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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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Is Spain now ungovernable?

The recent general election has brought out into the open in spectacular fashion the multiple fissures that beset Spain. These fissures run deep and generate much heat and passion. So much that it is almost impossible to envisage a stable government emerging from the election. There were no real winners, but lots of losers.

In conventional left and right terms the outcome is pretty much a draw. The two right wing parties – the conservatives (PP) and Citizens (Cs) won 163 seats, while the three left parties – the socialists (PSOE), the new radical alternative party Podemos and United Left (IU), won 161 seats. IU won only two seats, so will not have a great deal of influence in the post election negotiations. As 176 MPs are needed for an overall majority, neither grouping could form a government on their own.

All the other 27 seats were won by parties that are either in favour of independence from Spain, or in favour of greater regional powers within Spain. Though all of these parties are either right of centre or left of centre, their prime political objective is either independence or a radical restructuring of the Spanish state. Herein lies the problem for the other Spanish wide parties.

None of the Spanish parties are in any way in favour of independence for either Catalunya or the Basque country. In fact only Podemos is in favour of a radical restructuring of Spain to accommodate the national aspirations of Catalunya and the Basque country. The key here is the right of self-determination, or in practical terms, the right to hold a binding referendum on independence. Podemos is in favour of changing the constitution to allow this, though most of Podemos voters would then vote against independence. However both the conservative and the socialists have repeatedly vowed to never allow a referendum to be held anywhere. They are not just against independence, but against the right of self-determination. They are viscerally opposed to all nationalism, other than the Spanish variety.

It is therefore hard to see how any stable coalition could be formed that included some of the Basque or Catalan nationalists. Neither the PP nor PSOE are likely to be willing to give enough on the constitution and a referendum to meet even the most minimum demands from the nationalists. A further complication is that in Catalunya the various pro-independence parties now control the Catalan parliament and government, and they are it seems no longer much in favour of a referendum. They are working to their own timetable towards a declaration of independence, on the grounds that Madrid will never allow a referendum.

A minority government of PSOE, Podemos and IU is theoretically possible, with the passive support of the nationalists. The difficulty here is that Podemos would in all probability insist on making a reform of the constitution, including electoral reform, a precondition for any coalition. So far there is nothing to indicate that the socialists are prepared to even contemplate such a possibility.

It must be pointed out here that no reform of the constitution is possible in the next legislature as the PP have enough MPs to ensure that not reform can happen without their approval. A two thirds majority is needed for a change to the constitution. What a PSOE/Podemos government could do though is jointly commit to a radical restructuring, work out the details and then put it to the voters in another election in two years time, and hope for a large enough majority to get the changes through parliament. Not at all sure that the socialist would be up for this.

The only feasible option for a stable coalition is a Grand Coalition on the German style. PP and PSOE together have the votes to guarantee stability. They also have much in common policy wise. Especially on their opposition to any accommodation with the nationalists. PSOE is in theory a bit more open to changes to the constitution, but in practice they are as committed to a united and permanent Spain as the conservatives. Such a coalition would probably adopt a slightly less aggressive austerity programme. It might be enough to keep the socialists happy at any rate.

However, however, tantalising though this might appear to the PSOE leadership, to would be the most risky option for the party. They are already under great electoral threat from Podemos  to their left, and any kind of capitulation to the hated conservatives could be a four year death sentence. Even if the socialists did not enter into a formal coalition, but merely abstained and allowed the conservatives to govern for another four years, this would make little or no difference.

It is very difficult to see a way through this impasse. It must also be very frustrating for Podemos. They have done well, but not quite well enough. There is probably a majority in favour of their anti-austerity programme, but until the constitutional questions are resolved, they will not be in a position to implement them. Either the catalan nationalists give up on independence or the socialists become open to fundamental reform of the constitution. Unless at least one of these political changes happens soon, we are likely to be heading for another general election in March. With little prospect of much change.

The other difficulty for Podemos is that unless the socialists come on board for a new plurinational Spain with a radically reformed constitution, Podemos itself is likely to lose out badly in Catalunya and the Basque country. Podemos is for a new Spain, but what if, as these results show, the overwhelming majority of Spaniards outwith Catalunya and the Bas que country are adamantly opposed to this new Spain? What if the Spanish state is effectively unreformable? Will enough of Podemos voters in Catalunya faced with the unwillingness and inability of Spain to change, in future decide that an independent Catalunya is a far more welcoming prospect?

