Category Archives: NI

The United Celtic Republics

As I've said many times before, the reason I don't believe in a federal UK is because England is so much bigger than all the other parts put together that it would need to be split into two or more separate nations for it to work (and each part would need to have its own legal system, NHS, education system and football team in order for federal symmetry to be achieved), but the English clearly don't want to see their nation chopped up any more than the Scots would, so there is no practical way forward.

However, if the Republic of Ireland was willing, I would have nothing against being part of a federal country called the United Celtic Republics. I guess Ireland and Scotland would form it, but I reckon Northern Ireland would join soon afterwards, and I wouldn't be surprised if Wales joined eventually, too.

Crucially, none of the constituent parts would be able to dominate the federal parliament, which together with a proper constitution would be the best way to ensure that the country works for everybody.

One obvious advantage would be that it could inherit Ireland's EU membership, so there wouldn't be any worries on that front.

There might be some disagreement about the location of the federal capital, but there's really only one city that is both Irish and Scottish, so I think Glasgow would be the obvious choice.

Of course I don't really believe the United Celtic Republics will ever be formed, but I honestly think Scotland and the other Celtic nations could all thrive within it. The problem with the UK is that England is far too large compared to the rest, and the lack of a codified constitution makes the situation even worse. It's not being part of a union that makes me fight for Scottish independence, it's being part of an unequal and badly designed one.

The Irish border post-Brexit

Eire N1 Northern Terminus - UK A1 Southern Terminus
Eire N1 Northern Terminus - UK A1 Southern Terminus.
I don't know much about Ireland, I'm afraid. However, the Brexiters seem to understand even less, and that worries me.

On the one hand prominent pro-Brexit ministers such as David Davis state they don't want a hard border post Brexit, but on the other hand the very same people are in favour of a hard Brexit, whereby the UK (incl. Northern Ireland) will leave the Internal Market, incl. the free movement of people and the common customs area. Something doesn't add up here!

Firstly, if for instance the UK wants to control the number of Poles entering the country, how does that work if they can freely travel to Ireland as EU citizens and then get the bus to Belfast, unless there is a hard border?

Perhaps the Brexiters will reply they don't want to ban Poles from traveling to the UK at all, but that they just want to control the numbers moving here permanently. Fair enough, but that requires a much more thorough system of work permits than what is being discussed at the moment. Different from what they promised during the Brexit referendum, they effectively wouldn't really control the border, but instead keep a tab on people once they're here. I don't have a problem with that, but they should tell us if that's the plan.

Secondly, if the UK and Ireland aren't in the same customs area, surely lorries can't just drive across the border. Even if the UK didn't care about EU products getting smuggled freely across the Irish border, I have a feeling the EU would have a problem with UK products getting through without import duties. In other words, even if you don't need to show your passport, you'll get your luggage checked.

Thirdly, almost all EU countries are part of Schengen, the passport-free zone. The UK and Ireland have so far refused to join, but it'll become much harder for Ireland not to do so when the UK isn't an EU member state any longer. If at some point in the future Ireland joins Schengen, a border becomes almost unavoidable unless the UK joins Schengen too (like Norway and Iceland).

The Brexiters often say that the UK and Ireland also had an open border before we joined the EU, which is true, of course. What they forget is the Ireland wasn't an EU member either at that point. This will be the first time ever that the EU's external border will divide the Emerald Isle. Stating that you don't want to create a hard border is simply not good enough when you're simultaneously campaigning for a hard Brexit.

Taking the whip

20100205 SDLP IMG_4715
20100205 SDLP IMG_4715 by Allan Leonard, on Flickr.
According to Wikipedia, Northern Ireland's "SDLP is [...] working to strengthen its ties with the Parliamentary Labour Party, whose whip they informally accept." I must admit I'm not entirely sure what this means. Normally taking the whip means participating in a parliamentary group, including voting with it in important votes, but I don't know how they do that informally -- do they just vote with the Labour party without getting the influence that comes with participating in internal parliamentary party business?

Normally this wouldn't interest me terribly, but like others I'm finding Labour's different attitudes towards the SDLP on the one hand and the SNP on the other quite puzzling, given that both parties advocate independence from the UK through peaceful means. When you ask Scottish Labour, they reply that the difference is that the SDLP takes the Labour whip at Westminster.

In other words, it would appear that it's not actually the SNP's commitment to an independent Scotland that really upsets Labour, but the fact that the party won't always vote with Labour in the UK Parliament. Of course, there's also the fact that Labour is a major party in Scotland, so there is a lot of rivalry between the parties here, not like in Northern Ireland where Labour never contests elections (something which the local Labour members are quite upset about).

