The EU budget rebate

European Council backstage March 2013
European Council backstage March 2013 by European Council, on Flickr.
The No campaigners keep repeating their scaremongering stories about the EU ad nauseam:

A spokesman for Better Together said: “As part of the UK we get special deals in the EU.

“What Alex Salmond needs to be honest about is what would happen to our opt-outs on the Euro and the no borders immigration scheme, as well as what would happen to our rebate.”

I don’t know why they even bother mentioning the Euro any more. As discussed previously on this blog and in many other places, Scotland does not currently fulfil the criteria for joining the European currency, and it seems unlikely that Scotland would be able to introduce the Euro before 2023, even if it became a political priority. Also, Sweden has demonstrated how any EU country can stay out of the Euro without having a formal opt-out by refusing to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM-II).

The no borders immigration scheme is a novel way to refer to Schengen. Schengen is actually a wonderful idea, which allows people to travel freely across Europe without ever needing to produce a passport. However, the UK and the Republic of Ireland decided not to join this and to continue with their own Common Travel Area (CTA) instead. The whole idea of the CTA would fall apart if Scotland joined Schengen instead, so it would probably lead to all of the British Isles joining Schengen shortly afterwards if this happened. I would expect the rUK to put up a big fight to keep Scotland in the CTA for this reason. There’s a good discussion of this on Wings over Scotland.

The last point made by Better Together was the UK rebate. There are actually huge problems with the way it works:

The rebate distorts UK funding negotiations with the EU. Normally, countries and independent agencies within each country bid to receive central EU funds. The UK government is aware that two-thirds of any EU funding will in effect be deducted from the rebate and come out of UK government funds. Thus the UK has only a one-third incentive to apply for EU funds. Other countries, whose contributions into the budget are not affected by funds they receive back, have no incentive to moderate their requests for funds.

I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if this was the reason for Westminster’s recent decision to block Scotland’s access to EU funding for tackling youth unemployment:

Westminster’s decision to stand in the way of Scotland accessing EU funding to help tackle youth unemployment has been branded one of the clearest examples of Westminster’s anti-Europe agenda “actively damaging” the job prospects of people in Scotland.

The European Youth Guarantee provides young people under 25 an apprenticeship, training place, job or the chance to continue in education within four months of leaving education or becoming unemployed. However, the UK Government does not support the scheme, meaning that young people lose out on the EU support available to them.

In Scotland the Opportunities for All scheme already guarantees an offer of work, training or education for young people in a similar way to the EU’s Youth Guarantee – but the Westminster Government’s stance means that Scotland is unable to benefit from this EU funding.

Of course, an independent Scotland might try to apply for as much EU funding as possible, rather than trying to obtain a rebate like the UK’s. To take just one example, as pointed out by Business for Scotland, Scotland currently receives the lowest agricultural support in the entire EU. If we play our cards well, we might well manage to receive more money in this way than the rebate would have given us.

However, if Scotland doesn’t manage to receive significantly more funding after independence, it’s worth pointing out that Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Germany are now also receiving various rebates, and it’s therefore not a mechanism unique to the UK any more:

Future correction mechanisms (ORD 2014-2020) subject to approval:

The UK rebate will continue to apply; Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden will benefit from gross reductions in their annual GNI contribution of €130 million, €695 million and €185 million respectively. Austria will benefit from gross reduction in its annual GNI contribution of €30 million in 2014, €20 million in 2015 and €10 million in 2016; reduced VAT call rates for Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden will be fixed at 0.15 %.

Of course, given that Scotland after independence will be a richer country than the rUK, it’s completely fair if we have to pay a wee bit more in EU membership fees. At the same time we should be able to get substantial amounts of benefits back from the EU, much more than we currently get, and if we still need some sort of rebate, I’d expect other small rich EU countries like Denmark and Sweden to be our allies in the budget negotiations.

Focusing solely on the UK’s rebate is not the right approach, and it reveals a lack of understanding of how the EU works. Of course Scotland will continue to do well out of our EU membership, and probably significantly more so after independence.

To vote Yes is to vote against xenophobia

Borderline Racists
Borderline Racists by Matt Brown, on Flickr.
Lots of commentators — mainly, but not exclusively, based south of the border — seem to have got into their heads that the SNP and UKIP are quite similar. Apart from the inescapable fact that both party names end in the letter P, the only similarity I can think of is that they’re both excellent at articulating people’s antipathy towards Westminster.

