bookmark_borderMore devolution will never happen



The Scottish Parliament
Originally uploaded by mariancraig

Sometimes you find interesting articles in unexpected places. For instance, The Sun carried a piece yesterday called “Why promise more devolution when it will never happen?

In it, Andrew Nicoll argues that Scotland has only ever got more devolution to fend off the SNP, so after a No vote to independence there’s no chance anybody will give Scotland any more powers:

[I]t seems to me that every step along the way of devolution has been fired and driven by the threat of the SNP and a drift towards independence.

Take that threat away and there really is no reason to concede anything else.

Let’s look at the history books. Harold Wilson talked about devolution but nothing happened. Ted Heath promised it but nothing happened.

Then the SNP won a third of the vote in Scotland and, all of a sudden Jim Callaghan’s Labour government was determined to deliver.

But Mrs Thatcher said we should vote No and she would offer something better. The 1978 referendum failed, the SNP vote collapsed and Mrs Thatcher changed her mind — not a thing she did often.

Then Labour lost three elections on the trot. Scotland kept voting Labour and kept getting a Tory government. One more heave looked less and less attractive. Suddenly devolution was back on the cards.

And, when devolution finally came, nothing much happened until the SNP ended up as the biggest party in 2007.

Then, suddenly, we had the Calman Commission offering new tax powers to Scotland.

[…]

Why would the Tories give Scotland more devolution powers after [a No vote]? Is it because we will stop voting for the Tories if they don’t? It’s too late, we’ve already stopped.

Why would the Lib Dems give us more powers? Is it because they said they would, like they did over university tuition fees? Do you think there is a single thing the Lib Dems would not give up if it meant they could find themselves in government again?

Why would Labour give us more powers? Is it because we might stop voting Labour?

Well, who else are you going to vote for? Vote for who you like, but you won’t be voting for independence any more.

There won’t be more devolution because there is no need. Just like there will be no need to keep giving Scotland more cash than the rest of the UK.

I must say I agree with this. If Labour, the Tories and the LibDems are serious about giving Scotland further powers after a No vote, they need to pass a law before the autumn of 2014 that gives Scotland those extra powers starting from 2016 or so. If we vote Yes, the law will just never have any effect, but it’s the only way to guarantee that a No vote won’t become the beginning of the end of Scottish devolution.

bookmark_borderMore about Scotland and the EU



EU Flag
Originally uploaded by hounddog32

A few days ago I blogged about Scotland and the EU. At the time I wasn’t aware of a rather important document that had just been published by the UK parliament.

This document is a written statement about “the foreign policy implications of and for a separate Scotland” by Graham Avery, Senior Member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Senior Adviser at the European Policy Centre, Brussels, and Honorary Director-General of the European Commission. In other words, this is probably the greatest authority that has ever published an opinion on this crucial question.

Here is what he has to say about the question about Scotland’s continued EU membership:

For practical and political reasons the idea of Scotland leaving the EU, and subsequently applying to join it, is not feasible. From the practical point of view, it would require complicated temporary arrangements for a new relationship between the EU (including the rest of the UK) and Scotland (outside the EU) including the possibility of controls at the frontier with England. Neither the EU (including the rest of the UK.) nor Scotland would have an interest in creating such an anomaly. From the political point of view, Scotland has been in the EU for 40 years; and its people have acquired rights as European citizens. If they wish to remain in the EU, they could hardly be asked to leave and then reapply for membership in the same way as the people of a non-member country such as Turkey.

It’s definitely worth reading the entire document.

Needless to say, this document has ignited the Scottish blogosphere. See for instance Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Auld Acquaintance.

bookmark_borderWill Scotland have to join the euro?



Scottish euro coin
Originally uploaded by viralbus

The unionists seem to be in a tizzy about the prospect that Scotland will be forced to join the euro, so let’s have a rational look at the most likely scenarios.

To start with, it’s entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that Scotland will be allowed to inherit the UK’s opt-out. In that case, Scotland will have a formal right to remain outwith the euro indefinitely.

