Tag Archives: independent Scotland

Is This Really The Best We Can Do?

9 Sep

The State of Britain Today

In Britain we have some of the lowest pensions in Europe.

This means that people retire in the UK with relatively less support than people of retirement age living almost anywhere on the continent including places like Slovenia and Hungary.

That’s right, citizens living in almost any other EU member state, including some that Nigel Farage constantly reminds us resemble third world countries, get a better deal upon retirement than my grandparents.

In Britain there is widespread media coverage of a potential “crisis” when multinational corporations worth millions of pounds suffer a small drop in share price on a Monday and then stabilize on a Tuesday.

In Britain news that a graduate from St. Andrews University is expecting to give birth to her second child in less than 9 months time dominates the news agenda while the following paragraph can only be found buried in the middle pages of a UK newspaper:

“The coroner said that when David Clapson died he had no food in his stomach. Clapson’s benefits had been stopped as a result of missing one meeting at the job centre. He was diabetic, and without the £71.70 a week from his jobseeker’s allowance he couldn’t afford to eat or put credit on his electricity card to keep the fridge where he kept his insulin working. Three weeks later Clapson died from diabetic ketoacidosis, caused by a severe lack of insulin. A pile of CVs was found next to his body.”

In Britain 1/3 of all disabled adults aged between 25 and retirement age are living in poverty and – as that well known Scottish Nationalist Stephen Fry has tried to draw attention to – support for those who are likely to be under 25 and in education has just been cut further by the government in Westminster.

In response to criticism of this truly dire state of affairs, the official government line has consistently been that we live in an era of austerity politics in which cuts to public services are the norm because – in case you didn’t know – there simply is no alternative. We are in mountains of debt and we can’t afford better support for the disabled or pensions for the elderly.

But hang on a minute! Every other major nation in Europe is struggling with the same problems as Britain and yet they find the means to provide better support for those in need.

How do they manage it? Why are the masters of the British economy not privy to the same magic formula as those in office in places like Slovakia, Malta or Estonia? We don’t even need to take the often cited Scandinavian model as a comparison here to show just how bad things are in Britain. We are amongst worst in Europe for pensions and have one of the worst records on poverty amongst the disabled anywhere in the developed world.

Almost anything could be better.

And while I’m in the mood for asking questions, how come we have a growing economy and remain one of the world’s richest countries but can’t even begin to discuss alleviating the struggle faced by disabled people or impoverished pensioners for fear of being labelled “economically irresponsible?”

Surely that’s the bigger problem isn’t it? Extreme poverty amongst the most vulnerable people in society is one thing; but not having an opposition party in politics to even suggest they would reverse the cuts for fear of looking incompetent is even worse.

Is There Really No Such Thing as Society?

Societies should be judged on how well they treat and provide for their most vulnerable citizens.

I am not one of the Thatcher “there is no such thing as society” and “let us glory in our inequality” brigade.

I believe there is such a thing as society and, at present, ours must be judged as being fundamentally flawed.

If we are destined to live in an economic environment that requires an adaptable and flexible workforce, then those who are unable to participate in that economy for reasons out with their own control must be protected from a life of poverty and misery.

Just as everyone is expected to be flexible and adaptable in order to meet the demands of the modern economy, everyone is, in theory, equally at risk of being excluded by virtue of being human.

As a society, then, we can choose to take the collective decision to insure not only the most vulnerable in society, but all of us collectively, against this exclusion risk by democratically allocating our resources to help in times of need.

Alternatively, we can decide to accept that we live in a survival of the fittest world in which some people can cope with being excluded more than others (e.g. because they are in good health, they have been able to earn more money, they were born into a well off family etc.) and thus we should not bother ourselves with anything but our own immediate interests.

Nietzsche would phrase this, admittedly rather dramatically, as:

“All-too-many are born: for the superfluous the state was invented.”

HL Menken also offers us an insight into this kind of thinking:

“There must be a complete surrender to the law of natural selection – that invariable natural law which ordains that the fit shall survive and the unfit shall perish. All growth must occur at the top. The strong must grow stronger, and that they may do so, they must waste no strength in the vain task of trying to lift up the weak.”

At present, there can be little doubt that Britain is on a seemingly unstoppable path towards rampant individualism. Not only do we have some of the worst levels of state support in Europe for disabled people and pensioners, that level of support is being cut further WITHOUT protest from our nation’s main political parties.

The point is simply this: Britain no longer has the capacity to change. There is no appetite amongst the political classes in Britain to improve the truly dire conditions being faced by some of the most vulnerable people in society. Even the media have given up reporting on anything that deviates from the Westminster consensus. The government has announced that Billions of cuts are yet to come, many of which disproportionately affect the poor and the disabled, and the opposition just sits there and nods in agreement.

But there are of course alternatives. On pensions alone there are at least 20+ other ways of doing things in the European Union – each one of them better than Britain.

Is there an Alternative?

In Scotland we have a chance.

We have an opportunity to at least try something different and show those struggling across Britain that it doesn’t have to be like this.

While there are of course many arguments setting out how Scotland would be financially better off after independence, it is perhaps best to first look at statements made by those who oppose a Yes vote first.

On several occasions during the referendum campaign Alastair Darling, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Geroge Osborne, Danny Alexander and every other senior figure on the Better Together side have unambiguously stated that an independent Scotland would be economically successful. Of course, their fundamental belief is that Scotland would be better off in the UK and they are trying their best to illustrate why that is so; but none of them have ever suggested that Scotland would descend into the economic abyss.

