Eurovision, the Olympics, the UN and all that

Finland for Eurovision 2006
Finland for Eurovision 2006 by Michael, on Flickr.
The BBC has reported that an independent analysis compiled by former Labour first minister Henry McLeish ‘concluded that there were “no obvious barriers” to Scotland competing at the Games in the Rio Olympics’ in the summer of 2016. The obligatory bit of scaremongering was provided by the Vice President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Sir Craig Reedie:

He said an independent Scotland would first need to gain membership of the United Nations.


Responding to the report Sir Craig said: “I really don’t know how long it takes an independent nation to get membership.

“Gaining membership of the United Nations, historically and politically, is not always an easy thing but there must be a process and it must take some time.”

UN membership is important in many contexts — as discussed previously, it is for instance also a requirement for participating in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Anyway, you would have thought that the BBC would have had the resources to check Wikipedia for details about the time it takes to gain membership of the UN rather than just reporting Sir Craig’s vacillations. However, this is easily remedied.

Let’s have a look at two recent cases:

  • The dissolution of Czechoslovakia: On 17 July 1992, the Slovak parliament adopted the Declaration of independence of the Slovak nation. On 25 November, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia as of 31 December 1992 was agreed. In a letter dated 10 December 1992, the Secretary-General of the UN was informed that the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic would cease to exist on 31 December 1992. The Czech Republic and Slovakia were admitted to the UN on 19 January 1993.
  • Montenegro: The status of the union between Montenegro and Serbia was decided by the referendum on Montenegrin independence on 21 May 2006. On 3 June 2006, the Montenegrin Parliament declared the independence of Montenegro. Montenegro was admitted to the UN on 28 June 2006.

This shows that when the independence declaration is not contested, it normally takes the UN about a month to process the paperwork. In other words, if Scotland becomes independent on 24 March 2016 (as suggested by the Scottish Government), Scotland should become a member of the United Nations by May 2016. (Of course things look very different if the independence declaration isn’t accepted by the parent country — Kosovo springs to mind — but the Edinburgh Agreement commits Westminster to accept the result of the referendum, so this shouldn’t become a problem for Scotland.)

May 2016 will probably be too late to allow Scotland to compete in Eurovision that year, but it should make participation in the Summer Olympics quite feasible, as concluded by Henry McLeish.

The government Scotland voted for

The governments of the UK, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
The governments of the UK, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. ‘L’ means Labour or equivalent, ‘T’ means Tory or equivalent, and ‘U’ means undecided (Scotland sent the same number of Labour and Tory MPs to Westminster for a few years).
One of the more popular indyref illustrations circulating on Twitter points out that Scotland has voted Tory for 6 years out of 68 but has had Tory governments for 38 of those years.

When you look at how Scotland voted and the resulting UK government, Scotland got what it voted for 54% of the time since 1945. However, this actually makes it sound like Scotland has a decent amount of influence. An analysis by Wings over Scotland showed that “for 65 of the last 67 years, Scottish MPs as an entity have had no practical influence over the composition of the UK government,” and the conclusion was stark:

The truth is that the only people who can vote the Tories out are the English. It doesn’t matter what Scotland does: we get the government England votes for every time, it’s just that sometimes – less than half of the time – our vote happens to coincide with theirs and we feel as if we played a part when actually we didn’t.

This made me wonder how Scotland’s voting patterns compare with the three Scandinavian countries — Norway, Sweden and Denmark — so I created an illustration of the largest party at general elections in Scotland as well as the political alignment of the governments in London, Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Denmark is an even worse match than Westminster (Scotland and Denmark overlapped for 53% of the time compared with 54% for Westminster), but Norway is a much better match at 63% and Sweden topped this comparison with an overlap of 69%.

That’s right — for 69% of the years since 1945, the Swedish government in Stockholm has been in alignment with the wishes of the Scottish electorate, in spite of the fact that Scotland sends no representatives there.

This is not an attempt to argue that Scotland should form a political union with Sweden instead of England (although the government of the United Kingdom of Sweden and Scotland would probably act in accordance with the wishes of the Scottish electorate much more often than Westminster does). However, it’s important to realise that Scotland influences the composition of the Westminster government so rarely that the government overlap with independent but like-minded countries like Norway or Sweden is actually much greater.

Being in a political union with a country that is ten times larger and has very different voting habits doesn’t lead to a sense of enfranchisement in the population. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Independence.