However, what happens if Scotland has to let go of the opt-out as part of the renegotiation of the membership terms? It’s not like Scotland would have to introduce the euro at once. Before any member state can introduce the euro, the convergence criteria have to be fulfilled:

  1. Inflation rates: No more than 1.5 percentage points higher than the average of the three best performing member states of the EU.
  2. Government finance:
    1. Annual government deficit: The ratio of the annual government deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) must not exceed 3% at the end of the preceding fiscal year. If not it is at least required to reach a level close to 3%. Only exceptional and temporary excesses would be granted for exceptional cases.
    2. Government debt: The ratio of gross government debt to GDP must not exceed 60% at the end of the preceding fiscal year. Even if the target cannot be achieved due to the specific conditions, the ratio must have sufficiently diminished and must be approaching the reference value at a satisfactory pace.
  3. Exchange rate: Applicant countries should have joined the exchange-rate mechanism (ERM II) under the European Monetary System (EMS) for two consecutive years and should not have devalued its currency during the period.
  4. Long-term interest rates: The nominal long-term interest rate must not be more than 2 percentage points higher than in the three lowest inflation member states.

Currently the UK doesn’t pass any of the tests apart from the last one, and as far as I can tell, the same would apply to Scotland at the moment. Therefore, Scotland wouldn’t be allowed to join the euro at first, even if the people of Scotland so desired.

It is of course possible (and probably also desirable) that Scotland will fulfil (1) and (2) in the longer term, but criterion (3) requires a deliberate step that Scotland can decide not to take.

This is how the Swedes have managed not to join the euro — they’re technically obliged to join the euro, but they have chosen not to join ERM II, which means that they cannot join. Scotland can do the same, even if it’s against the spirit of the treaties.

Finally, by the time the Scottish economy qualifies to join the euro, the European Union and the euro might have changed beyond recognition, and it is entirely possible that there will be a strong desire to join the euro by then.

It’s definitely not anything to worry about at this stage.

bookmark_borderAlle danskere er nationalister i skotsk forstand



Dannebrog 120/365
Originally uploaded by Blue Square Thing

Da jeg boede i Danmark, var jeg aktivt medlem af Det radikale Venstre. Nu hvor jeg bor i Skotland, er jeg aktivt medlem af Det Skotske Nationalparti (SNP). Det er måske ikke oplagt for alle danskere, hvordan man problemfrit kan gå fra DrV til SNP.

Sagen er den, at SNP ikke er nationalistisk på samme måde som fx Dansk Folkeparti.

SNP’s nationalisme er det, man på engelsk kalder civic nationalism, og som Wikipedia definerer således:

Liberal nationalism, also known as civic nationalism or civil nationalism, is a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights.[…] Liberal nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly. Liberal nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry (see popular sovereignty), from the degree to which it represents the “general will”. It is often seen as originating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially the social contract theories which take their name from his 1762 book The Social Contract. Liberal nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism.

Et godt eksempel på, hvordan det kommer til udtryk, kunne man se i Ruth Wisharts tale til uafhængighedsmarchen i Edinburgh:

A Scot is someone born here, and anyone who has paid us the compliment of settling here.

Det er nok sjældent, Dansk Folkeparti definerer danskere på den måde!

Man kan godt argumentere for, at stort set alle danskere og alle danske partier er nationalister i skotsk forstand, på den måde, at alle anser Danmark som værende den bedste basis for det danske demokrati.

I SNP vil vi bestemt ikke udelukke nogen fra Skotland. Vi ønsker blot, at Skotland bliver til et lille nordeuropæisk demokrati, forankret i EU, ligesom Irland, Danmark og Sverige, i stedet for at være en meget lille del af Det forenede Kongerige, der på mange måde har helt andre præferencer end os.