But now consider the Yes argument too.

In addition to Scotland’s geographical share of oil and gas revenues, the Scottish Parliament in an independent Scotland would have full powers over, amongst other things: VAT, national insurance, corporation tax, fuel duties, inheritance tax, tobacco duties, interest and dividends, alcohol duties, vehicle excise duty, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, insurance premier tax, air passenger duty, betting and gaming duties, climate change levy, aggregates levy, the crown estates and the ability to issue government bonds.

And on top of all that, think about what could be done with:

– A properly tailored industrial policy to suit the specific needs of Scottish business and enterprise as opposed to one that is dominated by conditions in the South East of England.

– The wealth creating potential of renewable energies in Scotland and the investment opportunities that would come with having 25% of the entire EU’s wind energy potential and 10% of the entire EU’s tidal energy potential.

– A flourishing export industry driven by Scottish enterprises.

– Premier research and development facilities producing high levels of innovation.

– World class institutions of higher learning attracting some of the brightest minds from across the globe (Scotland has more universities in the world’s top 200 per head of population than any other nation on earth).

– A prosperous food and drink sector (Scotland is the world’s 3rd largest Salmon producer and exports 40 bottles of Whisky per second).

– A growing creative industries sector.

– The trade from tourism.

Reaching a Conclusion

Consider all of the above possibilities and many more and then ask yourself: does anybody seriously think that a Scottish Parliament with all those powers and possibilities would be incapable of doing a better job than those currently in Westminster when it comes to the most vulnerable people in society?

I’ll say it once more just to be sure: At present, pensions in Britain are amongst the worst in Europe. Support for the disabled is truly abysmal. The government and the opposition at Westminster are explicit in their intentions to keep both of these things that way.

The question therefore boils down to this: Do we choose, as a democratic society, to spend more of our collective time and resources on caring for the most vulnerable people in society, or should our priorities lie elsewhere?

The answer to that question after independence, of course, will rest with the electorate who will elect political parties to represent them based on their respective manifestos. Some might pledge greater support for vulnerable people in society, others might not. Some might propose an increase in taxation to fund pensions, others might not. Some might offer an enhanced winter fuel allowance for the elderly, others might not. Ultimately, the choice will lie solely with the people of Scotland and these issues will be openly contested across Scottish society.

The answer to the above question after a No vote, however, has already been given. There is no alternative. The Conservatives have committed to Billions of pounds more of cuts. The Labour Party has promised to match their cap on welfare and in some instances be “tougher on welfare than the Tories.”

Be in no doubt, then, that there will be a continuation of policies that have left disabled people and pensioners languishing at the bottom of the European league tables even if Labour wins next year.

Extra help for pensioners and the disabled will not be on offer at the 2015 general election.

Of course independence might not work, and of course there will be many great obstacles to overcome when trying to go it alone. I am under no illusions that voting for independence carries risks.

But it would be beyond foolish to believe that staying in the Union doesn’t also carry risks.

When our elected representatives have not only put us bottom of the league in Europe, but have also signaled their intention to cut support even further, how many people really think staying in the UK is likely to improve matters for pensioners and the disabled?

I would submit that it will not.

Independence gives the people of Scotland a chance to do things differently. Not because we want people to live a life of luxury from day one, but because we cannot tolerate some of the most vulnerable people in society being the WORST off in Europe any longer.

There may well be great problems faced when trying.

But the far greater tragedy will lie in not trying at all.

Advertisements

The “Accidental Ignition” of a UK Wide Debate on Nuclear Weapons

19 Aug

As I sit writing this nuclear warheads capable of bringing about the death of millions of innocent civilians are stored in Scotland as part of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapon system.

This concentration of illegal weapons of mass destruction was installed in Scotland without the express consent of the Scottish people.

As part of the independence referendum campaign, the SNP, along with other political parties and many grassroots organisations, have made it perfectly clear that a Yes vote will lead to the removal of Trident nuclear weaponry from Scottish territory.

It is therefore not too much of a stretch to conclude that, given the political consensus amongst those in the Yes campaign, a vote for independence is also an express declaration by the Scottish electorate that they do not want to have weapons of mass destruction in Scotland.

In light of this possible outcome, many in the rest of the UK have been pondering the question of what exactly to do with all these weapons should they be banished from Scottish waters.

One possibility that has been suggested is that the rest of the UK government and the Scottish government could enter into an agreement to continue to base the weapons in Scotland following a Yes vote.

There would appear to be some merit to this suggestion. After all, the costs and risks associated with moving such a vast stockpile of highly destructive weaponry would be enormous and would take years of planning to put into practice.

The first problem with this approach, though, is that the Scottish government of the day would in all likelihood be morally bound to consult the electorate on such a deal, if it was ever proposed, before being able to allow the continuation of Trident in Scotland.

The second, and far more immediate problem, however, is that negotiations to establish such an agreement would take place within the framework of the wider negotiations about independence and thus put the Scottish government in an incredibly strong position vis-à-vis the remaining UK government.

Perhaps in slightly simplistic terms, this argument could be phrased along the following lines: “If you don’t agree to a currency union then you will not only have to find somewhere else to put your nuclear weapons, but you will also have to pick up the bill for doing so. Oh and by the way, the U.S isn’t going to be too chuffed about their main ally not having a nuclear deterrent so you better hurry up.”

