All posts by guestblogger

The ratchet effect

A guest post by Gerald Baird.

Spirit of Independence
Spirit of Independence by Màrtainn MacDhòmhnaill, on Flickr.
Of course I would rather there had been a Yes vote, but I don’t feel gutted and empty like so many, and here’s why.

All along I have been unhappy with the timing of this referendum; Salmond was over a barrel; the unexpected landslide in 2011 made it well-nigh impossible not to go ahead with the referendum in the current session of parliament, and that’s what the SNP conference decided that year, although Salmond was too clever an operator not to realise the problems. Wendy Alexander’s notorious “Bring it on” call was just one example of the pressure on him to call it, but of course he knew that the population was not yet ready.

The Yes campaign, fascinating and revolutionary as it has been, always seemed to me to have something a bit febrile, a bit attenuated about it. It lacked the breadth-in-depth needed for its position to be incontrovertible. Though the White Paper did a remarkable job, there were too many openings for malevolent opponents to aim at and to nail with a lying headline.

It’s all to do with education, in the widest sense, and the process is only half done. It has developed amazingly quickly, but it does need time for new ideas to be introduced and for people to become aware of them and go through the stages of shock, ridicule, knee-jerk opposition, growing understanding, admission of possibility, passive acceptance and finally active endorsement. The awareness of the issues is vastly more widespread than it was even a year ago, and above all, the idea of independence has become naturalised within the political landscape as a perfectly legitimate option available to Scots if they wish to take it.

The sudden realisation in England that the Union might soon have been over without their being able to do a thing about it is a further indication of how things have moved on. This is an enormous advance, and given the universal hostility of the corrupt press, the unspeakable BBC Scotland, the unanimity of the official parties in Scotland, Labour, LibDems and Tories, Cameron’s calling-in of debts from folk like Obama and other worthies, all the scare stories from business, banks and supermarkets … and yet, given all this, forty-five per cent of the population voted, not for the SNP, but for independence! That’s a barely credible change that has taken place in a very short time, and it seems to me a very healthy base indeed on which to work for a final push.

I think the situation will have changed radically again in two or three years (it’s changed pretty fast in two or three days so far!) There’s no chance at all of Westminster being able to satisfy the needs of Scotland with their insulting back-of-a-fag-packet “More Powers” legerdemain, as their current (highly diverting) disarray demonstrates, and the best recruiting officers for independence are already taking up their positions: Cameron, Miliband, Boris and Farage.

The genie is out of the bottle, and although I won’t say all we have to do is sit back and wait, really the best arguments for control of our own affairs are going to be displayed in front of us. An enormous number of No voters are putting their trust in Westminster to come up with the goods, and that’s just not possible. I can sympathise with the English on this; if I were an MP for somewhere in Norfolk or Hereford, my reaction would certainly be, “What? Still more Westminster time for the Jocks? They had their chance and bottled it; time to move on.”

When widespread disenchantment sets in among the No voters, as it inevitably must, we will be told that we can’t have another referendum. Westminster, having made the mistake once, will not assist in the legitimising of a democratic vote a second time. So what’s the procedure? There are two ways of doing it: one is for the Scottish Government to have a referendum anyway, and stuff Westminster. It would have to be supervised by international bodies, of course, but I don’t see a problem.

Secondly, my last resort proposal is what I call the Sinn Fein option, not a helpful title, since it immediately makes folk think I’m advocating violence. Not at all; in the UK general election of December 1918 Sinn Fein stood in every seat in Ireland on a manifesto of declaring independence; they won a substantial majority of seats and immediately declared themselves to be the Dáil Éireann, packed their bags and left Westminster. The UK government declared this to be an illegal move, and the Dáil said effectively, “So what?” (I’ll say in passing that one of the things about life in Britain which really irritates me is the near-universal failure ever to consider the experience of other societies in dealing with similar problems. Whether it’s education, health policy, local government or whatever, the debate is conducted largely by assertion on both sides rather than thinking, What do they do about defence in Finland? How do the Germans provide health services? How important are private schools in Italy? How did Czechoslovakia manage the split? More to the point, how did Ireland?)

The Scottish situation is immeasurably simpler than was the Irish, with an immovable and sizeable Ulster bloc of hostile and implacable bigots ready to take up arms with the less than covert support of half of the UK establishment, and I adduce this evidence just to make clear that, given a properly prepared electorate, whatever may be said (and it will be) there is no problem at all about the future mechanics of producing a legitimate end to the Union. And that’s what it is, of course. I wish the Yes campaign had squashed early on the terminology of “leaving” the Union, as if it would survive, if in a lesser form, after Scottish independence.

