THE SUMMER OF DOUBLESPEAK

SCINIThose who have read “1984” will remember that “Doublespeak” was the official language of Airbase 1. Doublespeak meant saying the opposite of what one actually meant. Like a number of George Orwell’s dystopic visions, Doublespeak has become reality, both during the Brexit campaign and in its fall-out.

Five weeks on from the Brexit referendum, not a lot has happened outwardly . Ms. May has met with a number of Heads of EU States in an attempt to downsize the future role of the European Commission in negotiations. Her message has been very clear: the UK expects to be able to continue to be a good European partner having thrown out at least one of the Four Freedoms, with Immigration in the hot seat. (Doublespeak, item #1).

This position is  likely to receive short shrift. The Commission has appointed M. Michel Barnier as its chief negotiator. “The Independent” describes M. Barnier as a tough negotiator, a”purist on the principles of the single market” and a person who has previously rejected the UK “pick and mix” approach to financial services. He formally begins his job on 1 October but says that nothing serious can happen until the UK triggers Article 50, thus formally announcing its intention to leave the EU.

Activation of Article 50 is not expected before the beginning of 2017 at the earliest. M. Juncker has acknowledged that the UK may need several months to prepare its negotiating position. If Ms. May should decide to indefinitely postpone activating Article 50, the Brexit result could become subject to a General Election . Under current rules the next GE will be in 2020 – a long time in politics and an eternity for markets wanting clarity. There have been speculations about a snap GE in 2016 but as things stand it is unlikely that either side could muster the necessary 2/3 majority (434 seats out of 650) in the House of Commons to activate this. This situtation might change if Corbyn survives the September vote as Leader of the Opposition: a Labour Party in continuing turmoil might be unable to mount an effective election campaign.

The other main topic of debate this week was how a dismembered UK might finally look. Ms. May doesn’t want a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and with good reason – it has been tried and the multitude of problems that this created are well-documented. She hasn’t mentioned the possibility for a hard border between an independant Scotland and England, because in her public utterances an independent Scotland will not exist – “Scotland has had its vote for Independence” (Doublespeak, item #2). The media have not been so reticent. The cartoon shows a Celtic alliance of UK countries that might opt to remain in the EU and what this would mean for the Scottish-English border (readers should note that the Republic of Ireland is and will remain an EU member although not shown as such in the cartoon). On current statistics a Scotland – England border would have to deal with at least 2/3 of Scottish good and services being exported to rUK and presumably an even greater inflow of rUK imports (I haven’t been able to find any statistic for this). While a hard border between Scotland and England would present formidable technical difficulties and costs, a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would have the potential to re-open the festering secterian difficulties of the late 20th century – something that probably nobody wants but that would not neccessarily prevent it from becoming a political reality.

Time passes and Brexit becomes an ever-bigger can of worms.

sturgeon_europeThe month that has elapsed since the Brexit referendum has seen the start of a massive re-calibration of the UK political scene.  The most important, and most widely-quoted, is “Brexit means Brexit” pronounced by Theresa May, the new Prime Minisiter. That sounds pretty definite, but … the fat lady hasn’t yet sung.

The second event was the announcement of Ms. May’s top cabinet posts, with prominent Brexiteers to the fore. The disbelief in the UK and Europe about the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary was pretty well universal. However, mature reflection suggest two things. First, that, having a large share of responsibility for Brexit, it is appropriate that Mr. Johnston has to  deal with the consequences ( one is reminded of the lines from “The Mikado” .. “… to make the punishment fit the crime/The punishment fit the crime.”) Secondly, Ms. May, whom the British media establishment has described as a tough cookie is following the advice of Machiavelli, to “..keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer”.

The third development was the message sent from Scotland. All 32 Scottish electoral regions and 62% of the electorate voted to remain in Europe. While Westminster was a sea of confusion for several days after the results of the vote were announced, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promptly set out the position of Scotland. The Scottish parliament will negotiate with Westminster in order to explore all possibilities for a mutually-acceptable solution to their disparate positions but Ms. Sturgeon was equally clear that she had a strong mandate from the Scottish electorate to keep Scotland within the EU. She promptly visited Brussels to make sure that this message was understood by the European political élite, which made encouraging but not binding statements of support.