The point here is not the specific bargaining chips (e.g. currency or lower debt repayments for weapons) but the wider point that significant implications are likely to flow from Scotland having such a strong bargaining position in the negotiations following independence.

With such a deal appearing not to be in the best interests of the remaining UK following independence, then, many have now started to look at the possibility of housing the UK’s nuclear weapons somewhere else in England.

Remember: the UK government has absolutely no policy on what to do with nuclear weapons in the event of a Yes vote – something that once again surely strengthens the hand of a Scottish government during negotiations. The UK government has explicitly stated on numerous occasions that they are not making contingency plans of any kind for independence and this includes making a backup plan for their nuclear arsenal. (I know, I know, I can hear you all taking your queue from the thousands of column inches that have been written on this point and screaming “But what about Plan B? Where is the Plan B? Surely you must have a Plan B? We demand a Plan B!”)

Given this self-confessed complete lack of advance planning by the UK government, one must rely on the work done on this matter from reputable think tanks and various other academic outlets (which the UK government never reads and certainly doesn’t think about because, please don’t forget, they are not making plans for a Yes vote.)

One such report, found in last week’s Guardian, is of particular interest. Compiled by The Royal United Services Institute, the report states that the option “given most credence to date” for storing the nuclear warheads is the Fal estuary to the north of Falmouth which offers “good shelter and a comparatively isolated location”

The study then goes on to acknowledge that there would however be safety concerns: “Introducing nuclear-armed [submarines] to Devonport will unavoidably introduce a new risk that an accidental ignition of one or all of a submarine’s Trident D5 missiles could spread radioactive material over some of Plymouth’s 260,000 inhabitants.”

Currently the nuclear weapons are based near Glasgow where the surrounding population is well over 1 million people. Nuclear warheads have therefore been transported along the M74 motorway to Glasgow before. Presumably the same accidental ignition risk exists whenever they are moved? And even if it doesn’t, shouldn’t the people of Scotland at least know a bit more about what this accidental ignition risk involves?

But don’t worry about complaining or protesting about this state of affairs whether you live in Glasgow or in Plymouth. The report makes it perfectly clear that it would make absolutely no difference: “Any local opposition might delay but not stop relocation.”

In another section of the report that looks at the wider context of the proposal to move the weapons to the South of England, the Royal United Services Institute observes that: “”The various challenges of relocation would probably trigger a wider national discussion in the [rest of the UK] on whether or not the strategic benefits of retaining nuclear weapons exceeded the costs involved.”

So there you have it. A vote for independence would not only be a vote expressing the democratic will of the Scottish people to remove nuclear weapons from their country, it would also trigger a wider discussion throughout the UK on whether or not retaining the weapons would be beneficial at all.

On the other hand, a No vote in September means… nothing at all. The weapons stay near Glasgow without the democratic consent of the Scottish people and the wider debate across the UK about the continuation of Trident is never held.

Instead, 80 Billion pounds of British taxpayers’ money will be spent on servicing these abominable weapons during an era of austerity at a base near the city of Glasgow where 33% of children live in poverty.

We Cant Go On Like This

9 May

The Status Quo in Contemporary Britain

Contemporary Britain is no longer fit for purpose. It has ceased to function effectively, failed to deliver, let down the people, become morally vacuous, is no longer supportable and has surrendered its right to be described as “Great” in any meaningful sense of the term. In short, it’s on its arse.

Observations of this nature have been commonplace amongst those immersed in the world of commentary and opinion for as long as anyone can remember, and there is certainly no shortage of enthusiasm for such sentiment today. Although worryingly prevalent, I am not referring here to the reactionary, daily mail subscribing lunatics who proclaim that all has gone to the wall, society has become bankrupt of all decency and that it won’t be long before dogs are throwing buckets of water on us in the streets. Instead, I am referring to the ever increasing number of everyday folk who share in the belief that something has gone horribly with the old country and that a fundamentally different approach to the nation’s problems is required.

Far from calling for some utopian revolution that would establish absolute equality for all, large sections of the population have simply come to the sober conclusion that the status quo is manifestly unsustainable and that “we can’t go on like this anymore.”

While there are of course numerous reasons why so many have come to express a desire for substantial change, the following provides a brief (but fair) summary of the situation:

– Britain is one of the richest countries in the world
– But Britain is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world
– Today, the 5 richest families in Britain earn more combined than the poorest 20% in society.
– Of all the world’s developed economies, Britain is the second lowest pay.
– Income inequality among working-age persons has risen faster in Britain than in any other OECD country since 1975.
– The number of people seeking food from food banks has tripled since 2012. A large number of these people are in work and are therefore NOT unemployed.
– The rate of under-five childhood deaths is higher in Britain than any other nation in Europe except Malta.

When faced with such a depressing set of facts, one is immediately compelled to ask what can be done about this dire state of affairs. Unfortunately, the response from all sides of the political establishment over the years has been, to put it kindly, varying degrees of “not very much.” Worse still, there has been little indication that there will be any change to this scandalous level of complacency anytime soon – an austerity driven, low pay economy is the only model on offer from Westminster, with even the Labour Party agreeing in principle.

And so, with voters across the UK fast approaching another general election utterly devoid of genuine alternatives, the future political direction of the country is once again to be left to those who can convince the largest number of people that they are the least bad option or – in what is without doubt my least favourite of all electoral propositions – the lesser of two evils.