It’s connected with all the tedious nonsense one has heard, and will hear, about Manchester, or Yorkshire, having just as much right as Scotland, blah, blah. The whole point is that Scotland, unlike Yorkshire, is one of the two (not four) constituent nations of the Union, one of the two signatories of the Treaty of Union. A marriage ends when one of the participants has had enough; the position of long-term boarders, or live-in aunts, is not a factor, however problematic it may be for them.

Winnie looks on in the campaign war room
Winnie looks on in the campaign war room by Ewan McIntosh, on Flickr.
Ultimately that has been the main problem in the long and complex history of the Union: the fact that the English (and because of non-existent education in these matters, very many Scots) have never seen Scotland as England’s constitutional partner in the enterprise of Union, but as a troublesome province with ideas above its station which has had to be appeased from time to time.

Anyway, to my own surprise rather than feeling despondent I find myself astonishingly optimistic about the future, and the next time, since everyone has been through it before, it will be much better prepared for.

Really since Winnie Ewing in Hamilton all those years ago, the progress of self-determination for Scotland has been a ratchet effect: a bit forward, a bit back, but never quite as far back as it was before. The events of this year have moved the ratchet nearly to its end; I see the current position as a reculer pour mieux sauter, not a setback. As I’ve been saying for decades now, It’s comin yet, for aa that!

The EU must respect new countries

Arc of Prosperity’s third guest blogger is James Chalmers. He’s a Scot originally from West Fife who has spent the last 40 or so years trying (and occasionally succeeding) to find oil in various areas around the North Atlantic — North Sea, both Scottish and Norwegian, West of Shetland and Greenland. He has lived in Denmark since the late eighties, is now retired and happily living in Copenhagen with his Danish wife.

European Parliament Buildings
European Parliament Buildings, a photo by stevecadman on Flickr.
Jens-Peter Bonde (a Danish writer and former member of the European Parliament) has written an article on the rights and relationships of an independent Scotland and Catalonia in the EU. The article was published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on March 5th (in Danish, registration required).

A number of Bonde’s points are very important in the context of the rumours emanating from the both the Spanish and British governments that both Catalonia and Scotland will be thrown out of the EU in the event of independence.

Bonde points out that the EU treaties contain no provisions whereby a people could be thrown out of the EU. That could happen legally only with a change in the treaties that requires unanimous agreement of all 28 member states. Nor are there any treaty terms about assigning rights to regions that become nations. That also requires unanimous changes in the treaties.

There are, however, very strong legal bases for solving new situations like these. The treaties say, after all, that every European country has the right to be a member of the EU, whether or not it is a member already, if it satisfies various criteria. Catalonia and Scotland naturally satisfy these criteria because EU law already applies to the two regions and that has priority over all regional and national law. All of this means that an acceptable solution will be found about how to deal with parts of member states becoming independent.

The most important question that will require negotiation will be the new nations’ representation in the EU’s agencies. Will they be treated as independent nations and have their own members in the Commission, Council of Ministers and the European Parliament? When Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, the two countries were treated as independent nations. They later got representation equivalent to that of other counties with the same population. They were not punished for having separated. Quite the opposite, the two countries got a combined representation greater than they would have had if they had applied for membership as Czechoslovakia.

If Catalonia and Scotland receive a less favourable treatment, they can appeal to the EU Court and plead that they are being discriminated against compared with other nations. It will not be easy to find legal grounds for rejecting such an appeal. National discrimination is specifically forbidden in the treaties. The right of self-determination is an international legal principle that is also recognised by the EU.

Bonde claims that Scotland and Catalonia will be forced to accept the euro as their currency. Great Britain and Denmark have exceptions; the new countries don’t. Catalonia already uses the euro and has no plans on a new independent currency. Scotland uses British pounds and, the current SG proposal is a currency union with Great Britain. In that case, Scotland would not comply with the precursor conditions for joining the euro; its own currency that is stable against the euro for two years. Even in the event of an independent Scottish currency, Scotland could take the Swedish route end simply let its currency float against the euro, again meaning that it would not satisfy the pre-joining criteria.

Scotland can become a nation like Denmark, take part in the Nordic cooperation and be represented in the EU in the same way as Denmark in the EU and UN. With a commissioner, and place in the Council of Ministers and 13 members in the European Parliament, compared 6 today as part of the UK. These changes will require changes to the treaties as with every new land, and the changes have to be agreed unanimously. But with this difference; these new lands are already in the EU.