På mange måder er det nok uheldigt, at SNP valgte at bruge ordet national i sit navn, da det i mange andre lande har helt andre konnotationer. Derfor følte Angus Robertson, lederen af SNP’s gruppe i Westminster, sig nødsaget til at sige flg. i et interview med en østrigsk avis:

Wir Schotten sind offene, freundliche Menschen, wir sind Weltbürger — von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten.

bookmark_borderOne Nation Labour and what it means for a No vote



Ed Miliband with banner
Originally uploaded by net_efekt

Labour used to campaign for Scottish devolution because they thought it would give them a permanent Scottish power base, but they seem to have realised that it has reduced their influence in Scotland instead. Now Ed Miliband has invented One Nation Labour, and these two strands have potentially worrying consequences for Scottish devolution, as noted by Iain Macwhirter:

Certainly, there is no point giving lectures on how Scots can’t “have it all”, which is what the Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, appears to be doing. She wants to take the cake away altogether. She has gone through almost the entire sum of policies achieved under devolution and dismissed them as “SNP bribes”. Tuition fees, prescription charges, free personal care, concessionary bus fares – they’re all part of the “something for nothing” society. But if you strip out these headline measures – most of them of course introduced by Labour – there’s not a lot left to celebrate about the devolution decade.

Is there perhaps a risk that devolution will be abolished in the aftermath of af No vote?

To some extent, I think it would suit the unionist parties to the ground if Scotland became an English region like Yorkshire — abolishing the Scottish Parliament and introducing English law, the English school curriculum, English holidays, the English NHS, tuition fees and so on.

Even many nationalists agree that the status quo isn’t optimal. For instance, two months ago Jock Morrison wrote an interesting article in The Herald in which he argued that Scots have to stop pretending to be separate from England while being part of the same country:

That’s the reality Scots have to face up to. If your country is not on the map, it’s not in the heads of other people. […] We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be part of England […] and expect foreigners to recognise the distinctiveness of Scotland. People around the globe have no interest in getting their heads around ‘Great Britain’, ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and the ‘United Kingdom’. After all, these are just fancy titles for England, aren’t they?

Commenting on this article, Doug Daniel wrote:

I desperately want Scotland to be independent, but if the rest of Scotland disagrees, then it’s time we faced reality and stopped trying to be this wee pretendy nation. The Better Together campaign tells us we have “the best of both worlds”, suggesting we can have all the advantages of both and avoid the disadvantages, but that’s a very juvenile way of thinking. Is it not time we grew up and decided to accept our responsibilities one way or the other? If we’re not brave enough to stand up on our own as an independent nation, then what right do we have to insist on separate education, law and health systems? If we want the “shelter” that being joined to England supposedly provides, then after 300 years of dragging our heels, is it not time we made a commitment to this “relationship” and formally make Britain a country, rather than a collection of countries?

Almost all Scots I know think of Scotland as a proud nation, and most people here think that devolution should be extended, not rolled back (even if many Scots still think full independence is a step too far at the moment). However, we have to accept the possibility that a No vote will lead to devolution being rolled back instead, especially as that will fit better into One Nation Labour’s narrative.

bookmark_borderWhat is Lamont doing to Scottish Labour?

If you’ve been hiding under a stone, you might have missed Johann Lamont’s recent speech. Amongst other things, she said:

A council tax freeze, for example, costs. It’s cheap to say, but expensive to fund. And if you don’t fund it properly, and John Swinney isn’t funding this one, I’ll tell you what it costs. In North Lanarkshire alone, another 1400 jobs at risk. […] That is potentially 1400 incomes taken out of the economy. When the Scottish economy desperately needs a stimulus, that is 1400 people spending less, supporting fewer jobs, buying fewer goods and services.

[…]

This is the stark choice that Scotland has to face up to: if we wish to continue some policies as they are then they come with a cost which has to be paid for either through increased taxation, direct charges or cuts elsewhere.

Because she’s a committed unionist, increased taxation is not the way she wants to go (it would increase, not decrease, Scottish exceptionality), and she’s just condemned the cuts. She’s therefore left with direct charges — she wants to abolish free care and bus travel for the elderly, introduce tuition fees and prescription charges and end the council tax freeze.

In other words, she’s abolishing Scottish Labour’s commitment to universality, which is strange, given that Labour in the UK and in Wales are still in favour of universal benefits.