Would UK Labour be happy to disband Scottish Labour if the SNP in return promised to take the Labour whip at Westminster in perpetuity? From an SNP perspective, I think this would be disastrous, and I haven't heard anybody advocating this ever. However, would it suit UK Labour? From their point of view, it would give them free rein to pursue their policies in the parliament that matters to them. In practice this would be very similar to the way the Scottish Unionist Party operated before 1965:

Independent from, though associated with, the Conservative Party in England and Wales, it stood for election at different periods of its history in alliance with a small number of Liberal Unionist and National Liberal candidates. Those who successfully became Members of Parliament (MPs) would then take the Conservative Whip at Westminster just as the Ulster Unionists did until 1973. At Westminster the differences between the Scottish Unionist and the English party could appear blurred or non-existent to the external casual observer, especially as many Scottish MPs were prominent in the parliamentary Conservative party, such as party leaders Andrew Bonar Law (1911-1921 & 1922-1923) and Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1963–1965), both of whom served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

This sounds rather similar to the current relationship between the CDU and the CSU in Germany. I'm not entirely sure how the Unionist/Conservative handled policy differences (it was probably easier in those days when political parties were less centralised), but it was clearly more attractive to Scottish voters than the post-1965 UK-wide Conservatives.

I can't see the SNP would gain anything by being forced to vote in favour of austerity and Trident in return for Scottish Labour being dismantled, but it would clearly make things a lot easier for UK Labour.

To return to the SDLP, I'd love to find out whether it's just the party whip that differentiates them from the SNP in the eyes of UK Labour. Surely Miliband should take one of the following two positions: (1) Peaceful sovereigntism is bad, so Labour will refuse to deal with the SDLP, not just with the SNP and Plaid Cymru, or (2) Taking the Labour whip is all that matters, so the SNP will be welcomed as a sister party if only they take the whip. Which one will it be?

How Thatcher destroyed the coalition of nations

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge
Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge, a photo by dannybirchall on Flickr.

Did Margaret Thatcher create the current independence movement in Scotland?

I was intrigued by a blog post on the pro-independence blog Bella Caledonia, which quoted James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still:

One of the unintended effects of Margaret Thatcher’s revolution [...] was to destroy Scottish loyalty to the British State. If it didn’t provide you with a job, if it didn’t give you a decent pension or adequate health care or proper support when you were out of work, what was it for? It wasn’t for anything – except maybe things you didn’t want or believe in, like nuclear weapons on the Clyde, or the poll tax.

When you're trying to govern a coalition, whether of parties or of nations, it's important to keep them all happy.

Let's have a brief look at Danish politics. Just after the last general election there was an interesting interview with Henning Dyremose, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first of Poul Schlüter's Conservative governments (in my own loose translation):

What the Social Democratic Prime Minister needs to do is to create a situation where the Socialists win, where the Social Liberals win, and where she can ignore the Social Democrats. The latter are so delighted that she becomes prime minister that she does not have to give her parliamentary group and the ordinary party members any kind of concessions. If she can make a deal that makes both Socialsts and Social Liberals happy, she knows the Social Democrats will also be happy. If the Socialists -- who were weakened in the elections -- are also weakened in the government programme negotiations, their members will begin to ask whether the price they pay for supporting a Social Democratic prime minister is too high. If the Social Liberal leader doesn't get enough concessions, she could just as well remain outside the government. The Social Liberal Party would have more influence if they chose to remain outside the government. That's why they'll be expensive to include in the government.

I find it interesting to apply Dyremose's advice to the UK. That is, one should realise that the smaller nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have the ability to leave and realise their ambitions elsewhere, so England should give them more influence than strictly speaking necessary to keep them happy. Ultimately, English politicians (and to some extent English voters) will be content so long as England is leading a strong United Kingdom, even if the smaller nations sometimes get their own way. (This also applies to Spain, of course, where Catalonia is clearly not seeing the benefit of remaining within the Spanish Kingdom any more.)

It reminds me of my old suggestion to double the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster.

Anyway, I don't think anybody in Westminster is going to pay heed to the advice above. The Scottish loyalty to the British state has been broken, and the natural way forward now is to vote Yes in 2014.