What’s on Offer?

Thankfully, for the first time in many people’s lifetimes, there exists the possibility of bringing about some kind of substantial change to such a sorry set of circumstances in September this year.

The first point to make here is that whether one is in favour of independence or against it, the very fact that the option is even on the table at all conclusively proves the diagnosis that what we have right now simply isn’t good enough. After all, if everything was going along just fine, or even if things were just a tad unbearable, there would have been no need to pose the independence question in the first place.

Now, to be fair to the variety of different elements that make up the Yes campaign, they have at least put forward different packages of proposals that merit consideration as possible solutions to current levels of inequality and injustice. Whether it’s the plethora of policy papers from the Common Weal dealing with things like energy and industrial democracy, or the proposals for a living wage and enhanced childcare provision that are espoused by the bulk of those involved in the Yes campaign, there can be little doubt that there exists a variety of possible alternatives to the status quo that COULD help to bring about a more just and fair society.

The same cannot be said, however, for those on the other side of the referendum debate. For them, the entire line of argument rests on the proposition that independence will only make matters worse.

In making this point, the Better Together side have tended to focus entirely on proposals from the SNP and tried to point out that either the sums don’t add up or that the proposals leave too much down to wishful thinking.

While I believe this to be absolutely fine as a starting point for discussion in this debate, I am convinced that it is nowhere near good enough given the magnitude of problems faced by a great number of people in Scotland today. Surely they deserve more from those in favour of keeping Britain together than a semi-measured critique of one party’s specific vision for independence?

Perhaps I am misjudging the situation here, but I would guess that the grievances of the Scottish people will not be placated following a No vote in September by Westminster politicians telling them that they should just be thankful for what they have and that the alternative, a Yes vote, would have made things much worse.

And yet, despite it being abundantly clear to anyone with a pulse that things cannot go on as they are, those opposed to independence have been able to entirely side step the fundamental problem at the core of this debate – the disastrous status quo. As a result, they have offered absolutely nothing in terms of how they would do things differently after the referendum in order to alleviate the genuine hardship of millions of citizens.

I’ll say it again: the only reason why we are having a referendum in the first place is because the current situation is simply not acceptable.

It is therefore only logical that when asking why they should reject Yes as a solution to their problems, the Scottish public should also be entitled to ask how endorsing No will make things better.

The above statistics alone surely mean that a vote against independence cannot possibly be conceived as a ringing endorsement of contemporary Britain.
To treat a No vote as an acceptance of rampant levels of inequality would be simply absurd.

So what do we do now?

In light of the above, the question “so what do we do now” that Scotland will wake up to on the 19thSeptember – a question that is widely considered to be reserved for those in favour of independence – must surely be equally applicable to the other side in the debate.

And here we have a problem: except from one paper from the Scottish Labour Party, I have not seen or heard any proposals for a change in direction from those opposed to independence.

Instead, the main political parties in Britain have opted to bury their admittedly small differences and ram home the message that independence would make matters worse, rather than offer a frank and open critique of Britain today coupled with proposals for change.

It surely cannot be the case that everyone opposed to Scottish Independence fully endorses the devolution commitments of the Labour Party – particularly with regards to their commitments on issues like taxation and welfare policy that could make a difference to inequality.

So why are they not saying so?

We can all be certain that if the Labour party produced a policy paper on anything from education to energy there would be Tory and Lib Dem ministers queuing up to take a pop at it. But when it comes to setting out a plan for moving the nation forward following its closest shave with dissolution in 300 years, the Labour party’s devolution policy just sits there unchallenged.

While this may have made sense from a short term, tactical perspective earlier on in the campaign, there can be no doubt that it has now hit the point of diminishing returns. This is because evading the “what next” question not only leaves the Scottish people somewhat in the dark about the consequences of a no vote, it also, more importantly, is really starting to irritate people.

To start with, if we really are Better Together to such an extent that there is not even the slightest hint of contestation and debate between the 3 main political parties in the UK on the future of governance in Scotland after a No vote, what is the point in voting for any of them at all? And how come the 3 main Westminster parties can work together perfectly well when it comes to telling Scotland what it CANT have (e.g. the pound) but are all over the shop when it comes to telling Scotland what it CAN have if its votes No (e.g. specific commitments on devolution)?

I am in no doubt that as we get closer to the referendum the No campaign’s message of “vote to stay but we can’t tell you too much about what will happen if you do” is really starting to backfire. It is backfiring because those in favour of staying in Britain are now beginning to attract the very same criticism that the Yes side has been subject to all along: “we can’t vote for it, we just don’t know enough about it.”

With the people of Scotland going to the polls in September to vote in a referendum that would never have arisen in the first place had successive UK governments not failed so comprehensively on inequality and social justice, it is only right that those with a vote be given a genuine choice between competing visions of how best to address the magnitude of the problems faced by its citizenry today.

Should this not materialise, votes will have to be cast in the knowledge that there is only one side offering an alternative to our currently dire state of affairs.

A continuation of the status quo after September is not possible.

We can’t go on like this anymore.

Scotland and Europe Explained

8 May

In his speech to an audience in Bruges recently Scotland‘s First Minister Alex Salmond set out his vision for an independent Scotland’s future relationship with the European Union. In so doing he made what would appear to be a rather plausible argument about how and why an independent Scotland would begin life as a European Union member state.

