Category Archives: UK

UDI may be needed

Brexit still dominates the media, even though nothing of substance is likely to happen in the next few days or even weeks. So, a bit of space to reflect on one aspect of the other issue of major concern to us – Scottish Independence. I refer to the possibility of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).

Some proponents of independence are in favour while others seem to want to rule it out completely. In this post I  look at the circumstances in which a UDI may be the only way forward.

I start with emphasising that Independence will only happen when a majority of people living in Scotland have voted for this outcome. So, to be clear, I am most definitely not talking about imposing independence on an unwilling public.

There is probably general agreement that a referendum is the most appropriate way to determine if there is a majority in favour of independence. If the UK government were to agree to another independence referendum, as in 2014, this would almost certainly obviate the need for a UDI.

However there is little sign that this or any UK government will agree to this. 2014 was not the overwhelming endorsement of the U.K. that Unionists were hoping for.

If the UK government continues to oppose a referendum then the pro-Indy movement needs an alternative. Otherwise we are allowing Westminster a permanent veto on independence.

The alternatives seem to be 1. a referendum without the consent of the UK government; 2. using a Scottish parliament election as a substitute referendum. Both pose their own difficulties, a legal challenge against a referendum for example. However it would be extremely difficult for a UK government to stop a parliamentary election.

It is my contention that one way or another voters in Scotland will be given another chance to vote for independence. If there is a clear majority in favour of independence, what next?

The hope is that faced with this clear democratic expression of public support for independence the UK government would begin negotiations in good faith. This may well happen. However we need to seriously consider and be prepared for a refusal on the part of the UK government to accept a positive vote in favour of independence.

It is in this situation that I believe that a UDI needs to remain an option. I am under no illusions that a UDI would be a difficult option. It would also pose serious problems for the UK government. The threat of a UDI may be enough to demonstrate that people in Scotland are serious about securing independence. However if the UK government refuses to recognise a democratic vote in favour of independence then what is the alternative?

This is my challenge to those who want to rule a UDI out, what is your alternative?

 

 

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Brexit – saving May’s deal?

A New Year and time to put some thoughts to paper once again. Not that a lot has changed with pretty much the same story dominating the media. With Brexit we are still mired in the deep impasse that has existed more or less since the referendum. As the estimable David Allen Green reminds us: “In a matter of weeks, UK will leave EU by automatic operation of law, without a deal. This is the default unless deal is agreed, or there is an extension, or A50 is revoked. None of these three possibilities currently seem likely.”

The deal that David Allen Green refers to is in a Withdrawal Agreement. It is worth reminding ourselves of this. The deal is about how the UK formally leaves the EU. It provides for a transition period, more realistically a standstill period, which will last for two or possibly four years. This is to allow for the brand new, comprehensive trade deal between the UK and the EU that everyone says they want. Most trade experts reckon that even four years is a tad optimistic for negotiating and implement such a new deal. But we can for the moment safely kick this particular can down the road.  More immediate and pressing issues are at hand.

The key one is can Theresa May get her deal through parliament? For a second time the UK parliament is about to start debating this Withdrawal Agreement (WA). A vote is expected to take place next week. According to most informed observers the WA is almost certain to fail. For one reason or another most Brexiteers dislike the WA, even though it does achieve what they want – leaving the EU. However, many Brexiteers fear that, in part because of the Northern Ireland backstop, any future trade deal with the EU will leave the UK so closely aligned with the EU that the UK becomes a rule taker. The infamous BINO outcome – Brexit in name only.

A majority of the rest of the MPs also oppose the WA, either because they oppose Brexit altogether, or as Labour claim, they insist they can get a better WA. So the best guess, note guess, not a prediction, is that the WA will fail.

However all is not lost for Theresa May and her WA. She and the government are trying to frighten enough MPs to vote for the WA on the grounds that the alternative is a No deal Brexit. Something that would be so damaging to the economy that nobody in their right mind would allow it to happen.

The difficulty for May is that the majority of Brexiteers prefer a No deal outcome to the WA. Indeed for many, possibly most of them No deal is their preferred outcome. The prospect of No deal is most unlikely to win over this group of Brexiteers. Quite the opposite.

On the other hand those who oppose Brexit or hope for a better WA don’t seem to believe that the government would actually, when push comes to shove, go through with a No deal outcome. Some of the recent moves in parliament are designed to avoid a No deal.