The Scottish position has not gone down well in Westminster. Early on Ms Sturgeon suggested that Scotland could block Brexit but Ms. May and her top ministers have made it clear that this is not the case. Other EU-positive regions of the UK, including London and Gibraltar, have also expressed their interest in negotiating “special relationships” with the EU but that is likely to be even more difficult than for Scotland and neither have gone so far as to suggest “independence” as their goal. Brexiteers point at the various arrangements that have been negotiated for non-EU European states, principally the EEC: however, an EEC “solution” such as that between the EU and Norway would essentially mean all the responsibilities with fewer of the advantages of full EU membership.

The central position of Brexiteers seems to be that the UK can simply walk away from the Four Freedoms, in particular freedom of movement. That has already been categorically ruled out by, for example, M. Hollande. If and when negotiations start in earnest I suspect that they will come to resemble the Monty Python “Norwegian Blue” sketch. “That perrot is dead”.

In is in and out is out. And Scotland is between a rock and a hard place.

 

WHY SCOTLAND DOESN’T TRUST WESTMINSTER ON EU

IndyRef_EU_prediction

Brexit_Scotland_and_EU

Picture 1 is from the IndyRef campaign of 2014. Picture 2 is post-Brexit by about 10 days.  For newcomers – Ruth Davidson was (and still is) the leader of the Conservative party in the Scottish National parliament, i.e. she was campaigning for No Thanks during IndyRef. These days she is also a fast-rising star in the UK Conservative party.

Draw your own conclusions.

“MAY YOUR CHOICES REFLECT YOUR HOPES, NOT YOUR FEARS.”

The time is 03:20 on 16 September. In two hours my youngest daughter and I will start our journey to Scotland – she for her final year at the University of Strathclyde, both of us to participate in the experience of the Independence Referendum.

Whatever happens on the 18 September will start a series of changes with momentous consequences for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They will spread beyond those islands to affect Europe and indeed the world. Britain will cease to be “Great” but it will become a country or group of countries better adapted to supply all of its citizens with an adequate standard of living and a return to a more democratic governance.

The campaign for Yes Scotland has said No Thanks to:

a centralised government run by a clique of politicians that serve the interests of the ultra-rich, backed up by a set of mainstream media which no longer see their function as holding the powerful to account on behalf of the weak

– a government that spends billions on billions of pounds on a military establishment so that its leaders can pretend that Britain “punches above its weight” on the world stage – a capacity that was important when the Empire stretched around the globe but is now a vastly-expensive self-delusion

– a government which is opening the public services of the country to the possibilty of US-style of litigation with its risk of immense, trumped-up claims for damages

– a government that has consistently ignored the needs of the periphery for those of the southern parts of the country, particularly the needs of London, which has become a black hole that sucks resources from the rest of the country.

The Better Together campaign has offered more of the same old, discredited way to run the country.

Whatever the result of the referendum the future is now fraught with uncertainties. This could have been prevented by an orderly political discourse initiated by a Westminster attuned to the needs of the periphery, particularly Scotland, Wales, the North of England and the South-West. The (disallowed) “Yes” vote for Scottish Independence in 1979 was largely ignored by Westminster as were the possible consequences of the Scotland Act of 1998. David Cameron was completely unable to imagine what forces he was setting loose by his refusal in 2012 to allow the referendum to include a vote for “Devo Max”: if he had agreed to that, the present situation would probably never have arisen, the pound Sterling would not be facing a long period of weakness and the country itself about to be rent asunder one way or another. David Cameron and his Westminster colleagues then and now signally failed to understand the mood of Scotland. The Better Together campaign has had an impossible task because the reality is, if Westminster cannot offer anything better than Better Together to the poor and deprived people in Scotland, then Better is not Good Enough.