In what has become the SNP’s customary approach to all matters EU, however, the speech was far more problematic when one considers the magnitude of things that were left out.

Here, then, is my attempt at offering a step by step guide to the situation. The first section consists of bullet points setting out the fundamental principles behind the problem and also how things may proceed following a Yes vote in September 2014. It is a bit legalistic but I think it gives a fair summary of the overall picture in about two A4 pages.

The second section consists of my thoughts on the matter.

The referendum is months away yet so plenty time to try and get your heed around it. Gee it a bash.

The fundamental principles

• By voting for independence, Scotland would begin life as a new state under international law.

• This is because the decision to break away from an existing state under international law (The UK) and create a new state (Scotland) would be classified as an act of secession.

• This means that Scotland would begin life as a brand new state free from the rights and obligations of its predecessor state (the UK.)

• This would also mean that Scotland would no longer be a member of any international organizations that the UK is a member of.

• Scotland would however, contrary to its previous position as part of the UK state, now be free to apply for membership in any international organization that it liked on its own behalf.

• As a result, any attempt to join the EU or any other international organization would, from a purely legal perspective, be exactly that: an application to join.

• Whether a new Scottish state would be accepted to those international organisations following an application as an independent state, however, would be a matter to be decided by the rules and procedures of those international organisations themselves.

• The position of a seceding state with regards to international organisations is matter of near unanimous agreement between scholars of international law from around the world.

The ambiguity surrounding Scotland and the European Union

• What may complicate the picture above, then, is what the legal status of Scotland would be during the period in between a Yes vote in September 2014 and Independence Day proper at some future date (suggested to be March 2016).

• This is because if Scotland votes Yes in September, it will not immediately become an independent state. There will be a transitional period during which negotiations will take place with the remainder of the UK about Scotland breaking away from a 300 year old Union.

• It will only be once “Independence Day” (predicted to be in March 2016), arrives that Scotland will legally be a new state under international law.

• Article 49 of Treaty on European Union states that “Any European State” that respects certain values and meets certain requirements may apply to join the European Union.

• As is mentioned above, Scotland would not actually become a state until Independence Day proper (2016) and therefore, on a strictly legal interpretation, Scotland would not be able to apply for EU membership until it became a “European state” in 2016.

• The Scottish government has recognized this and in response continually makes the point that it would be during this transitional period(September 2014 – 2016) that Scotland could ALSO negotiate with the EU so that on Independence Day proper Scotland would begin life as the 29th member state of the European Union.

In light of this, we now come to 3 possible scenarios that could play out following a Yes vote in 2014.

Hang in there…

Scenario 1

• The first route available would be for Scotland to be treated “as if” it were an independent state from the moment it votes yes in September – even though under a purely legal interpretation Scotland would not be an independent state until Independence Day proper at some future date (2016).

• Although somewhat problematic from a theoretical perspective, the great practical advantage here would be that Scotland could begin its application process to the EU immediately.

• This process would be done in accordance with the aforementioned Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union.

• The hope here would be that given that Scotland already implements European legislation and has been a part of an existing EU member state that has been a member for over 40 years (the UK), the usually protracted process of negotiating and preparing an applicant country for EU membership (e.g. Croatia), could be completed rather swiftly.

• This would then result in Scotland being able to begin life as an EU member state on Independence Day proper following a transitional period (2016).

Scenario 2

• The strict legal interpretation mentioned above would be taken and Scotland would NOT be treated “as if” it were an independent state immediately after a Yes vote.

• This would mean that Scotland would be unable to apply for EU membership until Independence Day proper (2016) since article 49 of the Treaty on European Union makes it explicit that only a “European state” can apply for membership.

• This approach certainly seems the most conventional under a pure legal analysis given that Scotland would not be a fully independent “European state” on the 19th of September 2014.

• Scotland would therefore be unable to apply for membership to international organisations including the EU until it became a fully-fledged independent state (2016).

• This would of course be disastrous for Scotland as it would mean that it would only be able to begin negotiating its EU membership following Independence Day proper (2016).

• A period of time in which Scottish citizens would no longer legally be European citizens, and Scottish businesses would no longer have direct access to the European market, would thus ensue.

Scenario 3

• As another possible solution, it has been suggested that Scotland could seek to negotiate with current EU member states during the transitional period (September 2014 – 2016) to amend the EU treaties.

• This avenue would entirely bypass the formal application process as set out in Article 49 Treaty on European Union and would instead be done, according to the Scottish government, under article 48 of that treaty which concerns amendments.

• If successful this would then simply lead to the treaties being amended so as to say that Scotland was the 29th member of the European Union.

NOW

If you have managed to keep up so far then here is the good news – it gets very easy from here on in.

Whether one adopts scenario (1), (2) or (3) above, there is one fundamental point that must be kept in mind at all times – EVERY EU MEMBER STATE WILL HAVE TO UNANIMOUSLY AGREE TO IT.

Remember that: They all have to say yes.

In one way then, this is pretty much the end of the discussion and one can draw whatever conclusions they like from it.

For those who would like to know what I think about it and can handle a wee bit more of the banal world of Scotland – EU relations, carry on reading.

My Thoughts on the Matter

The fact that all 28 EU Member States have to say yes raises a great number of questions.

The first of which is by far the most important – what if somebody says no?

So far, every time this has been put to the SNP they have refused to give an honest answer.

