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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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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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Port Oot, Starbuird Hame

Pretty much sums up my reactions to Cat Boyds’ article. I am part of RIC and was one of those out knocking on doors. Like the author of this post though I feel Cat is making up straw me simply to indulge in a bit of SNP bashing. Not the way forward.

A Wilderness of Peace

radicalcat

So this caused a wee bit of a tizzy on Twitter last night. A fair amount of folk were taken aback by it, and you can see why: independence campaigners are no more or less harder-working by their class or upbringing, and might well resent the implication that only those “less posh” do all the hard work. It could also rub those independence supporters who think of themselves as working class the wrong way, if they don’t actively support or work for RIC. I thought I’d wait until I had a read of it before commenting on the piece itself – pull quotes can often read very differently out of context.

The “posher nationalists” quote itself didn’t bother me, mostly because I’ve been accused of being posh for most of my life. But the piece does talk a lot about class politics.

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October 4, 2016 · 10:03 pm

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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The Single Market includes the free movement of people

As people scurry about trying to figure out just what Brexit might mean in reality, much of the focus has centred on the Single Market and the free movement of people. Most Remainers and probably a majority of Leavers seem to want the UK to stay in the Single Market. This makes a great deal of sense, as the EU will remain our largest trading partner. However the Single Market has never been just a free trade area, contrary to the myths propagated by eurosceptics. From its beginning in the 1950s, the Single Market (formerly known as the Common Market) has had at its heart the commitment to the Four Freedoms – the free movement of goods, services, money and people. This is what every country signed up to when they joined the EU. Even those countries, such as Norway, which are not in the EU, but are in the Single Market have to sign up for all of the four pillars, including the free movement of people.

Yet this did not stop many in the Leave campaign from claiming that with Brexit the UK could stay in the Single Market, yet somehow opt out of the free movement of people. Now, post referendum we have almost a bandwagon of people on the left joining in. The latest to do so includes Stephen Kinnock and Seema Malhotra from the Labour party. In an article for the New Statesmen they argue that somehow the UK can impose controls on immigration for EU states, yet remain in the Single Market.

It is rather disappointing that so many people from the left are so quick and willing to advocate limiting the free movement of people from the rest of the EU. So much for the great internationalist traditions of Labour.  It seems Labour will stoop as low as it can to appease voters in its former heartlands.  Nothing of benefit tends to come from appeasement. The undoubted hardships for many across the UK do not come from immigrants, but from the failures of successive UK governments, including Labour governments.  But this not something most Labour party members are willing to discuss. Much easier to just blame immigrants and the EU.

However at this moment the key question is whether restrictions on the free movement of people is even remotely possible. I would suggest it is not. This for the simple reason that the Single Market is a package and the moment you start to demand exceptions the whole thing will very quickly collapse.

The UK wants to keep three of the four pillars of the Single Market – the free movement of goods, services and money – but to establish restrictions on the other pillar, the free movement of people. Which is fine and dandy for the UK and any other member state that has similar concerns. But what about the other member states?

Let us take the free movement of services. For most commentators this seems to equate to protecting the financial sector and the City of London in particular. As Stephen Kinnock and Seem Malhotra put it: The UK should protect its financial services industry, including passporting rights, vital to our national prosperity. Leave aside for the moment just why the Labour party should have suddenly become the saviours and protectors of financial services. Instead ask, why would all the other 27 member states agree to this? If exceptions are to be made to the four  pillars, why not to the free movement of services? What if Germany and France for example were to demand restrictions on passporting rights? Or what if some member states wanted the right to impose restrictions on the free movement of goods or money?

I other words once you start demanding concessions on one pillar of the Single Market, you are effectively calling for the end of the Single Market. If the UK can demand and get concessions on what it wants, there will no argument for denying this right to all the other member states. If the Single Market is beneficial to the UK, which I believe it is, then you accept all its terms and conditions. You cannot expect to pick and choose and not expect others to do the same. As Angela Merkel has made clear the UK will not get to cherry pick the bits of the Single Market it likes.

The UK once again seems to be reduced to pleading for special treatment. At the same time ignoring the concerns of the other 27 member states. We should be given everything we want and they rest should just sign on the dotted line. This line of thinking seems to ignore that the EU has repeatedly made concessions to the UK. The opt outs on Schengen and the euro for example. David Cameron also managed to get some, admittedly minor, concessions for the recent referendum. All to no avail, a majority in England and Wales still voted to leave. So what incentive do the other 27 member state for offering further concessions? Appeasement does not seem to work. It is time to get real about this. Talk of ending free movement of people yet staying in the Single Market is just that – all talk and no substance.