An alternative approach for Mrs May would be to threaten recalcitrant Brexiteers not with a No deal, but with No Brexit. The prospect of revoking article 50 and remaining in the hated EU might well concentrate the minds of all but a few Brexiteers.

The difficulty for Mrs May with this approach is that neither she nor the government can seriously push for this – remaining in EU. If she did make this a realistic option, then while she might win back Brexiteers, she runs the risk of losing as many pro Remain MPs. I am thinking of the likes of Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry for example.

So, somehow the government has to make revoking article 50 genuinely possible, but not definite and not with government support. The most recent amendments in parliament, which in principle return power to MPs, may well paradoxically work in favour of May’s deal. Not at the moment though. Jacob Rees-Mogg for one doesn’t appear to be worried.

However, as someone once said, a week is a long time in politics. So, to recap, the WA is still unlikely to pass in parliament, but it cannot be completely ruled out. MPs work and vote in mysterious ways.

Further speculation can await the result of the vote on the WA next week.

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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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No justification for an early election

All Hail Theresa May, our soon to be new Prime Minister. Last one standing gets the job, no election needed. This is a shame for the members of the Conservative party. An election would also have added much needed mirth for the rest of us throughout the summer as May and Leadsom battled it out between them. However this is a purely internal Tory party matter. They have the right to elect their leader any way they like.

Of course there is the small matter that the leader of the Conservative party is also right now the Prime Minister of the UK. As such there have been some loud calls for an early general election, mostly from the usual suspects, i.e. the opposition parties. However there does not to my mind exist any justifiable reasons for another general election. Not on constitutional grounds, nor on precedent, nor on political grounds.

As regards the constitution, or what passes for one in our non constitutional democracy, we do not directly elect a PM. Only the voters in his or her constituency can actually for for him or her. In a parliamentary democracy we vote for parties and can only do so in our own constituency. 99.9% of voters never, ever, get the chance to directly vote for a Prime Minister. At the last election, if you wanted David Cameron as PM, you had to vote conservative, while if you wanted to vote conservative, you had to do so knowing that David Cameron would almost certainly be the PM. Choice there was none. The same applied to potential Labour party voters. Those who voted for other parties knew that none of their candidates was likely to become PM. So, it seems to me that Theresa May has as much democratic credentials as all other PMs.

Precedent, which is an important part of our non constitutional democracy, also confirms that Theresa May does not require an early election. None of the changes in PM between elections has resulted in an immediate election. At least not in the last 100 years or so. Gordon Brown, John Major, Jim Callaghan et al succeeded to the post of PM without an immediate election. The same has happened in Scotland, Northern Ireland and I am sure, in Wales. There have been three changes in First Minister in Scotland in less than 20 years and none of them felt obliged, or were seriously pressured into calling an early election. So, again, precedent favours Theresa May.

As regards the politics, this too does not warrant another election. What political purpose would an early election have?  The government has not lost a vote of confidence and still has a working majority at Westminster. The Brexit vote is hardly a reason for another election. Though parliament is notionally sovereign and the referendum was technically advisory and not binding, it would be difficult for parliament to just override the result.  Whilst anything is possible, it does not seem to me to be terribly wise for politicians to seek to ignore the result. As Theresa May says, Brexit means Brexit.

This however is where it all gets very interesting politically. Despite Theresa May’s repetitions, nobody, including May herself, knows just what Brexit means. The fine details of Brexiting will provide much scope for argument, disagreements, anger, bitterness, insults and just possibly, some serious negotiations. Once these negotiations or non negotiations get properly started anything become possible. Including an early election. If the government cannot get its preferred position through parliament then it would have no option but to lose a vote of confidence and call for another election. The Tories got us into this mess. It is up to them to get us out of it. Or fail in the process. We may get another election before 2020, but not immediately. Let’s give Theresa May and her merry band as much rope as they need to hang themselves.

 

 

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Switzerland and Brexit

All eyes have rightly focussed on the recent Brexit vote and what it will mean in practice, in particular for the UK’s continued membership of the Single Market.  The key to this is most likely to be the free movement of people. Since its inception in the 1950s, the free movement of people has been one of the cornerstones of the Single Market, and its predecessor, the Common Market.

What is important to note is that a country does not have to be a member of the EU to be in the Single Market. You just have to sign up to the four key conditions: the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. You also have to pay a fee. This is the case with both Iceland and Norway, who are full members of the Single Market.