Against all the odds, against every-day common sense, against the torrents of advice from the rich and powerful (looking after their own interests as always) the Yes Scotland campaign has held out a vision of another way of governance. The campaign claims have been exaggerated but the idea that it could be possible to do things in a different way has caught on. When the discourse changed from the technicalities of accounting and macroeconomics to this wider and greater vision, people living in Scotland embraced the idea that they could do a better job of running their country than Westminster could. They know that way of governance has been tried and repeatedly found wanting.

The opinion polls tell us that the people of Scotland are evenly divided between Yes for Hope and No for Fear. Because we face great uncertainty whatever the outcome, I support those whose choice, in the spirit of Nelson Mandela, “will reflect their hopes and not their fears”. My daughter has the vote on the 18th. It will be a proud moment for me when she casts it. I suspect that she will join a majority of the people of Scotland and vote “Yes”.

This blog is now closed.

1984 – 30 YEARS ON

 

2013+15steadman orwell22(1)

cartoon Ralph Steadman

Top Westminster politicians, top banking executives and the mainstream media have all told us that a currency union between an independent Scotland and the Rest of the United Kingdom is impossible (the list is so long and the posts so easy to find that I’m not bothering with one reference here). It seems they have not read a calm, well-argued paper from Deutsche Bank experts Oliver Harvey and George Saravelos (http://www.voxeu.org/article/well-designed-sterling-union-will-be-needed-if-scotland-votes-independence) that was published in May 2014. The conclusion is:

A practical analysis of an independent Scotland’s currency options shows that a unilateral breakup, by either side, would be close to impossible because of the costs to financial stability. Even a mutual exit would be extremely complicated and risky, and would require policymakers to be planning already. A currency area would thus be the only viable option in the short term. However, as the Eurozone demonstrates, if badly designed this can be an exceptionally costly outcome.

There you have it. A currency area while calm heads work out the best options for both sides in the long term. For example it has been suggested that Scotland might use the Norwegian crown, which could be a good option if Scotland develops into a country rich in renewable as well as fossil energy (https://theconversation.com/the-best-currency-for-an-independent-scotland-would-be-norways-krone-25036 and this blog).

So the top brass have been talking against the best interests of the rUK, which they must have know, but that was less important than shoring up the neo-liberal alliance of Westminster to keep jobs for the boys (neo-liberal in the sense of Hayek and Friedman). Senior staff of the Deutsche Bank seem to have missed this too (http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2014/09/neo-cons-of-the-world-unite-you-have-nothing-to-lose-except-your-slaves-mansions-and-huge-pots-of-money).

Recent comments and even some mainstream media articles have swung in the last week from details to principles. This campaign is not only about an independent Scotland but also about the principle of “One man (or woman), one Vote” against the rampant misuse of wealth and power by a system that delivers benefits to themselves instead of to the populace .

George Orwell would have applauded (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/26/the-establishment-uncovered-how-power-works-in-britain-elites-stranglehold).

 

ENGLISH OPINIONS ON INDYREF

“Kernow” posted this comment to

http://whatscotlandthinks.org/questions/should-scotland-be-an-independent-country-1#bar

Upfront I’ll say I’m an English person, don’t read if you think my views aren’t relevent.

I’ve been following this with interest for months, and I really have to say – the Yes campaign has won the argument in my eyes. Years ago when the SNP were voted in and the referendum was put in place, I had the typical response many feel to the county being split up – hell no – but this wasn’t a view based on any informed opinion about Scotland or the reasons the referendum has come about.

It’s been difficult to sort through the rhetoric and junk arguments on both sides of this debate. The strongest arguments of the no campaign have all seemingly been economic, but seriously, is an economic argument alone enough reason not to want independence? It’s going to be hard. I think the majority of Yes voters already know that. Going it alone always is hard. I think the Yes camp have been honest that independence isn’t a magic wand. It’s a long haul, and it won’t necessarily be the current generation that benefits most from independence.

If I could vote for my region to have independence from the South East centric elites that comprise our government I would. Even if there is a no vote on Thursday the only thing it’ll guarantee is that Scotland will be back to the polls on this same issue in ten or twenty years time.