It could just be that the biggest winner in the long run from these elections turns out to be the Catalan independence movement.

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I, too, am not Charlie

The horrific murders of the journalists and two policemen at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo have unleashed yet another round of Muslim bashing in the media. I mention the two policemen who were also victims, as one of them was a Muslim, who as part of his job was trying to defend the Charlie staff. Yet the murder of this particular Muslim seems to have been almost erased from the public view.

Instead not only have we to show solidarity with the white journalists, we are supposed to endorse the magazine itself through the hashtag Je suis Charlie. All, apparently, in the name of free speech. Yet as is now becoming clear, not everything in the Charlie Hebdo stable is perhaps worth supporting. The magazine has a history, and not all of it deserves our praise. As Jacob Canfield notes in a thoughtful piece, “the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic.” The full article, which can be accessed here, is well worth reading.

Scott Long, on his blog, a paper bird, has penned another thoughtful article, in which he explains why he is not Charlie, which you can read here. I took the title for this post unashamedly from that post. In both of these the most important point is that we should not be forced into uncritically accepting Charlie Hebdo at face value. We can unreservedly condemn the murders and recognize the right of the magazine to publish what it wants. At the same time we have the right to condemn the content of particular cartoons.

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How we lost

Very thorough and personal reflection on the Referendum campaign. I don’t agree with all of his points, but it is well worth reading and reflecting on for the future.

Aye Scotland

opportunity

Before starting I’d like you to look at the above image. No one knows exactly what reality really is. Is it possible we’ve come the closest we’ll ever come in our lifetimes to an independent Scotland? Can we go further? This article is premised on the assumption that there are still opportunities to gain independence for Scotland, if we learn from where I believe we went wrong.

I’d like to make four points early on in this article. The first is that it is long. The second is that although there are a lot of negative points in it, it is not intended to criticise or dishearten. I admire everyone who made an effort in the campaign. The third is that it is my own personal view. The fourth is that when you get down to it, campaign or no campaign, the people of Scotland had a very simple question put…

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Commonwealth Calendar of Independence

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UK = Waste and Incompetence

More and more evidence is piling up on just how wasteful and economically incompetent the UK continues to be. Despite the almost frantic efforts of the No campaign to portray the UK as some safe haven, the facts continually contradict this rosy picture. I have posted before about one aspect of this incompetence, here, – the financial crisis that seem to strike the UK on an unerringly regular basis. But the incompetence and waste of our Westminster governments fare transcends the dismal science.

Wars of Occupation

The penchant of UK governments for wars of aggression are triply wasteful and very costly.  There is obviously the completely unnecessary loss of lives, whether British, allied, Iraqi or Afghani. Then there is the cost to us as taxpayers.  All these billions that went to secure a bit of worldly prestige for Tony Blair & Co, turned out to be a monumental waste of scarce resources. Resources that could have been put to better and more productive use. Finally these wars of invasion and occupation in muslim countries have done nothing to quash or even contain the rise of violent groups. Instead the continuing occupation of these countries has served as the best recruiting officer these groups have ever dreamed off. The UK remains a target for extremist groups because our governments have decided to invade and occupy other countries. Waste and incompetence on the grandest of scales! Wings Over Scotland has a typically robust look at some of the figures produced for what military operations since the end of the cold war has cost the UK in wasted money. £65 billion is the figures that emerges from a study by the Royal United Services Institute. You can read Wing’s post here.

Military Procurement

It is not as if the UK has a track record of wise investment and management of military hardware, nor military software. The Ministry of Defence continues to operate as though the words budget and value for money did not exist in the English language. The waste of money spent on Trident and its replacement is of course pretty well known. Billions spent on weapons that have never been used and almost certainly will never be used. They have never even worked as a deterrent, which is supposed to be their main purpose. Didn’t deter General Galtieri in the 1980s, nor Saddam Hussein later on. But Trident is merely the best known of a series of wasteful scandals emanating from the Ministry of Defence.

The latest in a long line is probably the scandal surrounding the two new aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy. At current estimates these two monsters are going to cost us over £7 billion! Despite this vast outlay they will not be fully usable until 2022 at the earliest. Which leaves the UK without even one fully functioning aircraft carrier for a decade or more. Just as well we do not face any imminent threats. Which of course in turn raises the question of why the UK needs any carriers at all.

