of the UK. The parts of the country that had traditionally looked to the Labour party to protect them. But Labour offered no real alternative to the wage stagnation, the rise of precarious, low wage employment, culminating in zero hours contracts. Nor to the swingeing cuts in public services that again impacted most severely in former Labour heartlands.

With nothing much in the way of a positive alternative from Labour, it is hardly surprising that more and more people began to listen to the siren voices from UKIP, blaming all their woes on the EU and immigration.

This leads to the second charge against Labour. Faced with the rise of UKIP and Tory eurosceptics blaming everything on immigrants and the EU, what did Labour do? Why, indulge in their own brand of immigrant bashing. Remember this highlight, or lowlight from the 2015 election?election_Labour_im_3249627b

Truly dreadful, with predictable consequences for us all. Brendan Cox, writing in the Guardian pointed out that mainstream politicians, “in most cases are clueless on how to deal with the public debate (on immigration). Petrified by the rise of the populists they try to neuter them by taking their ground and aping their rhetoric. Far from closing down the debates, these steps legitimise their views, reinforce their frames and pull the debate further to the extremes.” Thus when immigration was thrust to the fore during the referendum, Labour was left exposed and unable to suddenly mount a positive and credible defence of immigration and the free movement of people.

As the second largest party in the UK, Labour must take the lion’s share of responsibility for Brexit. However others have unwittingly contributed to this outcome. I refer to those on the progressive left who voted remain, but nevertheless made very public their hostility to the EU.

Lots of people contributed in this way, but here are three who by their language, made a remain vote much more difficult to achieve. Here for example is Adam Ramsay writing an article headed in blood – I hate the EU. But I’ll vote to stay in it. His first sentence informs us that, The European Union is an undemocratic corporate stitch-up. Then we have George Monbiot boldly telling us that, The European Union is the worst choice – apart from the alternative. Finally, Paul Mason informs us that, The leftwing case for Brexit is strategic and clear. The EU is not – and cannot become – a democracy. Instead, it provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organised crime.

With friends like the above, who needs enemies? They may like to console themselves that theirs is a very sophisticated and hard headed analysis. Fair enough, but this is not the way to influence doubters. What they see is some prominent Remain campaigners confirming loud and clear exactly what Leave is saying – namely that they hate the EU, which is undemocratic and moreover unreformable. What on earth did they think would happen as a result of these comments? Reinforcing the key claims of your opponents does not seem to me to be a wise tactic.

The UK has become a nastier place as a result of this nasty referendum. The main responsibility rests with the right, both the Tory party and UKIP. However the left in large measure contributed greatly to this dreadful outcome. Thankfully, here in Scotland we have a way out of this mess. Onwards to indyref2!

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And Denmark?

Today could have been Independence Day for Scotland if there had been a Yes vote in 2014. Alas there was not and we are still trapped within a sclerotic and ever nastier UK. However this has not stopped Unionists for using this (non)event as an excuse to yet again try to rubbish the whole notion of Scottish independence. Too wee and too poor. It seems that as an independent country there would be a black hole of £15n or £10bn, depending on who you read. Whatever the amount it is clearly something very, very bad. And without the generous largesse of England we up here would be facing disaster.

I am always bemused by these so called analysis and reports as they never seem to include any kind of a) international comparison, nor b) any kind of analysis as to why Scotland is in such economic poor shape. After all to the extent that the Scottish economy is in such a poor state, this must have something to do with the UK. There is no separate Scottish economy at the moment. We remain part of the UK. So any failings, economy wise, must be, at least in part, due to the incompetence of successive UK governments.

The lack of international comparisons has always seemed to me to be an ongoing weakness of the debate about independence. For this post I will concentrate on Denmark. Another relatively small north west European country. Slightly smaller in size than Scotland, with a slightly larger population. Hardly anyone disputes that Denmark continues to be an economic success story. It does not need to rely on anyone in order to pay its way in the world. Its GDP per capita remains higher than the UK’s. Its budget deficit is less than 3%, while its national debt represents just 47% of its GDP. All this without the blessing or curse of significant North Sea oil revenues!