It’s plain to see whats going on from the news reports. When BBC cameras are pointed at the Yes campaign, there are a sea of faces, and lots of noise. When the cameras are pointed at the No camp, it’s five people in a line behind Darling, or Miliband, or Brown with an empty street in the background. I’m confident that the SNP have this one in the bag, at this stage. There’s no momentum left in the No camp.

So, any chance you’ll be accepting refugees from the other Celtic nations once you have your independence, guys?”

My only criticisms are that Kernow gives the Yes campaign a bit better press than they really deserve, it really hasn’t been strong on pointing out that independence will entail hard work and probably hard times, especially during the transitional period. Also the No side has certainly had a much greater, and mostly positive, press coverage in the last two or three days so from that point of view the Yes movement seems to have stalled. But I am told that on social media the situation is quite different. I’m not competent with Twitter and barely capable with FB so can’t confirm or deny that one. FInally its the Yes campaign, not the SNP, who are winning the race.

And here is a link to a letter written by William Pinkney-Baird, an English student: it is a well-formulated cogent argument for a Scotland that is independant of governance from Westminster (https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/william-pinkneybaird/letter-to-young-people-in-scotland). The letter is long so only I quote his closing paragraph:

“In a couple of short weeks, you will be faced with the decision of a lifetime. A choice either to accept the status quo of undemocratic rule from Westminster, including the youth unemployment and critical threats to free education and the NHS that come with it, or to reject this in favour of democracy, for a government that you can better hold to account to look after your needs. Independence will not solve every problem, for the young people of Scotland or for anyone. But I do believe that the benefits of independence—for young people as for everyone else—will be well worth any risks or uncertainties.”

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to claim that this is part of a quiet revolution. It has come out of the cupboard to confront the beast of neo-liberalism head-on.

CAST IRON TIMETABLE ALREADY IN SHREDS

A couple of days ago, the Labour ex-Prime Minster Gordon Brown, now an ordinary MP at Westminster, made an unexpected and widely-publicised entry into the IndyRef campaign. He claimed that he would get The Speaker of the House of Commons to set in motion a process that would produce a “cast-iron” timetable for a devomax solution starting on 19 September and finishing by 25 January 2015, which just happens to be Burn’s Night (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/05/gordon-brown-scottish-independence-devolution).

This was widely welcomed by the Better Together campaign in the belief that it would get some people to refrain from voting Yes.

There are number of important misunderstandings conflated here. Firstly, Cameron himself appears to have rejected a proposal by First Minister Alex Salmond to have a devomax alternative on the ballot paper (http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/david-cameron-missed-chance-save-7727958). The ballot paper states without any doubt that this is about Yes for Independence or No for the status quo. Repeat – No is not a vote for more devolution. However Better Together understood early on that they would get nowhere with a genuine No campaign so its various factions have been talking about “devomax” – each political party offering a different version – which actually contravenes the rules set out in the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012.

Brown was hoping that his standing within the Labour party and his Scottish antecedents (he is MP for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath) would give his proposal the necessary political clout although it was only a timetable, not actual powers. None the less Westminster politicians rallied round the idea with enthusiasm. But Yesterday William Hague, who was standing in for Cameron during Prime Ministers Question time, said:

Fast tracking further devolution for Scotland was not Government policy”.

This statement is absolutely consistent with the Edinburgh Agreement.

Gordon Brown had also overlooked a constitutional requirement that any bill put before the House of Commons has to be ratified by the House of Lords before it becomes legal. That body issued a report in 2012 which stated specifically that

Proper constitutional process requires that negotiations involving all parts of the United Kingdom precede any referendum on an agreed scheme of “devolution max.”

So not only would any devomax solution have to pass the House of Lords but it would also have to be negotiated with all parts of the United Kingdom (http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/uk-to-get-veto-on-gordon-browns-devo-proposals).

How such negotiations would be done is a purely academic question. DevoMax hasn’t died, it was stillborn from the start – another Dead Parrot on the Better together campaign trail.