There is no authority to exclude Catalonia and Scotland from the EU if they vote for independence from Spain and Great Britain. Their relationships to Spain and the rUK are a Spanish and British affair, where the EU has no competence. The Spanish and British competence does not stretch far enough to exclude the two countries from the EU because they have voted for independence from Spain and Britain.

The two motherlands will therefore also be forced to find a solution if Scotland and Catalonia vote for independence. If independence infects the Basques and other peoples there will be many small nations in the EU, which will probably lead to a general revision of how the countries are represented in the EU. There has already been opposition in the big nations for every member country having a commissioner.

There will probably be an EU conference in 2015 for other reasons. The European Parliament will again try to get the treaties changed to a constitution. Germany will continue their influence in the various countries’ finance laws as a condition of continuing German contributions to the Euro’s survival. If Scotland and Catalonia vote for independence, this can lead to a general discussion about the future arrangements of the Europe of the Nations and the Europe of the Regions.

Beyond the point of repair

The second guest blogger on Arc of Prosperity is Phyllis Buchanan.

Phyl is a mum of 5, busy running her language company, taking photos and trying to keep up with the pace of life. She blogs at Phyl’s Blog.

An earlier version of this post has been published on her blog before.

Divorce Cakes a_006
Divorce Cakes a_006, a photo by DrJohnBullas on Flickr.
I’ve been wondering why the Scottish independence referendum has been annoying me increasingly over the last few months to the point that when I hear it mentioned on the news or similar, I turn off.

It isn’t the I am not interested. I am passionately interested. It is plain to see that England, first under Labour and now under the ConDems, has no idea whatsoever what to do to start moving in the right direction. Their education system has been priced out of realistic people’s grasp, and not in line with the rest of the European continent that it is part of. Their health service is failing miserably. The infrastructure is collapsing around them, they have youth unemployment but are trying to force pensioners into working till way beyond the age when people (in my family at least) tend to die. They are hysterical about immigration, even when fears are not realized.

Childcare is so beyond people’s reach that many women (even with degree-level education and beyond) are no longer able to go out to work — salaries just don’t meet the costs. Some stay home and decimate their careers, others choose to have no children, many rely on aging parents who suddenly find themselves incapacitated and then they’re faced with losing their home because their mortgage was based on granny childminding. Many, like me, try to work half-time (plus a little) from home, staying up till the wee small hours to make ends meet, working all weekends and holidays but that isn’t the way forward in the 21st century.

Sure enough London seems to be working reasonably well, a little part of the South East too but Birmingham up is quite frankly in a state! I want my kids to live in a fairer, more progressive country so it is incomprehensible to me after reading the figures (as quoted in the FT and even occasionally the Economist), reading independent GDP projections and reports on other small countries that are working much better, reading the White Paper and its far-reaching ideas that anyone would vote to sink with the ship that is floundering on the Somerset plains.

Now this is nothing anti-English — many of my English friends who live here are also Yes supporters, quite frankly I think Northern England needs it as much as we do, they simply aren’t being given the option and I am not willing to join them in a suicide pact when I can start to build a future they can hopefully draw example from.

Anyway, back to why the Indy Ref is annoying me. It suddenly hit me, while listening to Osborne’s speech in Edinburgh ten days ago… It is because of my divorce. I didn’t just go through a divorce eight years ago, I went through the most acrimonious divorce that any one I know has gone through. That is not what I intended but it is what transpired. I don’t usually blog about my real, innermost private life but let’s discard that rule just for once and let me take you through my divorce blow by blow. There is enough distance between me and it now for this to be possible without it being overly upsetting…

So let’s go back to five or six years before I left my first husband. We had grown apart. We were coexisting but didn’t have much in common. I saw my future differently from where he saw it but I wasn’t the divorcing type so I sat him down and told him we had to start having more time for each other, sharing parenting more and moving in the same direction. I said I wanted a little more respect and a bit more affection. He barked at me that by living in my “shitty country” he was showing me enough affection so I’d to leave him in peace and not nag him again.

After that spectacular fail at repairing our relationship things carried on as before with me working full time, parenting full time and doing everything in the house while he worked long hours and de-stressed by treating himself to café trips, cinema trips and piles of rental videos of his choice. When I had finally had enough, I told him I wanted to leave and he came out with a phrase I will take with me to my grave: “I didn’t need to make an effort because you were never going to leave.” Of all the lessons from my divorce that one line has possibly shaped the way I have lived my life afterwards most. So does that attitude ring any distant bells? Anyway, for my marriage it was too late. I didn’t love him any more.