When is a UDI not a UDI?

Minnemynt fra Kroningen 1906 - 2 kroner (Revers)
Minnemynt fra Kroningen 1906 – 2 kroner (Revers) by Municipal Archives of Trondheim, on Flickr.
The Edinburgh Agreement states that both governments must respect the result of the referendum:

The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.

In theory, this should mean that Westminster after a Yes vote will negotiate the terms of independence constructively and as fast a reasonable possible. The Scottish Government has already stated that it believes it should be possible to conclude the talks in time for Scotland to become independent on 24 March 2016, and several independent observers have agreed this is a realistic time scale.

However, what happens if the 2015 General Election becomes a competition about who will be toughest on Scotland, and the resulting government is unwilling to compromise in order to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement? Or what if Westminster gets distracted by other issues (such as UKIP and the Brexit) and kicks the independence negotiations into the long grass?

A unilateral declaration of independence (a UDI) is normally something a prospective country issues when it has been denied a proper democratic path to independence.

So if Scotland votes Yes, and the Scottish Government does its best to negotiate in good faith, but Westminster acts as described above, will an independence declaration be a UDI, or will Scotland be entitled to do so as a result of the Edinburgh Agreement? Basically the independence declaration would say something like this: We have followed the Edinburgh Agreement in letter and spirit, but the Westminster Government is refusing to negotiate in good faith, so reluctantly we have come to the conclusion that we have to declare independence and resume the negotiations as an independent country.

Surely other countries would study the Edinburgh Agreement and conclude that Westminster was the culprit and that the Scottish independence declaration was just, valid and legal.

Hopefully this will be unnecessary, but when I read articles about how the Westminster Government isn’t even planning for the negotiations, I can’t help thinking they might need to be given a deadline in order to conclude them in a timely fashion.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do worry that the 2015 General Election will be such a mess if conducted during the independence negotiations that the only reasonable solutions are either to conclude the negotiations before April 2015 or to postpone the election till after Scottish Independence Day. Hopefully Westminster will soon wake up to the real possibility that we’ll vote Yes and will start planning for this scenario in earnest.

Misleading voters about the European Parliament

A Q&A from Labour's European Parliament election leaflet.
A bit of misinformation from Labour’s European Parliament election leaflet.
One of the reasons why so many people are against the EU and why UKIP are finding it so easy to campaign for leaving it altogether is that most don’t know very much at all about how it functions.

Just look at this snippet from a Labour leaflet we received the other day, which clearly is Better Together propaganda disguised as a European Parliament election leaflet:

Q. How does Labour make sure Scotland’s voice is heard?

A. Smaller countries have much less clout but because we are part of the UK, we have a voting block of 73 MEPs and, along with 4 other countries out of 28, we make up half of all MEPs.

The numbers aren’t wrong, but what is crucially missing here is that MEPs very rarely vote along national lines. According to this report (PDF), members of each European political party group vote together around 90% of the time [p. 10]: It adds: “The only policy area that bucks this trend is agriculture: here, the European political groups are less cohesive than on other policy issues and some national delegations (particularly the French and the Scandinavians) vote along national lines”.

In other words, the fact that there are 73 UK MEPs but only 13 Danish ones is almost irrelevant because they only rarely (if ever) vote as a block; Labour should instead be talking about how their 13 MEPs (two of which are representing Scotland) form part of the S&D’s parliamentary group consisting of 190 members from most EU countries.

Much more importantly, Scotland currently only has 6 MEPs, but as an independent country we would have 13 (the same as Denmark). This means that the S&D group would most likely contain four or five Scottish members instead of just two, dramatically increasing Scotland’s influence there. And of course the Scottish members would be free to vote together with the rUK ones whenever that would be desirable, so independence would only increase our influence in the European Parliament.

Arc of Prosperity statporn

I started using Google Analytics on Arc of Prosperity exactly a year ago instead of the WordPress plugins that too often count robots as visitors.

So without any further ado, here’s the Google Analytics report for the past year:
The Google Analytics report for the past year.

In general, this site has been growing more and more popular (apart from a late-autumn lull), and it’s great to see that 18,055 users (what used to be called unique visitors) have found their way to this blog over the past year. It’s also encouraging that 45.5% are returning visitors.

The most popular pages were these:

Thanks a lot to all of you for the past year, and let’s now focus on the final few months before the referendum!