Switzerland is slightly different, in that it is not a full member of the Single Market, but has full access to specific sectors, but not the financial sector for example. Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is covered by a series of Bilateral Agreements and these include the free movement of people. However in February 2014, the Swiss voted in a referendum, by 50.3% to impose quotas on migration from the EU. The referendum gave the Swiss government three years to meet this requirement. That is until February 9th, 2017. For this to happen a new agreement with the EU needs to be reached very soon, for Switzerland to have the time to pass the necessary legal changes in time to meet this February 2017 deadline.

This is why what happens with Switzerland is potentially crucial to the UK’s hopes of remaining in the Single Market without the free movement of people. The omens are not good.  After two and a half years of negotiations no meeting of minds, let alone a new agreement had been reached. The most that might have been agreed with Switzerland would have been something similar to the emergency brake on immigration, that David Cameron managed to negotiate with the EU. However after the Brexit vote that is no longer on offer. And having been rejected by the UK, it is very unlikely that the EU would be interested in offering a similar deal to Switzerland.

Switzerland is already suffering the consequences of the 2014 vote, as it is no longer part of the Erasmus programme, and the EU has stalled on any further bilateral agreements. No new deal is in the pipeline and the reality is that without a new deal, all the Bilateral Agreements will come to a shuddering end in February 2017. This is due to the inclusion of a so called guillotine clause. If any part of the agreements is abrogated, the whole thing ends.

Switzerland is beginning to seriously run out of time. The Brexit vote ended the emergency break option. This leaves Switzerland between a rock and a hard place. Either it tries to hold another referendum, perhaps on keeping the Bilateral Agreements, including the free movement of people, or it prepares for life outwith the Single Market.

The Swiss experience does not offer much hope for those Leavers who assumed that the UK could get its cake and eat it. If there is to be a deal on ending or limiting the free movement of people it will now have to be offered to both Switzerland and the UK. As the previous offer – an emergency brake – has been rejected by the UK, it is not clear that there will be much stomach in the other 27 member states for any further concessions. Any limit to this foundational principle effectively ends the EU. As any offer would have to applicable to the other 27 member states.

The blindness of the Leave campaign as to what was happening in Switzerland is yet another example of how irresponsible the whole campaign was. Unfortunately it is the rest of us who will have to suffer the consequences. Unless you live in Scotland, where independence offers a way out of this mess.

 

 

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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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Is Labour an anti-growth party?

The fall out from the Tory government’s cuts to tax credits continues to dominate discourse in the media. As usual most of this coverage attempts to portray the Scottish government as the guilty party in this. Labour in particular seem to be more interested in shouting SNP bad than trying to stop the cuts at Westminster. If the cuts do go ahead, then it seems that Labour in Scotland is committed to fully re-imbursing individuals for the cuts to their benefits. This will require them to find a not inconsiderable sum of around £440 million. This is an additional £440 million over and above the current Scottish budget.

Labour’s rather flimsy proposals for raising this extra money is also given pretty much a free pass in the media. However I do not intend to focus on how the money for these top-up payments may be found. Others have already written about this. What I want to do is to focus on the implications of Labour’s outright hostility to a reduction in Air Passenger Duty (APD).

In their rush to find the money to pay for mitigating or reversing the cuts to tax credits, Labour has stated that, if they were to form the government after next May’s elections, they would not implement the SNP’s proposal to cut APD.  As far as I can gather their sole reason for opposing a cut in APD is that it is a tax cut for the rich.  This was the resounding view of Duncan Hothersall, Editor of Labour Hame, in a particularly gushing piece of adoration for Kezia Dugdale. Now this seems a very odd position to take. I am sure some rich people will benefit from a cut in APD, but so will many, many people on low or middle incomes. There is no evidence whatsoever for the claim that a cut in APD will only benefit the rich.

It is even more worrying that Labour seem to be unwilling to recognise the potential economic benefits to the Scottish economy from a cut in APD. While no-one can guarantee what will happen in the future, there are very sound economic reasons in favour of a cut in APD. The tourist trade is likely to be a prime beneficiary of any cuts. A sector of our economy which employs many people. Yet Labour seems to be completely blind to the prospect of increased employment in this sector as a result of cutting APD.

Now there may well be sound economic reasons as to why a cut in APD might not lead to improved growth in the economy. However it is interesting that Labour has not produced any studies to this effect. Their sole objection seems to be that such a cut benefits the rich. It is very sad that Labour seem to be so intent on doing down the SNP that they are willing to ignore the prospect of increased growth and increased employment opportunities.