This is because the answer is that there is nothing Scotland can do.

If Latvia, Malta or any other EU member state, for whatever reason, says that it’s just not happening, then there is nothing Salmond and Co. can do about it.

Of course, there may be good arguments as to why it would be in every EU member state’s interests to ensure that an independent Scotland begins life as an EU member state; but this is NOT the same thing as being able to guarantee that all 28 EU member states WILL agree to it.

I have read and listened to numerous arguments about how Scotland is simply too resource rich and too important for whatever reason for the EU member states not to facilitate their transition to an independent EU member state. And this may very well be true. There are also of course numerous reasons why it would be good for all parties involved to reach some kind of agreement to ensure that a minimum level of disruption was caused for both Scots and Europeans following Scottish Independence.

I would also be sympathetic to the argument, often made by SNP politicians and supporters, that it would be against the principles of democracy and respect for self-determination that the EU is based upon for EU member states to vote against Scotland’s EU membership for reasons of national self-interest.

As this argument goes, it would be somewhat at odds with the spirit of the EU treaties for Spain or somebody else to oppose an independent Scotland’s EU membership solely on the grounds that it did not want to encourage separatist movements (e.g. Cataluña) in its own country.

Like I said, I can see some merit in this line of argumentation. But this is NOT the same thing as saying Spain, or any other country, could be COMPELLED to voting in favour of an independent Scotland’s EU membership by virtue of its own membership of the EU.

For a start, how would one go about compelling Spain to vote in a particular way? If an EU member state was to vote against Scotland’s EU membership, this may very well bring about some political condemnation; but this is a far cry away from being able to compel a sovereign state to admit Scotland into the EU against its will. Who would do such a thing? How could it possibly be enforced? Would the European Commission really tell the sovereign government of Spain or any other EU member state that they MUST admit Scotland to the EU? Come on now, that would simply be absurd.

And so, in short, the answer to the question surrounding Scotland’s future EU membership is incredibly simple: If the other 28 EU member states unanimously agree to reach a political settlement that would allow for an independent Scotland to begin life as an EU member state then it will happen. If there is no unanimous agreement, it will not be possible. No ifs, no buts.

The SNP Tactic

Given this state of affairs, then, one would be correct to assume that any discussion between Scotland’s representatives (the SNP) and representatives from 28 European member states following a Yes vote will require a certain amount of poise and a willingness to reach a compromise. (Unless of course Scotland is simply told “you are not yet a state, come back after 2016”, but I do not personally think that is likely.)

What is likely to be of little use, in contrast, is exactly what we have been getting from Salmond and the rest of the SNP leadership so far.

To name but a few, Scotland’s leaders believe not only that EU membership is all but sewn up, but also that we won’t be joining up to the Euro, won’t be entering Schengen, will continue to opt out from measures on Justice and Home Affairs and will continue to opt out from the legally binding effect of human rights treaties.

The belief therefore seems to be that we will go to the negotiating table with representatives from 28 European nations, tell them exactly what Scotland will and will not be signing up to, and then everyone will shake hands and sign on the dotted line.

Now, I do not say that this is not possible. It could well happen.

BUT

I’ll repeat it again just so there’s no doubt whatsoever: what happens if somebody, anybody, says no?

Furthermore, even if the Yes side are right and every EU Member State does see the value in accommodating Scotland and ensuring that on Independence Day 2016 they become the 29th member state of the EU, does anyone seriously think this will come without conditions?

In 2004, 10 new states joined the European Union. They were followed in 2007 by Bulgaria and Romania and then by Croatia in 2013. This means that 13 of the current 28 EU member states have, since 2004, gone through a long process of application, evaluation, concession, compromise and final admission.

Now I am not saying that Scotland will definitely be expected to go through such a process.

All that I would ask, though, is how likely it will be that all of these countries will allow Scotland to come to the negotiating table during a transitional period after independence (September 2014 – 2016), demand that they be exempted from the kinds of concessions and compromises that they all had to make, and that in the end ALL 28 OF THEM WILL UNANIMOUSLY AGREE TO SCOTLAND’S DEMANDS?

I would submit that this would be highly unlikely.

The SNP are of the belief that this is not only simple to bring about procedurally, but also that it would be madness for any one of 28 EU member states to stop it from happening. Put another way, the Scottish government is 100% certain that none of the politicians from 28 other countries will ever ask at any stage “Hang on, how come you are getting a much better deal than we got here?”

Once again, I do not say that the SNP’s stance is definitely wrong or impossible to achieve.

As I have tried to demonstrate above, hopefully with some success, though, is that it is out with the realms of reasonable expectation to believe that it will be as easy as they continually say that it will be.

Ah dinnae even like the pound anyway

13 Feb

George Osborne announced today that “Sharing the pound is not in the interests of either the people of Scotland or the rest of the UK. The people of the rest of the UK wouldn’t accept it and [the Westminster] parliament wouldn’t pass it.”

In making this statement the Chancellor, supposedly backed by senior figures in the Lib Dems and Labour, has explicitly stated that an independent Scotland would definitely not be able to retain the pound as its currency. The question of whether this intervention constitutes a genuine threat that would be followed through in the event of independence, or is just more scaremongering from those in favour of the continuation of the United Kingdom, is likely to take centre stage in the referendum debate in the coming weeks. The SNP have already said that they believe it to be something of a bluff, claiming that it would be absurd for a UK chancellor to insist that English companies, who do an immense volume of trade with Scotland, incur increased transactions costs as a result of Scotland having to use a different currency.