On the other hand, one of the biggest differences between the SNP and UKIP is their stance on racism and xenophobia.

The SNP is extremely open and tolerant. Nobody ever criticises me for being Danish; in fact, people are keen to hear how things are done in Denmark. The SNP is also full of people who have foreign relatives or have lived abroad. Some of the party’s most popular MSPs are Humza Yousaf and French-born Christian Allard. It’s not anti-English, either — for instance, several of the party’s parliamentarians were born in England — it’s just that the criticisms of the corrupt Westminster system at times get misunderstood.

The wider Yes campaign is if possible even more xenophilic than the SNP, given that the other political parties involved are the Greens, the SSP and the most progressive parts of Labour.

UKIP on the other hand is clearly blowing the racist and xenophobic dog whistle so hard that my ears hurt. They might be trying to appear respectable in public, but anyone who has seen their recent election posters knows exactly what they’re thinking. It’s a horrible party — if possible even more repugnant than Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti.

However, Scotland after independence won’t be run by the Yes campaign or even just by the SNP. Labour will probably get into power at some point, and it’s likely Scotland will also develop a right-of-centre party at some point. So why should Scotland in the longer term continue its tolerant trajectory?

Apart from the fact that the Yes side will be in the ascendency after a Yes vote and will be able to infuse Scotland with its values, there are several reasons to believe Scotland will be very different:

Firstly, Scotland has a great history of tolerance. For instance, as Frank Angell wrote in the Jewish Chronicle:

[O]ur history is at least unstained by anti-Jewish discrimination, rare among European nations, and our 14th century independence Declaration of Arbroath contains the statement: “There is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman.”

Secondly, as I’ve discussed before, Scotland has never been a homogeneous country, it’s always been a country of immigrants and emigrants, and the native use of English is a good bulwark against parochialism. This means that right-wing politicians can’t appeal to memories of the “good old days” when everybody spoke one language and belonged to one religion.

Thirdly, most of the UK hasn’t actually had that much immigration, but the fact that most of the mainstream media are based in London makes many people overestimate the actual amount of immigration that has happened. In an independent Scotland, the media would be basing their reporting on Scottish statistics, and they would be located in Scotland, so they would reflect the actual reality, which should make immigration debates less fact-resistant.

Of course nobody knows the future, but the likelihood is that Scotland after independence will be an open and tolerant country. However, so long as we’re part of the UK, we’ll keep receiving the BBC’s UKIP propaganda, and if a future UK government decides to close the borders, it’s Scotland’s economy that will suffer the most (because we need immigration more than the rUK).

Today’s European Parliament election from an indyref perspective

Backside of the European Parliament
Backside of the European Parliament by Protesilaos Stavrou, on Flickr.

We aren’t voting for or against independence in the European Parliament elections today. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant from an indyref perspective.

First of all, and most obviously, the media will look at the strength of the Yes parties and try to conclude that this says something about the strength of the Yes campaign. In other words, if the SNP and the Green party together win three (or more) of the six seats available, everything is fine. On the other hand, if they only get two, it will be seen as a blow to the Yes campaign.

Secondly, UKIP must not win a seat here. They have been trying extremely hard to present themselves as a UK-wide party, but they have never saved a deposit in Scotland, and it’s important for the distinctiveness of Scottish politics that the status quo in this area is maintained, apart from the obvious fact that UKIP is an abhorrent party.

Thirdly, the Scottish MEPs will sit in the European political party groups in the European Parliament. For instance, the SNP and the Green Party will both form part of Greens/EFA, Labour will sit in S&D, the Tories in ECR (not in the EPP!), and the LibDems (if they get in) in ALDE. The MEPs normally vote the same within each group, so it’s really important to look into this rather than simply assuming the MEPs will be toeing the national party line. The European political parties are not equally keen on Scottish independence, as became clear when the Spitzenkandidats were questioned about this on TV:

It’s clear that the Greens/EFA group is the only one that strongly supports Scottish independence.

Fourthly, it’s likely that when the Scottish number of MEPs is increased from 6 to 13 after independence, the additional parliamentarians will be found using the results from this election, rather than holding a by-election. This makes it even more important to elect candidates who will do their utmost to represent an independent Scotland well on the European stage.

