Tag Archives: Scotland

Common Weal’s Renewal Proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Independence is not a product

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some comments on Robin McAlpine’s latest article on Common Space

Robin McAlpine has a new article on the Common Space site. Entitled The indy movement needs a story – here’s one that can win.  You can read it all here. It is well worth reading and I agree with much in the piece. There are solid grounds for optimism  and the Better Together story is pretty much in tatters. I also agree that it is important to have a good, resonant story to tell about why independence is the way forward. Robin’s suggestion – Scotland as a “safe haven” – is good and certainly a very good start.

However I am concerned that in order to justify the need for a new story, he has seriously misrepresented what happened during the 2014 referendum campaign. He does this by trying to construct a deep divide between what he calls the official SNP/YES Scotland story and another, alternative story created by “a much less risk-averse, wider movement.” By this other movement I take it Robin means the Radical Independence Campaign(RIC) and the groups and parties closely associated with RIC.

In the article the official story was “the best people to make a decision about a place are the people who live there”.According to Robin this story didn’t and couldn’t work because it wasn’t a story. On the other hand the alternative story was “Scots like a fairer, more equal society and Westminster doesn’t so if you want to live better, we have to escape.” Now this was apparently a real story with “a beginning, a middle and an end, a hero and a villain.”

Not only was this alternative story a good story it nearly worked, and according to Robin “if this had been the story we set out with in 2011 and we’d told it wholeheartedly, I think we could have made it over the line.”

Now the above is itself a nice little story, but to me, more of a caricature than an accurate story. It simply does not resonate with my own experience of the 2014 referendum. There are three points I would like to make.

In my view the whole rationale for independence is a democratic one. Decisions about the future of Scotland should be taken by the people who live here. No matter what story or stories you devise to persuade people of the merits of independence this is where you end up. Whatever kind of Scotland you want to see emerge, progress towards this will be in response to the votes of the people who live in Scotland. So for Robin to dismiss this as not a story is to miss the point.

Secondly, what Robin calls the official story was in fact much more than just the bald claim that ‘the best people to make a decision about a place are the people who live there’. I still have my copy of the2014 White Paper and on the very first page, i, it states “With independence we can make Scotland the fairer and more successful country we all know it should be. We can make Scotland’s vast wealth and resources work much better for everyone in our country, creating a society that reflects our hopes and ambition.”

Then, on page 01, under the heading – The case for Independence – we find, “Independence is not an end in itself. The Scottish Government wants us to have the powers of independence so that people who live here can build a different and better Scotland, where the many benefits of our rich and vibrant society are cherished and shared and where we work together to advance our nation as a whole.”

While the above quotes may not be as pithy a story as Robin’s, they are in essence not that different. Robin can only make his comparison work to his advantage by selectively quoting out of context. It is interesting to note that he further decontextualises the official story by omitting any reference to Scotland. The official story was not really about Scotland, but just about “a place”, by implication any place. Why didn’t he write that the official story was “the best people to make a decision about Scotland are the people who live in Scotland.” Perhaps this was because by talking specifically about Scotland this formulation does resonate with Scots.

It is also worth noting that when he comes to phrasing his alternative story, this is squarely placed in a specific context. This is Scots against Westminster. Just a pity he didn’t extend this courtesy to the official story.

There were differences in stories about why independence was needed for Scotland, and why it would benefit Scotland. There were in fact more than just two stories. It is just wrong to claim that there was anything like this sharp divide between the official story and the RIC inspired alternative.

My third point is that this description of a divide in the pro-indy campaign does not equate with my own experiences of what happened on the ground in 2014. I campaigned as part of the RIC team in Dundee. There we worked, planned and campaigned well with the SNP, YES Scotland, the Greens and many, many others.

There were of course differences of emphases and differences of visions for the future of Scotland. But we all united in campaigning on the basis that whatever kind of Scotland was to emerge post independence, it would be the choice of the people who lived in Scotland. It may not appeal to Robin, but at the end of the day this is what independence boils down to – who decides, not what the decisions will be.

It is important to re-iterate that I agree with Robin on the importance of developing a good, simple, but relevant story about why independence is the way forward. His idea of a “safe haven” is well worth exploring further. However I am rather disappointed that he ends his article with the following “So long as we are willing to accept that this story requires the kind of root-and-branch approach to nation-building we’re proposing in the White Paper Project, it is ripe for development in a whole host of ways.”