Whether one agrees with the SNP’s assessment here or not, there can be no doubt that the speech sits squarely within a No campaign strategy that has relentlessly pushed the negative consequences of independence to a far greater extent than it has tried to make a positive case for staying in the UK. This approach is in many ways understandable given that so much uncertainty exists with regards to Scotland becoming an independent country and I certainly have no quarrel with subjecting the SNP’s vision for independence to intense scrutiny. However, it is clear that many undecided voters across the country have been left feeling rather put off by the incessantly negative, doomsday scenario rhetoric emanating from the No campaign and I am in no doubt that this has been a significant factor in the slight increase in support for Yes in recent weeks.

As one of those undecided voters who has become increasingly disillusioned by the No campaign’s reluctance to make a positive case for the Union, I was rather excited recently when poll after poll showed support for Yes holding up and I began to naively believe that it would lead to a more open and constructive debate. There was certainly no shortage of commentary and opinion over the past few weeks about the need for the No campaign to start putting a more positive spin on things in response to the perceived hardening of support for Yes.

And yet, instead of having that more broad minded discussion amongst Scots from both sides of the divide, we have been treated to interventions by a noticeably flustered Conservative government who until recently had justified their lack of involvement in the debate by claiming that the decision could only be made by the Scots themselves.

First, David Cameron gave a speech that would easily make any list of the top 10 most uninspiring speeches of the past decade on why he believes Scotland should stay in the United Kingdom. Live from the Olympic Park, Stratford, the Prime Minister concluded his speech by urging those in England, Northern Ireland and Wales to let us Scots know that they want us to stay. He then went on to open up the floor to questions, the first of which was about floods in the south of England.

Then, evidently perplexed by the complete irrelevance of big Dave’s speech, the Tory high command sent Chancellor George Osborne to Edinburgh to tell the Scots that a vote for independence would mean losing the pound. Immediate reaction to the speech in the predominantly right wing UK press has been emphatic, attracting the altogether predictable plaudits of a “crushing blow” and “a game changer” whilst I have been a little less convinced.

Although I don’t doubt that Osborne’s intervention today will carry with it some implications for the outcome of the referendum in September (it certainly has much more of a chance of making it as a crux moment when the history books are written than Dave’s Olympic park debacle) I am not convinced that it will have the devastating effect that so many seem to think it will.

For a start there is always the risk of people in Scotland perceiving the Chancellor’s jaunt north of the border as nothing more than an out of touch posh boy coming up to give us a lecture before rushing off back to London.

Furthermore, I’m not really convinced that people care all that much about currency. As the future of UK and Scotland website points out, in a recent TNS BMRB poll only 4% said that the issue of currency was either the first or the second most important consideration in their minds when deciding which way to vote. In another TNS BMRB poll for BBC Scotland, currency came only eighth in importance in a list of ten referendum issues respondents were asked to rank. Add to this the “Ah dinnae even like the pound anyway” response that has been circulating amongst particularly insightful characters this afternoon and you can see that the whole currency issue might not be all that the Tories hope it to be.

In my opinion, however, even more significant than any of the above is the fact that the UK establishment have now well and truly wheeled out the big guns. By deciding to have the two most senior politicians in the United Kingdom substantially intervene in the referendum debate with 7 months left to go, one very important question springs to mind: what next? What else can the No campaign possibly do between now and September to further counter the arguments of the Yes campaign given that the Prime Minister has already made the emotional plea and the Chancellor the pragmatic? Short of getting the Queen up to Edinburgh to give her take on the situation I fail to see who or what the No campaign have left to call on.

What really intrigues me about today’s announcement, therefore, is the position that it leaves the No campaign in between now and September, particularly if it doesn’t have the desired effect of slashing support for Yes. Surely few things could be more negative from the perspective of trying to win votes than telling Scotland that they would no longer be able to use their own currency. And if that doesn’t work, what else does the No campaign have in the negativity locker? Pretty much nothing would be my guess. There would only really be one thing left for it then wouldn’t there?

If there is a positive case to be heard for the Union, the Chancellor’s speech today might just mean that we get to hear it.

Thoughts on Scotland’s EU Membership

26 Nov

In anticipation of the publication of the Scottish Government’s White Paper on Independence later today I thought I would use this blog post to consider the issue of Scotland’s EU membership.

Now, I appreciate that choosing such an obscure topic for what is only the second post in a blog that is short on readers and seeking to receive anything above “not bad” as acclaim may be unwise, but it really is quite important.

It is important not only because of its implications for things like economic wellbeing, international presence, visa free travel etc., but also because it highlights the manner in which the SNP seems to have just gone along with whatever sounded about right at the time. Rather than stop and consider what it is that they are actually proposing in relation to the European question, those at the forefront of the Yes campaign appear to have abandoned the very essence of the independence movement by indicating their readiness to ignore the will of the Scottish people on an issue of paramount importance.

Before moving on, however, I feel like I should offer something in the way of a qualification or note of caution: What follows is nothing more than my take on what I perceive to be the wholly inconsistent, and at times flat out misleading, manner in which the Scottish Government has dealt with the issue of Scotland’s EU membership. It should not be construed as a shift in attitude or, stranger still, my unequivocal endorsement of the No campaign. Criticism of one side does not – contrary what appears to be the general consensus – automatically signal one’s support for the other.