To summarise, the best way to support a Yes vote and to further Scottish independence in the European Parliament is to vote for either the SNP or the Green Party. These two parties sit in the same political group in Brussels and Strasbourg, so in practice the difference between the two is minor in this context. It’s probably more important to weigh up whether it’s more likely that the SNP will win three seats or that the Greens will win one. This has been explored with great clarity by Lallands Peat Worrier.

Close your eyes and think of England!

bunting as far as the eye can see...
bunting as far as the eye can see… by Scorpions and Centaurs, on Flickr.
It’s become customary for Better Together supporters to prefix their attempts at talking down Scotland with the words “I’m a patriotic Scot, but …” or similar. (It’s always followed by an example of how they believe Scotland is either too wee, too poor or too stupid so survive in the real world.)

This use of patriotic (a word that independence supporters rarely use) is straightforward enough — they want to ensure that people don’t think they’re doing this because they don’t feel Scottish.

However, today the Scottish Office (which at least on Twitter ought to change its name to the Better Together Propaganda Office) tweeted this:

This seems to imply that voting No is a patriotic duty, that voting Yes is a temptation that must be resisted. It smacks of “Close your eyes and think of England” and “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori“.

It’s an interesting change of semantics. Whereas the way patriotic is normally used by No campaigners clearly refers to Scotland, this seems to say that people have a duty to the United Kingdom, and that it would be an unforgivable folly to vote Yes to independence.

This tweet seems to be condensed version of this quote by Alistair Carmichael: “Being passionate about independence does not make you more Scottish. It does not mean you are the only ones that care about Scotland’s future. People who care are asking questions about our pensions and the Pound and if they do not get convincing answers then the patriotic decision will be to reject the idea of Scotland leaving the UK.”

In the longer version, patriotic seems to have its usual meaning (although the logic is somewhat flawed).

So what happened? Is the Scottish Office on a mission here, or are they just bad at condensing statements down to 140 characters? It will be interesting to study the use of patriotic by Better Together for the remainder of the campaign.

Westminster has ‘learned the lesson of Quebec’

Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael
Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael by Cabinet Office, on Flickr.

There’s an interesting wee interview with the Scottish Secretary in the Sunday Herald today:

Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael said September’s ballot will be a now or never moment for the Yes side […]

Rather than a “neverendum” — where a No vote only led to further ballots — he said a No vote could prove a so-called “neveragaindum”, in which the independence issue was permanently settled.

Carmichael said Westminster had learned the lesson of Quebec, where botched reforms led to a second ballot on independence 15 years after the Canadian province rejected the option.

In the interview, Carmichael does give the impression that he simply doesn’t think there will an appetite for another referendum because of demographic change and the impact of further devolution.

However, if further devolution ends up delivering a mixture of Devo Nano and a removal of some powers from the Scottish Parliament in return, and it becomes abundantly clear to a large majority of people in Scotland that they were lied to by the No side in the referendum campaign, it’s easy to imagine a huge majority for independence in 10-15 years’ time.

What does the bit about having learned the lesson of Quebec mean then? It sounds like a thinly veiled threat that Westminster will take steps to ensure another referendum becomes an impossibility. This could for instance involve changing the electoral system for Holyrood or enacting legislation to make independence referendums illegal.

I might be wrong, of course, and all Carmichael means is that the nice Westminster politicians will teach the Scots to love the Union after a No vote, but it sounds like an unnecessary risk to me.

I’ve heard people saying they think the referendum came a bit too early, and that they would have preferred waiting a few more years before voting for independence. They should heed Carmichael’s warning. This referendum is quite possibly the only chance we’ve got for a generation or more. Nobody should vote No to get independence in ten years’ time. Because No means No.

Putting the rUK’s interests first

Londra - Il Parlamento
Londra – Il Parlamento by gengish skan, on Flickr.
The Lords Constitution Committee was in the news yesterday because they made some proposals concerning the aftermath of a Yes vote.

Most of the headlines were caused by some comments that I didn’t find particularly interesting, but Baroness Jay of Paddington, chairman of the committee, also said this:

We urge the UK Government to put the rest of the UK’s interests first in the event of independence negotiations.

This is a rather interesting statement. After all, the UK Government will still be the government for all of the UK between a Yes vote and Scottish independence day, and indeed it will still contain Scottish government ministers and be served partly by Scottish civil servants. Nevertheless, the noble Lords will want this UK government to function as the rUK government for the purpose of negotiations.