Scotland should have 109 MPs, not 52

The Tories and the LibDems are reducing the number of seats in the House of Commons from 646 to 600. As part of this, the four nations' representations will be equalised to the same number of voters per seat (until now, the smaller nations have had smaller seats than England); for instance, Wales will see its number of MPs drop from 40 to 30.

Most people seem to think this is fair, and many English MPs are even calling for a further reduction in the number of Scottish MPs to cancel out the effect of Scottish devolution.

However, according to the Penrose method, also sometimes described as the square root formula, each nation should get allocated seats according the square root of the population to achieve equal voting powers for all people represented.

Here's a table showing the figures for actual and calculated numbers of MPs:

Country Population Actual 2015 seats Square root seats
England 52,234,000 502 344
Scotland 5,254,800 52 109
Wales 3,006,400 30 83
Northern Ireland 1,799,392 16 64
Total 62,294,592 600 600

The square root method has been suggested for allocating seats in the European Parliament (although the current method used there results in similar results).

I guess it all depends on the status of the four nations of the UK. If they're just seen as electoral regions of a single country, the CoLD coalition's proposal makes perfect sense (but then devolution should probably be abolished); on the other hand, if the Westminster Parliament is seen as a supranational parliament for the union of the four sovereign nations of the UK, the Penrose method should be used.

If Penrose isn't used, I presume it means Scotland will have more influence as an independent country, so unless the No parties put Penrose on the table as an alternative, I would strongly suggest voting Yes to independence.

Autumn 2014

Today the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, was making an announcement in the UK Parliament about giving the Scottish Parliament the right to call a referendum on independence, so long as they do it the way Westminster wanted and do it soon, when Salmond went on Sky News to announce that the referendum will take place in the autumn of 2014.

Salmond usually wins in situations like this, so I'm 99% certain that the referendum will indeed take place then.

Here are a couple of interesting blog postings from today, one about Salmond running rings around Cameron, and another about why the SNP are outgunning the Coalition.

It will be interesting to see what will happen to the remaining UK after Scotland leaves. I wouldn't be surprised if Northern Ireland will find it hard to cope without Scotland, so it's entirely possible that Scottish independence will be followed by Irish unification. However, I'm very happy to be corrected by somebody with better knowledge of the politics of Northern Ireland.

However, if I'm right, perhaps Wikipedia will contain the following chart in twenty years' time (based on this):

I might be getting ahead of myself, however. There's a referendum to be won in the autumn of 2014, and I intend to do as much as I can to make it a resounding YES!

Moving the UK to CET/CEST



Crazy Timezones
Originally uploaded by tm-tm

The UK government's recent idea to move the UK from GMT/BST to CET/CEST and the Scottish Government's refusal to play along is quite interesting.

Let's have a look at various locations in the UK and compare it with a city on the same longitude but further south, Málaga:

Equinox (23/09/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Glasgow 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Belfast 7:12 19:19 8:12 20:19
London 6:49 18:56 7:49 19:56
Málaga 7:07 19:13 8:07 20:13

Obviously there's not much difference between any of these locations, and one might argue that CEST is a better time zone at this time of the year.

Summer solstice (21/06/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 4:20 22:17 5:20 23:17
Glasgow 4:33 22:04 5:33 23:04
Belfast 4:49 22:02 5:49 23:02
London 4:44 21:19 5:44 22:19
Málaga 6:00 20:38 7:00 21:38

At all of the UK locations, the sun rises at an impossibly early time, so either time zone is feasible in the morning. In the evening, either time zone is feasible in Scotland, but I can understand if people in London would rather have brighter evenings.

Winter solstice (22/12/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 9:00 15:30 10:00 16:30
Glasgow 8:48 15:43 9:48 16:43
Belfast 8:47 15:58 9:47 16:58
London 8:05 15:52 9:05 16:52
Málaga 7:28 17:04 8:28 18:04

This is the problematic time. In London, it's probably not a big deal whether the sun rises at 9 instead of 8, and they would enjoy having daylight until 5pm (and this tendency is even more pronounced in Málaga). However, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, it would mean not seeing the sun till around 10am in the winter, which makes for very depressing mornings.

I must therefore support the Scottish Government's stance on this – moving to a time zone further east makes good sense the further south you are, but north of 50°N it's not a good idea (remember also that most of the UK is further west than London).

I probably believe so more strongly because of growing up in Denmark. In Denmark, schools normally start at 8am, not at 9am like in Scotland. The effect is therefore the same as if Scotland moved to CE(S)T. And I must say that I found going to school in the winter utterly depressing, and I was very happy to move to a country where people get up later in the morning.