This sounds dangerously close to asserting a “them and us” dichotomy. While there is much to admire about the White Paper Project, I would hate to think that it has become a kind of litmus text for moving forward. Common Weal is not the only show in town and diversity should be regarded as one of the strengths of the independence movement, not a weakness.

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Common Weal White Paper 2

The second section of Common Weal’s White Paper considers the Key Institutions of an Independent Scotland. This apparently will include reforming our current Scottish Parliament. The White Paper calls for two specific changes: 1. increasing the number of MSPs and 2. creating a Citizens Chamber. What is notable about both suggested reforms is that no context for either is provided. Common Weal just asserts that they will be necessary.

As regards a Citizens Chamber the justification according to the White Paper is that Scotland does not have a revising chamber and would no longer have Westminster, the House of Lords or any other parliamentary body with the power to examine its work. While it is true that Scotland does not have a revising chamber, I am not sure that Westminster or the House of Lords offer much in the way of scrutiny. There is also the not insignificant matter of democratic legitimacy. Which I would suggest both bodies conspicuously lack in relation to Scotland. So losing their input is not much of a loss at all as far as I can see.

The unstated assumption behind this claim is that Scotland needs a revising chamber. But no evidence whatsoever is provided as to why this is so. In particular no reference is made to the actual experience of other independent countries. While many countries do have a revising or second chamber, nearly all of them are countries with much, much larger populations than Scotland.

For countries with a population similar to Scotland or less than Scotland’s, a unicameral parliament is the norm. For example of the 10 member states of the European Union with a population similar to or less than Scotland, eight manage successfully with just one chamber. Only Ireland and Slovenia have felt it necessary to have a revising chamber.  Outwith the EU, nine of the 10 countries with populations similar to or less than Scotland also manage with just one parliamentary chamber. The Exception is Bosnia and Herzegovina, which may have its recent bloody history as a reason for needing a second chamber.

Looking beyond Europe there does not appear to be much evidence that a revising chamber for small countries is needed. Our antipodean cousins in New Zealand also manage to run a successful country with just one chamber.

None of the above means that creating a revising chamber is not something worth considering. It should mean at the very least that someone explains why Scotland needs an additional chamber when just about every other country of similar size manages well without one.

The other claim is that we will need to increase the number of MSPs with independence. As the White Paper puts it: “Upon independence the Scottish Parliament shall take on all responsibilities currently reserved to Westminster as well as maintaining existing responsibilities, leading to a substantial increase in workload which cannot be performed by the existing Parliament. The number of members of the Scottish Parliament shall therefore be expanded to reflect the loss of Members of Parliament at Westminster.”

Notice that this is not a recommendation. The use of the word “shall” implies that an increase in the number of MSPs will happen. However once again no context for this is provided. For example how does the size of the Scottish Parliament compare with parliaments in other similar countries? At first glance this comparison does provide some grounds for a larger number of MSPs. Of the five EU countries with a population very much similar in size to Scotland, all five have a larger number of parliamentarians. However there is no pattern to this. The numbers range from 150 for Slovakia to 179 for Denmark, while Finland has 200 MPs.

It is not obvious why there is such a wide range. Which emphasises a key point – there does not appear to be any clear relationship between the population of a country and the number of MPs in parliament. This holds true for countries outwith the EU. Macedonia with a population of around two million has a parliament with 123 MPs, while Moldova with a three and a half million people manages with just 101 MPs.

The other important factor in all this is that irrespective of the size of the population of a country, its government and parliament will have to carry out pretty much the same functions. This applies to even very small countries such as Luxembourg, Malta etc. Estonia for example has a population of 1.3 million and a parliament with 101 members. Yet Estonia manages to sustain a government with 14 ministries in addition to the Prime Minister. The same is true for countries outwith Europe. Costa Rica with five million people somehow manages with just 57 MPs. Perhaps a more relevant example is our friends in the south pacific, New Zealand. With a population slightly smaller than Scotland, New Zealand manages to successfully run itself and promote the country internationally, with a parliament of 120 MPs.

Once again this is not to say that an increase in the number of MSPs is out of the question. However it is incumbent on those proposing this increase to explain why it is necessary. Especially as this will inevitably involve some considerable expense and disruption. In particular they need to explain why this imperative has to form part of the prospective for independence. If New Zealand can manage as a successful independent country with 120 MPs I am convinced that Scotland can do so with 129MPs.