Abolishing universal services is a slippery slope, as pointed out by George Eaton in New Statesman:

[U]niversal public services, to which all contribute and from which all benefit, are the essence of social democracy. Once this principle is abandoned, greater cuts will inevitably follow as the rich, no longer receiving, have less incentive to give (you could call it “nothing for something”). For this reason, as Richard Titmuss sagely observed, “services for the poor will always be poor services”.

There are different analyses of her motives.

My first reaction was that she’s trying to secure the votes of public sector workers, especially in local councils and in the NHS, who are fearful of their jobs and would rather that everybody else paid more in order to secure their jobs and generous pensions.

The Herald thinks the new direction is a consequence of the independence referendum, quoting Professor James Mitchell: “Labour is in a difficult place – it must either align itself with policies from south of the Border in order to emphasise its Unionism or with the SNP and its own previous policies but thus undermine the Union.”

The best analysis I’ve seen was probably this one by Robin McAlpine in an article for the Jimmy Reid Foundation (do read the whole thing!):

I tried to think who in Labour would like this. I concluded that Westminster Labour would be very happy. So local-government-Labour will like it and Westminster-Labour would like it. And that is two thirds of Scottish Labour’s warring factions. If – and it seems a big if to me – Scottish-Parliament-Labour can be persuaded that this is good for them, it solves Ms Lamont’s short-term problems, uniting the three warring factions of her Party.

[…]

Lamont wants to unite Labour by cancelling devolution. That’s the only way I can read this. She has systematically gone through every area where the Scottish Parliament (largely through the actions of Labour itself) has differentiated itself from Westminster politics and she has abolished the differentiator. The big selling point of devolution was Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. Scotland’s biggest problem has been that it really likes a strong welfare state and adheres to the principle of universalism. It has voted this way over and over. Yesterday it seems that Lamont called time on this experiment. She has signalled her intention to pull the party in line with the UK Party, means testing everything, breaking down universalism, championing fiscal conservatism.

[…]

It is like she has absorbed so much ‘Better Together’ rhetoric that it is now her defining belief in politics, that Scotland must be pulled into Britain, that Labour must become first-and-foremost unionist.

It is a retreat into two comfort zones from different decades. From the late-1990s she takes Blairism which was superficially effective (although not in Scotland). From the 1980s she takes a model in which the real power of Labour is held in two places – Westminster and local government. Both are fantastical memories of times past, neither seem to me to offer a way forward.

Much as this strategy might appeal to Labour apparatchiks and many of their core voters, I simply can’t see how it will help them win either the referendum on Scottish independence or the next elections to the Scottish Parliament.

bookmark_borderInternational support for Scottish independence

The March and Rally for Independence in Edinburgh last Saturday was full of people from all over Europe supporting Scotland’s quest for independence: There were fifty Flemings, a large group of Venetians, and smaller groups of people from Catalonia, the Basque Country and Padania (North Italy).

However, there were no Danes (apart from me and my daughters, I presume), no Estonians, no Croats.

In other words, the international supporters were all from other non-sovereign nations seeking their independence, not from countries that are already internationally recognised independent states, even if that independence was only achieved within the past twenty years.

I guess it’s natural — Scotland, Euskadi (the Basque Country), Catalonia and Flanders all face similar obstacles, and they can help each other overcome them.

However, it’s a bit of a shame that the sovereign countries don’t want to get involved.

In the case of the neighbouring countries, such as Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Denmark, the emergence of an independent Scotland would have a significant impact on their world, and they might well find Scotland easier to work with than the current UK, so it could be in their interest to support the Scottish independence movement.

In the case of the countries that gained their freedom within the last couple of decades, they must have gained a lot of experience in the process, experience which could benefit us in Scotland.

I suppose sovereign countries will get in trouble if they support other countries’ independence movements openly. However, I don’t believe there’s anything that would prevent private citizens in other countries from forming groups to support Scottish independence.

Perhaps I should simply start up Danes for Scottish Independence on Facebook?