And so, with that out of the way, let’s get ripped in…

As I see it, the SNP, as the party proposing massive constitutional change, must be able to explain their position coherently and comprehensively – something that they have failed to do with regards to Scotland’s EU membership. To put it kindly, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon has been all over the place on the issue. Last year she insisted that an independent Scotland would remain in the EU by unequivocally stating that: “There is legal opinion, there is a former DG of the commission, a former judge of the European court that make it perfectly clear that Scotland would inherit the treaty rights and obligations of the UK.”

Far from being perfectly clear, it soon emerged that Scotland’s membership of the EU would indeed be uncertain, thus demonstrating beyond any doubt that those who accused the SNP of mere speculation on this issue were correct.
This year, following the announcement that the Scottish government had now in fact commissioned specific legal advice, it was claimed by Ms Sturgeon that: “Negotiations over an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU would start ‘as soon as possible’ after a yes vote in the referendum”, and that “We understand that it is essential to respect the legitimacy of existing EU treaties. We also understand that our continued membership will require negotiations, and the agreement of other nations.”

Now, leaving aside the accusations of misleading voters and even lying, I find the way in which the SNP simply asserts that a future independent Scotland should be a member of the European Union to be equally troubling. In their view, membership of the European Union is of vital importance and the only question to be resolved is how membership would be attained (or retained); not whether the people of Scotland should have a say in the matter. We would either be automatically in, or, failing that, we would be in soon thereafter.

Furthermore, in addition to stating that Scotland’s EU membership would be automatic and thus beyond discussion, the SNP believe that this can (and more importantly should) be done on the same terms and conditions as the United Kingdom. Ms. Sturgeon has expressly stated that an independent Scotland would begin negotiations by seeking to apply the principle of continuity of effect and therefore retain the UK’s opt-outs from various EU policy fields. Obviously, this vision for an independent Scotland has been slung together in an attempt to reassure the public that there would be no need to join the Euro (even though the SNP were long time supporters of the currency) or open up our borders under the Schengen Agreement.

In fact, far from being reassuring, the continuation of the status quo would have the effect of taking many policy decisions away from the people of Scotland and should therefore be received with something more akin to alarm.

If the SNP’s vision for the future is correct (let’s just assume that for once they are correct on the European question. They almost certainly aren’t, but the point I’m trying to make next won’t work without giving them the benefit of the doubt) an independent Scotland would be trundling along a very familiar path with all the terms and conditions of the UK’s EU membership persisting beyond independence. Amongst other things, this would mean that Scotland would continue to enjoy an opt-out from the obligation to participate in the Euro currency; continue to be exempt from the Schengen agreement; continue to be bound by the UK position on the effect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in Scottish courts; continue to be exempt from large sections of EU legislation relating to the area of freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) and continue to be bound by the UK’s terms of agreement under the EU common agricultural policy.

As a result, the Scottish people will have a series of conditions imposed upon their newly independent state without having any say in the matter. Ironically, those who have at the very heart of their campaign a belief that decisions which affect the people of Scotland should be taken in Scotland are the very same people who unequivocally support a scenario in which Westminster policy continues to impose itself by default.

From easy decisions such as not joining the Euro, to the tricky questions surrounding the legal effect of human rights documents or the sharing of DNA databases for criminals, the overarching principle is that the Scottish people, by voting to become independent, should have a say on matters of such importance.

And yet, my understanding of the SNP’s intention to apply the principle of continuity of effect would mean that a series of opt-outs which undoubtedly affect the Scottish people will simply be copied and pasted from the UK’s current membership arrangement.

It is remarkable that the consequences of retaining the UK model of EU membership have been so scarcely discussed and that the SNP’s most recent guesswork on Europe has gone virtually unchallenged – particularly by those who believe in the right of Scots to govern themselves. I for one certainly haven’t heard anyone ask the SNP leadership whether they will be pushing to sign up to the Area of Freedom Security and Justice (AFSJ) measures during negotiations with the EU; let alone whether there will be a referendum on EU membership at some stage.

That being said, the aforementioned White Paper (so often referred to in the media as “The long awaited White Paper” despite half the population of Scotland having absolutely no idea about its launch today and the other half having absolutely no intention of ever reading it) offers the Scottish Government one last chance to put an end to months of inconsistency in this area. The ability to do so, however, will depend entirely upon whether an explanation as to how the Government intends to consult the Scottish people on their newly independent state’s future relations with Europe is included. If pushed, I would guess that nothing of the sort will feature in today’s publication. So much for giving the people of Scotland the right to take matters into their own hands…

Public Law for Everyone

Professor Mark Elliott

A Thousand Flowers

A red sock in the white wash of cyberspace

Wee Ginger Dug

Biting the hand of Project Fear

Auld Acquaintance

Scottish Independence

Random Thoughts Re Scots Law by Paul McConville

Long Posts about Legal Matters of Interest to Me

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

Journalism from London.

eutopialaw

EU Law: Comment and Analysis

michaelgreenwell.wordpress.com/

So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly arise and make them miserable. - Aldous Huxley

Edinburgh Eye

Equality, cats, and tea.

A Burdz Eye View

on all things political and topical

Bella Caledonia

Scotland's 5th Estate

Independence and Integration

Just an ordinary guy with exceptional hair. @DarrenHarvey_