 

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Independence Negotiations – The Czech and Slovak Experience

This post is essentially a post I wrote in 2013 for a previous blog. I post it here as a follow up to my previous post on Common Weal’s White Paper. This included a section on Interim governance and recommended a three year period for negotiations and setting up the institutions of an independent Scotland.

As I mentioned in that post, this had not been the experience of the dozens of countries that had became independent in Europe since 1990. While it is clear that no two cases are the same, I see no reason why we cannot learn from these previous cases of moving to independence.

Of the dozens of countries in Europe that became independent in the past twenty years or so, perhaps the case most relevant for Scotland is that of the independence of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  This was a peaceful process and is often referred to as  “The Velvet Divorce”.  So what lessons can we learn form the Czech and Slovak experience?  In preparing this post I have made use of a study on The Breakup of Czechoslovakia by Robert Young, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, 1994.  The full study can be found here.

The first thing to note is that when independence did come, it all happened relatively quickly.  As Young points out, “Having accepted that separation would take place, the leaders quickly established a timetable and a basic framework for the event.”   Secondly, Young noted that, “Overall negotiations involved very few essential items.”

In the case of Scotland what might this look like?  As regards a timetable, at the time of the 2014 referendum the Scottish government allowed around 18 months for the negotiations. This seems to have been chosen in large measure to fit in with the timetable for elections to the Scottish Parliament, which were due to be held in May 2016.

In the case of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the negotiations took less than six months. Not to fully complete, but sufficiently to allow both countries to declare independence. Whatever timetable is agreed, I see no reason why after the next referendum we would need to plan for three years of negotiations before independence.

If there is a ‘Yes’ vote it will be in the interests of all parties, including the UK, to get the negotiations over with as soon as possible.  I imagine the business and financial sectors will be pushing for a quick resolution to the negotiations.  Uncertainty is bad for business we are repeatedly told.  As will various outside bodies, such as the IMF, the EU and no doubt the USA.  Each for their own particular reasons will not want the negotiations to drag on.

When it comes to the framework for the negotiations there will be two parts to this.  This could be termed the What and the How.  As regards what the negotiations will be about, according to Young, in Czechoslovakia the big issues were:

1 the military
2 succession to international treaties
3 level of post separation economic integration
4 currency
5 citizenship
6 division of assets and liabilities”

In the case of Scotland and the rest of the UK, a couple of other issues may merit specific negotiation:

1 demarcation of maritime boundary in North Sea
2 state pension
3 welfare benefits

This gives nine big issues to be negotiated.  There will be other issues to resolve such as diplomatic representation and the future of broadcasting and the BBC.  However these and other issues are more the stuff of political debate within an independent Scotland.

When it comes to how these issues will be resolved – the how of the negotiations – the key will be to agree on some general principles.  For example in the case of Czechoslovakia two principles were agreed on early in the process.  These were:

1 fixed property would be owned by the Republic in which it was located
2 movables would be divided on a per capita basis – this was agreed at 2:1 in favour of the Czech Republic.

In practice there were important exemptions to the first principle, as most of the Federal buildings and property were in Prague, the Federal capital, located in what was to become the Czech Republic.  In recognition of this imbalance Slovakia received financial compensation in lieu.  Something similar will probably be required here as the UK is one of the most centralized states in the world and most UK government buildings and property are located in London.  The second general principle was based on population.  It should not be beyond the wit of both the UK and Scottish governments to agree on something similar.

It would also be good and encouraging if the two governments could agree on some statement about the spirit in which any negotiations will be conducted.  They need not look further than the Queen’s visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, another former part of the UK.  While in Dublin the Queen had this to say about UK-Irish relations:  “Together we have much to celebrate: the ties between our people, the shared values, and the economic, business and cultural links that make us so much more than just neighbours, that make us firm friends and equal partners.”  It is certainly the aim of the Scottish government that Scotland and the rest of the UK remain firm friends and equal partners.  Will the current UK government make such an explicit statement in regard to Scotland?

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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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A Year On – Still Yes

With the first anniversary of the referendum upon us, it is as a good a time as any for a bit of reflection. Like just about everyone who participated in the Yes campaign I found it an exhilarating, exciting and rewarding experience. We failed to convince a majority of our fellow citizens, but we did convert hundreds of thousands and the momentum was clearly with Yes. This momentum has continued and it is the pro independence side that remains the more buoyant, determined and optimistic.