 

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Why I will vote to remain in the EU

The EU referendum is almost upon us, and a pretty depressing affair it has been. It has proved difficult to get enthused as the whole referendum is primarily a nasty cock fight among the Tories. However the EU is important and my local Green party branch in Dundee is asking members their views on how they will vote. I submitted the following.

I will be voting to remain in the EU as the EU has been and continues to be the main promoter of peace and prosperity in Europe. From the beginning the key aim of the EU is to bring the countries and the peoples of Europe together, both to increase prosperity and to make war among EU members unthinkable. The way to bring countries and people together continues to be the Common Market, or Single Market as it is now known. This market covers goods, services, money and of course the free movement of people. The common market continues to work well, to the benefit of the overwhelming majority of people in the EU. Current economic woes have nothing to do with the common market. They are rather, due to the misguided, neoliberal austerity policies pursued by the member states. I find it hard to believe that George Osborne and David Cameron are really closet socialists and are only pursuing austerity under orders from Brussels.
The EU is primarily a successful common market. It is beginning to develop common policies in some other areas. The environment for example, which I would hope that all Greens would support. Only trans-national action has any hope of success in protecting the environment and countering climate change.
The EU remains in essence a community of independent countries. As such it is about as democratic a body as could be. Some of its procedures could be more transparent, but the decision making process is democratic. The Commission, so disliked by many, has no powers of decision making. The Commissioners do not get to vote on proposals. Decisions in the EU are taken jointly by the democratically elected European Parliament and the ministers of the democratically elected governments of the member states. I am not sure how this can be made more democratic.
To the extent that we are opposed to some of the current policies and actions within the EU – on refugees for example, this is not due to some inherent defect of the EU. Rather it is the result of the majority of voters across the EU democratically electing some very right wing and nasty governments. As the UK did just over a year ago. The fault for this, if we are to blame anyone, is the combined forces of the progressive left. We have failed conspicuously to convince our fellow citizens, whether in the UK or in the other 27 member states, to elect progressive parties. Blaming the EU for our failures is a distraction from the urgent need to campaign across the EU for progressive policies.

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Democratise Europe! 
- More Sloganizing from the Left?

This Thursday, 9th February in Berlin, sees the launch of yet another reforming movement for the EU. DiEM25 hopes to build a broad based movement which will lead to a left wing reform of the EU. DiEM stands for Democracy in Europe Movement and their key message is that the EU will either be democratised or it will disintegrate! 
 Their snappy slogan is Democratise Europe! The main impulse for this new movement is our old friend Yanis Veroufakis, the former Syriza minister. We wish DiEM well, but fear that at this stage it is little more than a slogan.

You can find the DiEM website here, where you can download their manifesto. This is a bit long on assertions, especially about how bad and undemocratic the EU is. Their actual proposals for moving forward seem mostly a bit vague.  Anthony Barnett on Open Democracy has helpfully put together a shorter version, which you can read here.  The really short version seems to boil down to two immediate demands:

(A) full transparency in decision-making (e.g. live-streaming of European Council, Ecofin and Eurogroup meetings, full disclosure of trade negotiation documents, publication of ECB minutes etc.) and

(B) the urgent redeployment of existing EU institutions in the pursuit of innovative policies that genuinely address the crises of debt, banking, inadequate investment, rising poverty and migration.

Now A is long overdue and would be most welcome. Not clear though just why the various EU institutions would agree to do this right now. These are after all immediate priorities for DiEM. Somehow I do not think that the 28 governments of the members states are quivering in their boots at the prospect of DiEM meeting in Berlin. For any change to the way the EU works requires at the very least a large majority of the governments of the member states to agree. It may, possibly, require unanimity. A fact of the EU that DiEM seems to just ignore.

As regards B, these have little or nothing to do with democracy per se. This is a wish list of issues that DiEM would like to see tackled in a left wing, progressive way. However, these issues could be addressed in a left, progressive way just now. The only reason that this is not happening just now is the rather inconvenient fact that the overwhelming majority of democratically elected governments in the EU are pretty right wing in their approach to everything.

DiEM also has a medium-term goal. This is nothing less that the establishment by 2025 of a full-fledged European democracy. This goal will be achieved via a constitutional assembly. It seems that the key feature of this European democracy will be a sovereign Parliament that respects national self- determination and sharing power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils. 
(my emphasis)

This goal seems to be even more out of touch with reality that the two immediate goals. What decisions will this sovereign parliament take? Is it meant to replace the council of ministers? If this parliament is to be sovereign, what is meant by sharing power? Either you can take a decision, which is what sovereign usually means, or you cannot. If you need the approval of other parliaments, then you are not sovereign.