One wonders why the Yes Scotland campaign hasn’t given more publicity to the funeral.

THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER

Dave Simonds cartoon on London's economic dominance

cartoon by Dave Simmonds

The mainstream press in Scotland can still come up with a truth or two. For example;

The Prime Minister talks about the ties that bind the Union, in other words, but heads a government and a parliament that barely seems to register Scotland’s existence, except at those rare moments when we threaten the Union with imminent extinction; and to say that this is no way to run a mature and functioning democracy is to understate the case.

The truth is that over the last generation, Westminster has become increasingly unrepresentative of anyone except a narrow caste of career politicians; has become steadily more dependent on funding by wealthy individuals and corporations; has – as a consequence – largely ceased to offer a real political choice between neo-liberal orthodoxy and other approaches to creating a good society; and has been found guilty of spectacular levels of greed and corruption in relation to its own expenses system.

… there are questions to be asked about how far we should allow our decisions on Scotland’s future to be shaped by the representatives of what is essentially a failed financial system, now propped up only by taxpayer subsidy taken out of our own pockets.

And not only are those structures still in place six years on, but they are still seeking to impose their failed ideology on ever-larger swathes of the planet. The next scheme, courtesy of global corporate lobbying, is the so-called TTIP, or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an imminent EU/US deal which will effectively forbid governments from running public services, and force them – regardless of the views of voters – to open up all services, including the NHS, for commercial exploitation.

And this is the paradox at the heart of the referendum debate, as we reach its final hours. On one hand, we are told of what are clearly real economic risks associated with independence. Yet, on the other, we cannot help but be aware that those risks are often being imposed, and even engineered, by corporations and structures whose power needs to be challenged – thoroughly, bravely and soon – if democracy is to have any chance of surviving and thriving in the 21st century.

To vote Yes next Thursday, in the spirit of the remarkable grassroots campaign for re-empowerment that has swept Scotland over the last year, is to throw down that challenge and to accept the consequences, whatever they may be.

   (http://www.scotsman.com/news/joyce-mcmillan-democracy-will-be-the-real-winner-1-3539203)

Genuine democracy at work is something rarely seen today, when political campaigns tend to be run by lobbyists in the pockets of the ultra-rich. An opinion poll predicts that next Thursday more than 80% of the electorate will cast their votes. Since when did a general election in any Western “democracy” come near to such a figure? This energy has been generated by the Yes Scotland campaign, not by the Westminster politicians currently rushing to Scotland in desperation – behaviour reminicent of lemmings rather than people.

By the standards of any fair society, Yes deserves to win.

RENEWABLE ENERGY AND INDYREF

Oil_reserves_estimates

One of the big questions for an independent Scotland is how its economy will be able to support a centre-left “social-democratic” style of government. The Yes campaign have played the North Sea oil card for all it is worth – and perhaps more – by claiming that there are as much as 25 billion untapped barrels of oil. However Sir Ian Wood, an industry expert, has stated that the reserves are not greater that 16 billion and this figure has been echoed by BP and Shell top management (http://business.financialpost.com/2014/09/10/oil-chiefs-back-u-k-union-urging-caution-on-north-sea-reserves/?__lsa=5434-7c2e).

It all depends on how you look at the matter (http://www.newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-news/9647-scotland-has-potential-oil-windfall-worth-billions-says-ceo). The Woods estimate is of economically extractable oil and takes into account the costs of an ageing infrastructure and has been challenged as an underestimate by other experts. The more optimistic figures include oil fields on the west coast, including those in the Firth of Clyde, the Solway Firth and those such as the Clair Ridge field in deeper water off north-west Scotland (http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/clair-ridge-and-scotlands-new-oil-boom/).