I share in this determination and optimism. I remain convinced that independence is the right way forward for Scotland. My reasons remain the same. Basically that the key decisions about the future of Scotland should  be taken by the people who live here. It’s all about democracy and taking responsibility for our future.

I reckon that a majority of Scots also share this position. Alas, we did not convince enough of them that Scotland was economically viable as an independent country. Worries about our long term economic viability were expressed in many ways. Fears that an independent Scotland would not be able to afford the pensions for older people. The fear that many businesses would leave the country. Allied to this the fear that if Scotland was out of the EU this would damage our economy. The worry that Scotland was too dependent on (declining) revenues from the North Sea. Finally, fears about the currency of an independent Scotland – what if Westminster said no to us using the pound?

All of the above factors were influential in creating a climate of fear about the economic prospects of an independent Scotland. They were together the main weapon of the No campaign. In this they were ably abetted by our very biased media, who kept up a constant barrage of scare stories and fears throughout the referendum campaign. So I agree with those who believe that it was the failure to convince more people about the long term economic viability of an independent Scotland that lost us the referendum. It is many ways a wonder that we managed to convince so many, given the hostility to our campaign.

Where I part company with many on the economy factor is that I do not believe that the currency was in itself the crucial factor. A factor yes, but for me, no more important than the others mentioned above. From my perspective, currencies are just not that important. Just about all the independent countries in the world have their own currency. Yet the economic performance of these countries ranges from the abysmal to very good. Equally there is no clear pattern to discern from among the few countries that either share a currency or just use someone else’s currency. Greece, Ireland and Portugal have all had economic woes, but so have lots of other countries with their own currency, including our very own UK.

What was damaging in relation to the currency question was the uncertainty that surrounded it. Would Westminster agree? How strong or weak would an independent currency be? But this was the same with all the factors around the economy.  There was uncertainty about the EU, about just how rich and viable Scotland was. Uncertainty is the name of the game.  Uncertainty applied as much to the UK and staying in the UK. But nobody in the media was prepared to pose these questions or rigorously challenge the Unionists on the long term viability of the UK in either economic or social well being terms.

My central point is that we still have much work to do to convince No voters that Scotland has the resources to be a stable and successful country. I am disappointed that we did not do better on this score. I still feel that we should have done more about international comparisons. No two countries are the same, but Denmark and Scotland do have a lot in common in terms of geographic location, size and population. I am no economist and no expert on Denmark, but I find it impossible to work out just what natural advantages Denmark has over Scotland. Yet nobody, not even in the No campaign would suggest that Denmark is not one of the most successful countries in the world. Nobody ever suggests that Denmark should not be an independent country on the grounds that it is too small and too poor. So why did we not challenge Unionists to demonstrate with evidence why Scotland, unlike Denmark would not be similarly successful?

The economy has to be the key issue for winning a second referendum. Independence will only come when a clear majority of Scots have confidence in the wealth and resources of their country. The perilous state of the UK economy and its uncertain future should offer us fertile ground for building the general case that Scotland has all the resources needed to be a stable and successful country. This will not be about specific policies, but about the basics of the economy – the rich range of natural and human resources at our disposal.

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Yes and No are not over

Gerry Hassan has an interesting article for the Scottish Left Project entitled Message to the Messengers: What do we do after Yes? In it he lists and comments on some of the myths of the indyref which he claims are still held on to by some and which need dispelling. It is an interesting piece, but not very illuminating, which you can read in full here. The Wilderness of Peace blog has done an excellent job of refuting Hassan’s many points, and you can read this riposte here.

I want to pick up on one of Gerry Hassan’s so-called myths which needs dispelling. According to Mr Hassan, Yes and No are over. They are not the future. There is no future in them. They belong to the past – and died on September 18th. The Yes/No binary has to be lost to allow the emergent new voices, spaces and movements which came forth in the referendum to grow, be set free, and find a place to flourish which is not dependent or related to the independence referendum.

Now, strictly speaking this is not really a myth. There is a Yes/No binary, it is just that Mr Hassan wants us all to leave it behind and let it die. Now this is exactly what Unionists have been calling for ever since the referendum. So it is a bit surprising to read Gerry Hassan endorsing this Unionist call. Particularly as he gives no convincing reason as to why this should happen. The various emergent new voices which came forth during the referendum all seem to be doing a very fine job of growing and finding places to flourish. It is a pity that Mr Hassan did not seem to think fit to ask any of these new voices for their opinion on the relevance of the Yes/No divide. As far as I can make out, they all seem to be quite explicit on which side of the divide they lie.