So why is Denmark so consistently successful, while Scotland is apparently so consistently a basket case, unable to survive well on its own?  I can think of only two reasons that might account for Denmark’s success and Scotland’s relative failure. One is that Danes are simply genetically more intelligent, more enterprising and generally just better than Scots. A bit of a stretch this one, and not obviously true. Not sure that Unionists would want to push this line anyway. Not only are we too wee, too poor, but also too stupid!

The other possible explanation for Danish success it that Denmark, the land and its waters, is inherently more productive than Scottish land and seas. Now, not being either an economist, nor an expert on Denmark and its economy, this also seems a bit of a stretch. Not aware of any natural resources in Denmark that could even begin to explain its economic success.

The only other difference I can think of is that Denmark is an independent country and can thus tailor its policies, economic, financial, social etc to suit the needs of Denmark. While poor Scotland remains tied to the Westminster straightjacket, both in terms of overall taxation policy and spending decisions.

It would be helpful if some of our Unionist friends could explain to me just why Denmark is so successful and clearly manages very well as an independent country. What is it that Denmark has that Scotland has not? After all the whole thrust of the better together argument should mean that Scotland is economically more successful than Denmark. Why is it not?

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Labour’s 1p tax is not anti austerity

Labour’s latest wheeze, to increase income tax for Scots by 1p, has attracted a fair bit of attention. It has not been universally welcomed and I am as yet unpersuaded. Others have gone into some detail about the proposal and how it might work, or not work as the case may be. I want to raise some fundamental objections to the proposal.

Contrary to what many from Labour have said, this is not an anti austerity measure. Cuts to public services are not the only way to impose austerity. Austerity is essentially taking money out of the economy.  Cutting the income of workers has the same effect. And raising income tax does precisely this – reduce the income of working people. It does not raise the amount of disposable money in the economy. If this money is then given to local authorities, there has been no effective change in the economy at all. It is simply a variation of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Now you may think this is a just way to preserve public services, but it has nothing to do with challenging, let alone reversing austerity.

Missing from Labour’s announcement is any mention of who is responsible for the austerity and the cuts to public services – the Tory government at Westminster. As a Unionist party, Labour clearly does not want to blame the Westminster government too much, as it would raise some awkward questions as to why Labour supported the Union. Much easier to blame it all on the SNP, ably supported by the media.

Effectively what Labour are proposing is that Scottish workers pay extra tax in order to ameliorate the cuts imposed by Westminster. Remember this extra tax is only to try and reverse the Tory cuts from Westminster. It is not to raise additional money for public services. As working people in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, have already suffered years of frozen or stagnating wages, it is far from clear why we should be further burdened.

My final objection is that this proposal, if enacted, will set a very, very dangerous precedent. The one person rubbing his hands with glee about this will be George Osborne. If this goes through and Scots are willing to pay more just to offset Tory cuts, then why would he not make further cuts to the block grant? He will have had confirmation that his Unionist pals in Labour are only too willing to pass on the bill to working people in Scotland.

These cuts come from Westminster and any opposition to them must include opposition to Westminster.  Only independence ensures that we will have austerity imposed on us from elsewhere. Weren’t we supposed to be Better Together? Seems very much like Worse Together.

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Filed under Economics, Scotland

What’s the point of a pro-indy majority at Holyrood?

Quite a lot has been written, and no doubt will continue to be written, about how best to achieve a pro-independence majority in the Scottish parliament. Should independentistas vote SNP on both the constituency and the regional votes? Or should they give their regional vote to one of the other pro indy parties – Greens, RISE, Solidarity? With the SNP still riding high in the polls, some argue that a regional vote for them will be wasted. So it would be better to vote tactically for one of the other pro indy parties. Others argue that tactical voting for the regional seats is just impossible. No one can really know in advance, and certainly not at this stage, just how well or poorly the SNP will actually do in the constituencies.