My main worry for DiEM is that its analysis of the EU is very weak and full of misconceptions. Another recent article in Open Democracy, by Lorenzo Marsili, offers an alternative view of the EU. As he puts it:

We need to stop portraying the EU as an all-powerful behemoth impeding any real change at national level. This rhetoric is false and only benefits supporters of the status quo. Failure to achieve progressive national policies is not due to the EU. It is due to the incapacity of the progressive field to win popular consent.

This cannot be said often enough, especially on the left. Much can be done to reform the working of the EU, but this will only happen in a progressive way, when and if, the left can once again win popular consent. It will not do so by diverting time and effort into grand sloganizing and attempting to bypass the current EU institutions. The Council of Ministers is where real power in the EU lies. To reform the EU means that the left needs to enter government in a clear majority of the member states.

I agree very much with Lorenzo Marsili when he writes that the attacks on the EU by the left have more to do with justifying their political failure nationally than opening up a new field of action for their countries. Grandstanding on the European stage is no doubt satisfying and good for the ego, but it misses the target. This remains as ever, the need for the left to win power in the various national parliaments. DiEM would do better to focus on this challenge rather than issue a grandiose manifesto.

 

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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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Brexit – what next?

So far in the debate, or shouting match should that be, over the EU, there has been little or no examination about what might happen if there were to be an out vote.  Lots of claims and counter-claims, but not much light. There is no doubt that the UK would survive and could indeed prosper outwith the EU. The real question rather is what kind of country and economy would the UK have to become?

Various academic studies have looked at the options that might be available to the UK after a Brexit vote. Some overlap a bit, so I reckon that there are in reality only four options for life after a no vote. I have excluded the Swiss model, which involves a series of bilateral agreements with the EU. This model has proved somewhat unsatisfactory for both parties and the EU has made it clear that it would not repeat this kind of arrangement. The four remaining options are therefore as follows:

  1. The Norwegian model – joining the EEA (European Economic Area). This involves full membership of the Single Market with all that implies, including the free movement of people. The UK would have no say in the rules governing the Single Market and would still have to contribute to the EU budget. On the other hand the UK would no longer be part of the common agricultural or fisheries policies.
  2. The Turkish model – joining the EU’s custom union. This gives continued access to the Single Market, but only for goods, not for services. The UK would also be subject to all the EU rules governing that part of the Single Market.
  3. The WTO model – effectively no special arrangement with the EU. Trade would be bound by WTO(World Trade Organisation) rules on tariffs. Again would only cover goods and not services.
  4. A special UK agreement with the EU. This is the option that most Brexit supporters want, at least on the right. The UK would get continued access to the Single Market on its own terms and would be able to opt out of the bits it didn’t like – free movement of labour etc.

As regards the Norwegian model, this would seem to be the most easily achieved, yet the worst outcome for the UK, especially those who want out of the EU. Getting out of the common agricultural and fisheries policies would be a very high price to pay for giving up all influence and votes in the key decision making bodies. This model would also mean that the UK would remain subject to all the rules that the Eurosceptics most dislike about the EU.

The fourth option, a special UK deal with the EU is difficult to envisage. It relies on the rest of the EU regarding the UK as so important that they would do almost anything to keep the UK in. Not sure if there is any evidence this is how the rest of the EU sees the UK. Sure, they would like us to stay, but not at any price. This option effectively abolishes the Single Market and would seem more of a pipe dream that a realistic possibility.

This leaves the second and third options as the ones most realistically available. There is probably not a great deal of difference between the two models. Both models would however require quite significant changes within the UK. As a paper from OpenEurope puts it: “Britain will only prosper outside the EU if it is prepared to use its new found freedom to undertake active steps towards trade liberalisation and deregulation.”  It is not difficult to see why the right wing in Britain is so keen on leaving the EU!

In practical terms this trade liberalisation and deregulation would mean some rather unwelcome developments. Much of what remains of health and safety regulations and protections for workers would be open to further attack from our nasty Tory government. In addition, UK firms and workers would find themselves exposed to whole new levels of competition from low-cost countries. Finally, OpenEurope conclude that in order to be competitive outside the EU, Britain would need to keep a liberal policy for labour migration. As the paper notes with some understatement, these developments would be politically very sensitive.

So far most of the campaigning for an out vote has been by those on the right. It is relatively easy to see why. They by and large favour a deregulated economy with as much trade liberalisation as possible. This is not a view shared by all on the right of course. UKIP’s opposition seems to be more a combination of political – sovereignty, and opposition to immigration. As the above shows, it may not be possible to achieve all that those opposed to the EU want.

On the other hand there is a growing number of people on the left who also support leaving the EU. I do find this a bit perplexing. Leaving the EU and in particular leaving the Single Market is not going to do anything for the (already) precarious rights of workers. Claims that the EU is an undemocratic, neoliberal club are also a bit far fetched in my view. Furthermore it is not at all clear how the UK leaving is going to make any positive difference to this state of affairs. As I pointed out in my previous post, to the extent that the EU is neoliberal and pro-austerity, that is because the voters in almost all EU states have voted for neoliberal and pro-austerity parties. Just how the UK leaving is going to persuade voters in Germany, Finland, Slovakia etc to become more left wing is a bit of a mystery to me.