For,contrary to Mr Hassan the Yes/No binary is still relevant. More so than ever I would argue. Though the Unionists won the referendum it was never made clear just what kind of UK we were asked to endorse. This is not just about the infamous Vow, which came very late in the day. Throughout the campaign, Unionists of all sorts made it crystal clear that a No vote was not a vote for no change. It was just that their assorted promises were extremely vague.

We still do not know what kind of Union will emerge post referendum. In this respect the Smith Commission has done Unionists no favours at all. Their proposals are underwhelming for most Scots, while the mere mention of additional powers for Scotland seems to arouse some rather unedifying responses from most English MPs. Not to mention that the Smith proposals say nothing about Wales or Northern Ireland.

The point that Mr Hassan seems to have missed is that for the time being the Yes/No divide is as much about genuine constitutional change for the whole of the UK. Can the UK transform itself into a federal or near federal state? One that gives proper recognition to all the component nations that make up the UK. One that at long, long last begins to transfer power, both political and economic, away from London to the rest of the UK.

Those in the No camp are still, judging by their contributions to the Smith Commission unwilling to even contemplate such a transformation of the UK. So Yes and No remains an accurate and useful dividing line. While most of us on the Yes side will continue to put forward the case for independence, in the meantime we are more than willing to join forces with others across the UK in arguing for genuine constitutional change. The UK state in its current form needs to be broken up and reconstituted. You are either in favour of this transformation or not – Yes or No?

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Too little, too late?

Is the above to be the long term verdict on the Smith Commission recommendations, published today? First thought, Lord Smith and his team deserve a warmth round of thanks. To have come up with any kind of agreement among the five political parties is quite an achievement it itself. The Commission also seems to have done a fair job of media management. Nearly all of the media are reporting the proposals in glowing terms, or in the case of some English outlets at least as some significant new powers for Scotland. First impressions from the media, however, are rarely very reliable indicators of lasting success.

My reading of the report chimes very much with the verdict of Professor Michael Keating from Aberdeen University, who sums up the report thus: The Smith commission report provides the minimum amount of extra devolution required to meet the expectations raised by the famous ‘vow’ from the three UK party leaders in the last week of the referendum campaign. Minimum amount of change perfectly describes the essentials of the recommendations.

Not to be churlish, there are a few positives in the report relating to the Crown Estate in Scotland, Air Passenger Duty, elections and the operation of the Scottish Parliament, and a few others. All important, but hardly the stuff of Devo-Max or a Powerhouse Parliament.

However the recommendations have to be judged against the objectives set out by the Commission itself. It refers to them as the three pillars:

  1. providing a durable but responsive constitutional settlement for the    governance of Scotland
  2. delivering prosperity, a healthy economy, jobs, and social justice
  3. strengthening the financial responsibility of the Scottish Parliament

It is not clear that the recommendations will fully achieve any of these pillars. As regards the first – a durable and responsive constitutional settlement – there are two obvious weaknesses. The first is that without a written constitution there is no way that the current or proposed constitutional settlement can be made permanent. UK legislation can state whatever it likes, but no legislation can bind any future government. It is also noteworthy that the report recommends that changes to the electoral system or the workings of the Scottish Parliament be subject to a two-thirds majority. This limitation and requirement is to be imposed on the Scottish Parliament by legislation at Westminster. However no such requirement is deemed necessary for Westminster itself.

This highlights the other weakness in the proposals, namely that they focus entirely on Scotland. This may seem a strange criticism, but given the result of the referendum, any proposals for constitutional change need to take account of how they will affect the governance of the UK as a whole. This not exactly the fault of the Commission which was restricted in its remit. However it does raise serious question marks as to the willingness of the rest of the UK to accept the recommendations as they stand.

When it comes to the economy, jobs and social justice, there is very little change at all. It is amazing to see how often a paragraph ends with the words – will remain reserved. In this case all of pensions and effectively all of welfare are to remain reserved matters. The Scottish Parliament will have new powers to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility. However these can only be at the margins as any monies to be spent will need to be raised by the Scottish government. Which is only right and proper, but the report contains virtually nothing in the way of substantive additional revenue raising powers.