I find most of this to-ing and fro-ing a tad irritating. Just for the record I will cast my regional vote for the Greens. Nor out of any attempt at tactical voting, but because I am convinced by (most) of the policies offered by the Greens. On the other hand if you prefer the SNP, you should vote SNP both times. What is missing from all of this is just why a pro indy majority in the parliament is so important?

Again, to be clear, a pro-indy majority is important as only a pro indy majority can initiate another referendum. However is that all there is to it?  Another referendum may be a necessary requirement for independence, but the main challenge in the meantime is to persuade as many of the 55% who voted No, to change their minds. Having a  parliamentary majority to hold a referendum is not much use if we have not at the same time succeed in persuading a majority of the electorate to vote Yes.

My concern is that none of the pro indy parties are coming up with ideas on how to move forward. What can the next Scottish parliament and government do to move the debate forward? I would suggest there are at least four key areas in which the parliament can take the lead – a constitution, the transition to independence, the economy and international recognition.

An independent Scotland will need its own constitution. There is no reason why work on this cannot begin now. In Catalunya, their new parliament with its pro indy majority has established a study commission on a constitution. We could follow this line and set up a select committee of the parliament to prepare a draft constitution. An alternative would be to set up an independent Commission to develop a constitution. In both cases, an essential part of the remit would be to involve the public as actively as possible in the generation of the constitution. Any final decision would be taken by the parliament as a whole and then by the public in a referendum.

The transition to independence following a Yes vote in a future referendum will involve significant legal changes and some intensive negotiations with Westminster over important matters such as the national debt etc. The White Paper for the referendum outlined the range of issues that would need to be resolved. However the White Paper, necessarily, was just the proposals of the SNP. There is a broader pro indy movement, and it would be good to see all of this movement involved in discussing and preparing for a future transition to independence. Again this could be via a select committee or an independent Commission.

The economy was by broad agreement the area were the YES movement made least progress. This covered worries about the affordability of pensions, the importance or not, of North Sea revenues and the currency issue. Too many voters were unconvinced by our arguments and were more inclined to be swayed by the assertions of doom coming from the No side. Before any second referendum we must have first convinced a clear majority of the soundness and long term stability of the Scottish economy. Work needs to begin now. And this work needs to involve as many people as possible. Parliament and the government need to establish how this work will be done and to oversee it. This will ensure the work has credibility. Much preliminary work has already begun, but it needs to be brought together in one process.

International recognition was another area in which the YES side failed to convince a majority. Doubts about Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU in particular dominated much of the campaign. What I found most surprising was that the YES side had not managed to get any significant support from EU bodies nor from other member states. I find it hard to believe that everybody in the EU parliament or in all the governments and parliaments of other countries were adamantly opposed to Scottish independence.  After all in 2006 all the EU member states, including Spain, recognised the independence of little Montenegro, after its independence referendum. Not only that but newly independent Montenegro was almost immediately accepted as a candidate for EU membership. Unanimously, which means that Spain also voted to accept Montenegro.  It still seems incredible to me that we allowed to go unchallenged this notion that the EU would welcome Montenegro with open arms, but would reject Scotland. We need to find a way of establishing and maintaining formal and informal links with the EU parliament and the parliaments and governments of the other member states. The objective is to get at least some of the other states to publicly state that an independent Scotland would be welcomed within the EU. Similar links should also be established with other countries, especially with the USA and Commonwealth countries. It should not be too difficult to persuade the many countries that have become independent from Britain to support the wishes of the people of Scotland as expressed in a referendum.

I am strongly of the view that the new parliament, if there is a pro indy majority, needs to quickly get moving and establish select committees, Commissions or whatever, to carry out the necessary preparatory work for establishing an independent Scotland.

 

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