A further comment on Labour’s position on how to respond to cuts in tax credits. It is noteworthy that Labour have concentrated their fire on the SNP and not on the Tories, who are, of course, responsible for these vicious and unnecessary cuts. Labour are never willing to explain just why people in Scotland should have to pay more in taxes just to reverse or mitigate nasty decisions from Westminster. The media rarely push them to explain why this has happened. For then Labour would have to justify their claims during the referendum campaign. We were repeatedly assured by Labour that we would all be better together by staying in the UK. Seems a lot more like worse together.

 

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Trident and Labour

The recent decision by the Labour party in Scotland to reject the renewal of Trident is to be welcomed. The size of the majority of delegates who voted against renewal – 70%-30% – is pretty conclusive, and should rule out any change for at least a couple of generations. Welcome though this conversion is, it is doubtful if it will have much or any impact either at Westminster or here in Scotland.

Trident will still be renewed

As Trident is a reserved matter, the only votes that count are those at Westminster. There, a large majority of MPs will vote to renew our nuclear weapons. The Tories of course, but also the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs. As Maria Eagles pointed out, the Labour party’s official position is to support the renewal of Trident. Irrespective of what Scottish Labour thinks or does.

As things stand in Scotland, three of our main political parties – SNP, Greens and now Scottish Labour (assuming SLAB is a party and not just a branch office) are against the renewal of Trident. At least 57 of Scottish MPs (not sure how Alistair Carmichael will vote) will vote against the renewal. Hard to find a clearer example of consensus in Scottish politics.

Yet all this will be brushed aside when the vote takes place in Westminster. The massed ranks of Tory and Labour MPs from England will ensure that Trident is replaced. Pretty much sums up the irrelevance of Scotland within the UK. Even if all these 57 MPs from Scotland were Labour and against Trident, it would make no difference.

Impact in Scotland

As the preceding section demonstrates this decision by Scottish Labour will only highlight yet again how Westminster can always overrule decisions by Scots. This is true for all reserved matters and the forthcoming vote in Westminster will only emphasise that if you want to get rid of Trident then the most effective and realistic way of achieving this is through Scottish independence. Perhaps not the message Scottish Labour were intending to send out.

Impact on Scottish Labour

The biggest impact of this vote may be on the Labour party itself.  For the dilemma for Labour in Scotland is that if it wants to convince a majority of Scots that their future is best served by continuing to remain in the UK, then they need to demonstrate that the views of Scots have some kind of influence at Westminster. This has to be in relation to reserved matters, not just Trident, but defence and foreign policy and above all, on macro-economic policy. Otherwise Labour runs the risk of a slow, but steady move of more and more Scots in favour of independence. After all if the UK is a union of equals, how come Scotland is always outvoted at Westminster?

If Labour seriously wants to preserve Scotland in the Union, then it needs to quickly come up with some practical ways of increasing Scotland’s say in reserved matters. I can think of two that would have some, though limited effect. The first is to campaign for PR for Westminster and to succeed in persuading the UK Labour party to do the same. With a PR system on the Scottish or German lines, it becomes difficult for a single party to achieve an overall majority on its own. PR would certainly prevent a party with only 37% of votes winning complete power. As the Tories did last May. With more parties represented in Westminster, Scottish MPs could expect to have greater influence on decisive votes.

The other practical step for Labour in Scotland is for the party to become a completely separate party from the UK party. A party with similar or the same values if you like, but accountable to a different electorate – the people of Scotland. Such a move would give Scottish Labour MPs a greater mandate at Westminster, when it comes to negotiating votes at Westminster. If the UK Labour wanted the support of Scottish Labour there would have to be some give and take. The views of Scottish Labour, if different from UK Labour would have to be recognised and taken into account in any negotiations.

If both steps were taken and the UK did move to PR, then, in a more plural Westminster, not just Scottish Labour but all Scottish MPs could expect to wield more power and influence than at present.  Together this might be enough to persuade enough Scots that Scottish Labour has something different and interesting to say.

While these steps might well increase the power and influence of Scottish MPs at Westminster, it would still only be a slight increase. Welcome enough , but perhaps not decisive enough. As with Trident, if you really want the decisions that affect Scotland and its future to be taken by the people who live in Scotland, then the only way to ensure that is in an independent Scotland.

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