Which leads nicely on to the final pillar – financial responsibility. While a lot of noise will be made about the recommendations in this area, they amount to little more than re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The Scottish Parliament will gain the power to set the rates and thresholds for personal income tax and the first 10% of the standard rate of VAT will be assigned to Scotland. This is all fine and dandy, but in return the current block grant assigned to Scotland will be reduced by exactly the same amount. We gain no say or control over the rates of VAT. While income tax is important it is only one of many, many taxes available to governments and one which will prove in practice, difficult to change from the rates set by Westminster. Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK explains here, why devolving income tax is the worst possible solution for everyone. All the other revenue sources remain reserved.

So, all in all, the recommendations are pretty timid and completely fail to address the key issue facing the UK as a whole, namely the over centralisation of power. Political power will remain concentrated at Westminster, while economic power will remain concentrated in London. Not much was expected from the Smith Commission and in this respect it has not disappointed.

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Scottish politics – the waiting game?

I have that this feeling that we are going through a very strange phase in relation to politics in Scotland. There is still plenty of activity going on, but it strikes me that there is as yet not a lot of substance behind all this activity. This is not a criticism, it takes time for all of us to adjust to the post referendum situation. And the unexpected paradox that it is the losing side, the pro-independence groups and political parties, that is the most energised and enthusiastic. It is great to see so many of our fellow citizens – well over a hundred thousand by now – join a political party. I am one of them, and the Scottish Greens now have one more awkward member to deal with!

It is not just the pro-indy political parties that have been re-energised by this post referendum surge. Many, possibly most, of the main pro-indy campaign groups have decided to continue their work. And they have seen an increase in members or activists. Witness the sell outs for Women for Indy and the most recent, the incredible 3,000 people who attended RIC’s latest jamboree in Glasgow. All the more remarkable in that this conference was held at the same time and almost in the same place as Nicola managed to attract 12,000 people to her final tour event!

At the local level there has been, if anything, an even greater outburst of activity. All kinds of groups, some longstanding and others relatively new, have been organising public meetings, conferences and conventions. More are already planned for next year.

Even the media it seems will not remain unscathed by this post referendum surge. The main pro-indy websites – Bella, Newsnet, National Collective, Wings etc – have all decided to not just continue, but in most cases to expand. This week we have even seen the emergence of a pro-indy newspaper – the National – albeit on a one week trial run. The times they are a changing! Or, have they already changed?

All this activity is great and most welcomed, and I am pleased to play my very small part in this movement. However activity on its own will not be enough. Sooner or later more will be needed. Before the 18th September, we could all focus on the one aim of winning a Yes vote. Details could be left a bit vague as the whole point of independence is that it will be for the people who live in Scotland to have the final democratic say on policies.

This is now no longer the case. While independence will remain the key aim for most of us, a referendum is now off the agenda, for at least a few years anyway. Policy will now be what matters. And there are plenty of issues demanding attention. Constitutional issues will still remain, as we await with baited breadth the proposals from the Smith Commission on how to strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament within the UK. As ever the economy will be the prime focus for most people. However this time around social justice is likely to become just as important an issue. Or perhaps the key issue will become how to manage the economy in a way that ensures social justice as an equally important outcome. There will of course be other issues that are likely to become important – fracking, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its potentially devastating consequences for public services, such as the NHS, the EU and immigration to name but a few.

In all these cases the public will want to hear what the various parties and campaign groups have to say. In particular they will want detailed proposals which specify what action needs to be taken. Wish lists and demands are unlikely to suffice for much longer. And this is where things could become very interesting. With Nicola now formally installed as our new First Minister – congratulations and best wishes to her – and her new cabinet in office, we can expect some more details from the SNP as to what their proposals are. The Greens already have proposals in the public domain. The same should soon happen with the Labour party, once they have decided who they want as their leader and deputy. Though how much real scope for decision making they have remains unanswered.

The various campaigning groups will soon have to decide how far they want to go down the route of detailed proposals. A start was made at the RIC conference with their so called People’s Vow. Not that I am a fan of vows of any kind, at least not in current times. While the principles are admirable, the vow remains full of demands and promises to campaign, to demonstrate and to oppose this and that. The only positive item I could see was the commitment to prepare a people’s budget. It will be interesting to see who gets to write this “people’s” budget, and how far it goes beyond a list of demands.

Another Scotland is possible is the key message of RIC. This needs to go beyond a slogan and become a reality by detailing what needs to change and how these changes can be made and paid for. We need to put forward a vision of this other Scotland as a series of concrete examples of what will be different and how it can happen. And we need to take this to the people of Scotland in their communities and engage with them and convince them that this other Scotland is both worth striving for and achievable. The waiting time will soon be over.

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