I really can’t see how this would work. They would either have to purge the UK Government of all Scots immediately (but I’m not sure how they could legally do that), or they would live in fear that Scottish moles (mowdiwarps?) would leak parts of the negotiation mandate to the Scottish negotiation team.

Surely the only solution will be to create an rUK negotiation team to match its Scottish counterpart, rather than using the UK government for a purpose for which it isn’t suited.

I cannot see how the Westminster government can conduct the negotiations while it’s still Scotland’s government, too. Only after Scotland’s independence day will the rUK government be able to conduct the remaining negotiations on its own.

Baroness Jay added:

The Prime Minister should feel under no obligation to conclude negotiations by March 2016. The Scottish Government’s proposed timetable has no legal or constitutional standing.

As I’ve argued before, I’m not sure it makes any sense for the negotiations to be dragged out. Does anybody really think that the UK can be governed as if nothing had happened between a Yes vote and independence day?

For instance, what happens if the Westminster government wants to do something that Scotland is 100% against (the Bedroom Tax and the privatisation of the Royal Mail are obvious examples from the recent past)? Will they go ahead and tell Scotland to reverse the decision afterwards? That wouldn’t be acceptable to Scotland after a Yes vote, so in practice a legislative moratorium will be put in place, meaning that only uncontroversial legislation can be passed, and I cannot imagine Westminster would put up with that for very long.

So although I agree with the noble Lords that the Scottish Government’s proposed independence date is only a proposal, my guess is that once the Westminster politicians get their heads round these issues, they’ll actually want Scottish independence to happen sooner than March 2016, not later.

Will Scotland be a lucky country?

Four-leaf Clover
Four-leaf Clover by Hyoung Won Park, on Flickr.
A while ago the psychologist Richard Wiseman did some research into luck, in particular why some people seem to be luckier than others:

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Can these principles be applied to a country as well as individuals? And if they can, would they combine to make Scotland a lucky place after independence? Let’s have a look at each of them in turn.

On the first principle — chance opportunities — it’s well known that small independent countries can react more quickly to them. As Stephen Noon puts it: “Government and institutions can be structured more effectively, making our size an advantage, with shorter lines of communication and the ability to bring together key decision makers, allowing a quicker response to changing economic conditions.” While we’re a part of the UK, it’s much harder to react swiftly, because we don’t have all the powers here and might need to bring Westminster on board before we can act. (One might argue that entering into a political union with England in 1707 was a case of a small country pursuing a chance opportunity, and Scotland did indeed do amazingly well out of it for the first 100-200 years. After that, Scotland stopped acting like a small country and more like a region of a large one.)

The second principle — intuition — is harder to apply to a country. One might argue that in a country with a high degree of trust in political institutions, there’s a tendency to accept other people’s actions without seeing the rationale for them. The problem with this argument is that not all small countries are very trusting. According to this article, the Nordic countries score very highly, but many ex-communist countries are at the bottom. So a lot might here depend on Scotland managing to learn the right lessons from the Scandinavia.

The third principle — self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations — applies easily: The story of Scotland is a positive one, especially after a Yes vote, and it’s one that will appeal to people both here and abroad. It’s not like the UK that immediately conjures up images on colonialism, racism, privilege and corruption. So people in an independent Scotland will expect to do well, and therefore they will.

The fourth principle — a resilient attitude — comes naturally in a small country. I grew up in Denmark, and you had a feeling that you were all in it together. If the government for instance said that salaries were rising too fast, it was easy to reach a consensus to do something about it — you didn’t feel that your benefits were being cut and your taxes increased just so that the bankers in could keep their bonuses.

Richard Wiseman adds:

Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell – a reason to consider a decision carefully. Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives.

This is a very accurate description of the Yes and No campaigns: Most Yes campaigners both think and feel that independence is the right way forward, whereas the No campaigners tend to fight for a No in spite of their feelings (the “I’m a proud Scot but …” sentiment). Also, many No campaigners cling to the UK because that’s their routine, whereas Yes campaigners love to think about the endless possibilities that an independent Scotland will offer us.

Of course Scotland will still belong to both groups after the referendum, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the winning campaign will make Scotland more like themselves. If Yes wins, the visionaries and optimists will be running the country, whereas it will be the unlucky pessimists who will be running the show after a No vote.

If Scotland votes Yes on 18 September, the country will be brimming with energy and positivism — exactly the circumstances that means we’ll create and notice chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to our intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good. In other words, Scotland will become a lucky country.