It is curious is that renewable energy has largely been absent from the debate, although not from this blog. Scotland has been credited with an estimated 25% of all renewable energy resources in the EU. This includes wave and tidal power as well as wind. Recently the Scottish government has announced a £20 million fund for subsidising community-owned, i.e. local, wind power developments (http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2360712/scotland-offers-boost-to-community-wind-turbines). On the debit side, an independent Scotland risks losing over £500 million subsidies from the UK earmarked for the development of renewable energy resources (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/may/22/scotland-independence-cost-billions-renewables).

A recent review from the Auditor General of Scotland provides a more detailed analysis of renewable resources . The conclusions is that the Scottish government is slipping from its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020 (surprise, surprise!) but that it is none the less making ambitious and realistic progress (http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/docs/central/2013/nr_130912_renewable_energy.pdf).

To realise the full economic potential of renewable energy the legal framework for land-based and offshore generators and transmission infrastructure will need to be revised to decrease the penalties for generation at a distance from the areas of consumption. The Scottish government has already the responsibility for land reform but licenses for offshore installations are currently the responsibility of the Crown Estate, a Westminster agency. Transfer of the Crown Estate responsibilities to local authorities in Scotland has been proposed but making control over the shoreline a responsibility of the national government makes more sense.

The engineering needed for the exploitation of renewable resources is closely related to the kinds of challenges already commonplace for offshore activities and is already well supported by Scottish engineering and services, centred on the city of Aberdeen. A further future large source of revenue could come from legal expertise spinning off from the oil sector and adapted to the needs of renewables. Offshore engineering will also play an important part in the trend to extend aquaculture installations from small-scale shore-based operations to big business on the high seas (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0040/00408272.pdf).

Renewables and large-scale aquaculture will not make a big economic impact over the next few years, in spite of the bold vision of the Scottish National Party (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/scottish-independence-blog/2014/apr/08/scotland-scottish-green-energy-taxes). But as oil reserves dwindle and eventually become uneconomical – in twenty, thirty of fifty years time – renewable resources will be available in to help heat homes, power industries, stimulate exports and put food on the table.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE FROM GORDON BROWN?

The most recent TNS poll confirms the YouGov poll result that “Yes” and “No” are now neck-and-neck, the 1-2% differences between the polls being statistically insignificant. Both sides are stepping up their grass-roots activities as the polls leave no room for complacency from either side.

The “Yes” camp seem to be carrying on “business as usual” while the supporters of “No” have been proposing uncoordinated last-minute counter-attacks. Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown last night made public a “plan” to get new Devomax measures passed by Westminster, starting on 19th September immediately after a “No” vote (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/09/brown-takes-charge-cameron-backs-his-plan-scottish-home-rule). According to The Huffington Post, he said:

“On September 19 we will start bringing into law the new, stronger Scottish Parliament, and to secure the change we want we will work with the other parties. The Scottish people will expect nothing less, not only because that is the right thing to do, but because we need an agreed timetable with deadlines for delivery and a roadmap to our goal.”

 While Brown himself is emerging as the one leader who just might be able to deliver such a promise, his plan contains only proposals for a timetable but no substance on political measures. Voters will rightly ask themselves, if this is so important and such a good idea, why does he propose it with only 9 days to go to the vote? It will take more than just references to St. Andrews Day and Burns Night to convince the electorate that this is a genuine delivery of Devomax.

Right-wing MPs are now trying to drag the Royal family into the campaign. No matter what her private views may be, Royal aides and independent constitutional experts deny that the Queen would depart from her role of public political neutrality, (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11083204/Scottish-independence-The-Queen-is-urged-to-intervene.html), a view also expressed by Alistair Darling.

The public announcement that the Duchess of Cambridge in England is pregnant again has also been touted as a straw to save the Union, which shows the desperation of some Better Together supporters (http://www.theweek.co.uk/uk-news/royal-baby/60317/royal-baby-the-perfect-plot-to-foil-scottish-independence). Alex Salmond’s twitter congratulations to the Dutchess of Strathearn, as Kate Middleton is known in Scotland, was scarcely better. Taking a broader view, there is no doubt that Her Majesty would be welcomed by most Scots as their Monarch but clearly her reign must be drawing to a close. The popularity of her successor could be an entirely different matter.