HS2

Lest we delude ourselves that it is only the military that can waste our money, let us consider the latest folly to come out of Westminster – HS2. This is the project to build a high speed rail link between London and the North. Though of course the North as far as HS2 is concerned means the north of England. Even then, HS2 may never manage to get that far, as it is only planned to go to Birmingham and then Manchester initially. Scotland, needless to say features nowhere in the HS2 prospectus. Many analysts strongly doubt that HS2 will bring any benefits to the North, however defined. Any economic benefits are likely to go, yet again to London. And what will HS2 cost us all? A massive £80 billion! All of it from our taxes. Rarely has so much been taken from so many for the benefit of so few.

Why does this matter?

All this waste matters to us in Scotland, because we help to pay for all these unnecessary projects. Whether we like it or not. With independence we will no longer have to unwillingly subsidise Westminster’s wasteful follies. These and other savings will become our independence dividend. Money that we, who live in Scotland, will in future get to spend on our priorities.

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Vote Yes to join the world

The basic and most important reason for voting Yes is that only independence will enable us to extend and complete our democracy. The proposition is simple. Collectively, we, the people who live in Scotland will be ones who will do the best job, over time, of making Scotland a stronger, fairer and more successful country. Full democracy means that we will have to take responsibility for our relations with the rest of the world. This for me is one of the more exciting prospects that will come with independence. For it is only with independence that Scotland will be able to fully participate in and contribute to all the international bodies that are relevant to us and our future.

To some extent this already happens. Usually missed by our Britnat friends, Scotland is already an independent country in most sports, with our own, direct representation on the key world and European federations. No-one, not even those in the No campaign questions this. Political independence will mean we can build on this experience and secure our own, direct representation in all the other international organizations that interest us.

Some will be obvious and pretty uncontroversial, such as joining the United Nations, World Health Organization, World Trade Organizaton, the European Union etc. Others will be a bit more controversial, such as joining NATO. However away from the big world and continental bodies, an independent Scotland will be able to join some of smaller, regional organizations. Two immediately spring to mind – the British and Irish Council and the Nordic Council. With Scottish independence, the British and Irish Council will have the opportunity to become a more important and meaningful body, representing as it will three sovereign states, alongside the devolved administrations of Wales and Northern Ireland. Perhaps the time will come for England to be represented in this council.

The Nordic Council is still a bit of an unknown entity in Scotland. Despite the best efforts of Lesley Riddoch and Nordic Horizons. Yet Scotland has a lot to gain from closer co-operation with our Nordic neighbours. I wrote a post about this way back in 2009, which you can access here. As I wrote then Scotland should apply for observer status with the Nordic Council irrespective of the result of the referendum. Independence of course will mean we can opt for full membership. The key point is that with both councils, Scotland has much to contribute and equally, much to learn from the experience of our neighbours. The great advantage of independence and the chance to join other groups is that this sharing and learning will no longer be filtered by the lens of Westminster and London.

Freeing ourselves from this Westminster/London centric view of the world will be one of the major benefits of independence. And not only at official, governmental level. Independence is likely to have a major impact on the media in Scotland, both print and broadcast.  Whatever becomes of the BBC post independence, the big, big advantage for all of us it that it will not be British and will no longer be run from London. We badly need a broadcasting service which is open to developments around the world and does not automatically treat what happens in England as of prime significance. As many commentators have pointed out Scotland is much closer to the European norm in education for example than is England. Our broadcasters should reflect this and keep us more informed about how education and other public services are delivered and financed in the rest of Europe as opposed to using England as the preferred benchmark. While our Nordic neighbours would seem obvious territory for greater coverage, I am sure we can learn from developments in countries as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Venezuela etc. Once free from looking at everything through the filters of London, everything becomes possible.

Changes in broadcasting are likely to happen almost immediately after a Yes vote. However the print media world may take longer to change. Though change it must. Detailed coverage of Westminster politics will soon cease to have much significance in an independent Scotland. This should open up new possibilities for Scottish based and hopefully, Scottish owned newspapers.  Other relatively small independent countries, such as Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland etc all manage to sustain quality newspapers which combine in-depth coverage of national developments with good coverage of international affairs. Who knows, some of our budding journalists might welcome the chance to cover changes in Germany, Scandinavia, France, Canada etc, instead of just toddling down the road to London. We desperately need a media which informs us of developments from around the world which are relevant to the key issues in Scotland. A responsive and responsible Scottish media may be one of the most welcome if unexpected benefits of a Yes vote.

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