In short it seems to me that none of the likely post Brexit options offer the UK much, at  least from a left, progressive perspective. I can understand why some on the right would welcome leaving the EU. And for this reason we need to examine much more closely the implications of a No vote and what that might mean for the economy and society.

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Finally – a new Catalan government

Just over three months after the elections Catalunya has a new government and a new President. The long running saga of farce and high drama finally came to an unexpected end last Saturday. The two pro-independence groups in the Parliament reached an agreement at the 11th hour. The new President is Carles Puigdemont from Convergència Democràtica, the Catalan Liberal party, and he was voted in as President on Sunday. Why did it take so long to reach this outcome? This post gives an overview of the recent comings and goings in Catalunya.

The arithmetic

At the elections way back in September of last year the two pro-independence coalitions won an overall majority of the seats in the Parliament – 72 seats out of 135. However the larger of the two coalitions – Together for Yes, JxSí, won 62 seats, six short of an overall majority on its own. JxSí was thus dependent on the other pro-independence coalition – the Radical Left Popular Unity party, CUP, for the necessary votes to get its candidate, Artur Mas, elected as President.

CUP play hardball

Alas for JxSí, the CUP had campaigned resolutely against Artur Mas during the election campaign, claiming he was too right wing and tainted with corruption. After the elections, the CUP stuck rigidly to their guns. Two extraordinary assemblies of the their membership were held. The first resulted in a tie between those who supported voting for Mas and those against. The second eventually decided to maintain CUP’s opposition to voting for Mas. Everything pointed to a dissolution of the Parliament and fresh elections in March. Then, out of the blue, at the last moment a compromise was reached. Arthur Mas would stand aside and a close associate of his, Carles Puigdemont, would become the JxSí candidate for President.

pyrrhic victory for CUP?

Though the CUP has doggedly stuck to its guns over not voting for Mas and has achieved its wish, the cost to the party may turn out to be more damaging than accepting Mas. The first point is that both groups had already, as early as November, agreed on the road map to independence. So all that the CUP was arguing about was who should lead this transition to independence. Secondly, the price that the CUP will now have to pay for getting Artur Mas to stand aside seems to be very high.  The CUP has now given written assurances that two of its MPs will join with the JxSí parliamentary group and vote with them at all times. This assures that the new government will have a majority even if the other 8 CUP MPs vote against the government. In addition the CUP has publicly agreed that in no circumstances will its MPs vote against the government in a motion of confidence. Effectively this means that the CUP is pretty much hamstrung for the rest of the parliamentary term. All this just to get someone else as President. Seems a very high price for purity!

Who is Carles Puigdemont?

The new Catalan President is 53 years old and from the province of Girona. He is a journalist by profession and founded the English language journal Catalonia Today. He was until yesterday the Mayor of Girona city council. A member of Convergència Democràtica, he was elected to the parliament in September as part of the JxSí coalition. He is also a very close ally of Artur Mas. Judging by his performance in the parliament during his investiture, he seems to be a very confident, sympathetic and articulate politician.

What next?

Now that the Presidency has been sorted out, the new government can begin to implement the nine points in the Road Map to Independence that the parliament approved way back in November. This will involve the creation of all the institutions that go to make up a new republic – treasury for example. Inevitably this will lead to a rupture with the current Spanish state. Already the Spanish constitutional court has ruled the Road Map as unconstitutional. The new Catalan government will just ignore these rulings from Madrid and persevere with the creation of a new republican state.  This process will also involve negotiations with other countries, especially the EU. The intention is that this new Catalan republic will be declared within 18 months.

The Spanish and EU response?

This is where things get really interesting and potentially violent. All the main Spanish parties, with the exception of Podemos, are rigidly opposed not only to Catalan independence, but to the right of Catalans to determine their own future – the right to self-determination. No referendum will be allowed, ever. This has been the mantra up to now. Will it change? Faced with the insistence of the new Catalan government to move ahead with creating a new state and ignoring the decisions of the Madrid government, what will the Spanish government do? Arrest the members of the Catalan government? Send in the troops? Dissolve the Catalan parliament and impose direct rule from Madrid?

Just as uncertain is how the EU will react to all this. Not just at the formal, collective level, but how will the individual member states react? Hard to see them all, or indeed any of them, just ignoring the clear democratic wishes of Catalans as expressed in last September’s election. Will they try to persuade the Spanish government to agree to a referendum? Interesting times lie ahead.

 

 

 

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