His first reaction after I announced I was leaving was to declare his undying love for me and try to show me the affection I had craved for the previous decade. I was appalled and repulsed. I didn’t want him to go anywhere near me, let alone hold my hand.

After a few weeks of “I love you”, he moved on to undermining me. I was never going to survive on my own, I was too dependent, I was too used to his salary, I was pathetic. Too wee, too poor? Any bells?

Next I was told he’d go to court and have my children taken off me because I was a hopeless parent and he was a victim of my mid-life crisis so he would obviously be favoured by a judge. The thought of him trying to take my kids terrified me. That kept me voting “No” to leaving for a another few weeks. Slowly, I started to realize that I was the only constant in their lives so it was another lie — a bluff.

Then he tried bribery. He’d never bought me any jewellery and had always spent most of his money on things for himself so he told me that if I promised to stay I could have a diamond ring and a brand new seven-seater car. I guess this was his version of further devolved powers. Firstly, I wasn’t as shallow as that, but moreover, I was slowly beginning to realize that I’d rather have neither than stay with him.

When that blackmail tactic didn’t work he tried threatening to leave his job, so I would get no maintenance, this was followed by threats that I would have destroyed his career by leaving and he’d be destitute and it’d all be my doing. Of course later this all culminated in threats of self harm. I worried for another few weeks until again it started to dawn … all bluster and bullying. Yes, they worked for a little while but eventually I realized they were all time-buying bluffs.

He became quite verbally abusive for some time after that but that didn’t wear me down, it strengthened my resolve greatly. Finally I got the threat that he would not give up the house. He wouldn’t sell me his half so I’d lose my home. I guess this is the parallel of the current currency issue.

But the problem was that by that point starting again from scratch with less money, somewhere else, was still preferable to giving in to his bully tactics because we had gone way beyond the point of repair and more importantly I had started to believe in myself and see my route out. I’d seen what my future could hold and contemplated that other world.

Of course, he promised me the earth if I stayed but I knew realistically that once I opted to stay he wouldn’t change, he’d be no more loving or supportive than before and worse still he’d spend the rest of my life casting the almost-divorce up to me, taking more and more to compensate himself for the hurt he perceived. Life after a No vote to divorce would have been an utter nightmare.

So on balance, I think the reason I’m turning off to the Indy Ref is because it is way too close to the bone. The parallels are so strong, I am finding them upsetting. I’ve been through lies and bullying once and that is enough for one life time. Watching interview after interview on the BBC where Westminster politicians are allowed to lie or embellish the truth without being picked up by the interviewer just gets me down. I have read enough foreign and independent sources to notice the bullying lies and half truths. The fact that someone less well informed will be sitting there falling for their sound bites frustrates and scares me immeasurably.

I am starting to suspect that this divorce is becoming more acrimonious by the day and even if we do return a No, I sense we will have gone beyond the point of repair.

Forget asylum seekers — what about the expats?

This is the first ever guest blog on Arc of Prosperity, written by Ed “The Guero”.

Ed is a thirty-something professional from Hamilton who has been travelling for the better part of 15 years in pursuit of work, love and life — though not necessarily in that order! He is a proponent of assisted healthy living for children and improved social welfare. He tweets as @EdTheGuero.

Border Sign
Border Sign, a photo by Dunnock_D on Flickr.
Case studies, case studies, case studies. As an expat it pays to pay attention to case studies especially when preparing to return home accompanied by your foreign-born spouse and/or children. I say “foreign-born” in reference to those not of the EEA (European Economic Area) or the EU. One has to be mindful of the rules ensuring we dot all of the i’s, cross all of the t’s and, after what we assume should be a relatively straight forward process, we can expect our spouse to be granted a visa and welcomed to the UK as a well received extension of ourselves. After all — this is what we should expect from ‘Team GB’ right?

Not so fast!

This piece is not an attempt to vilify Westminster nor is it an effort to sway a vote in the referendum, but my own situation grants me insight into what we might do better should Scotland be free from the overriding control of a Westminster, so out of touch that it leaves many of its citizens yearning to simply come home with the person they love.

Much has been said lately in the mainstream media and social networks regarding UK immigration policy. In recent years policies have been pushed, pulled and contorted in an effort to protect the UK from an influx of “benefit tourists” and relationships of convenience whilst at the same time providing an avenue for asylum seekers in their pursuit of security. The UK, in the latest policy change, seems to have adopted a rather elitist approach and in Westminster’s efforts to “protect” they have cast a net so fine that British expats find themselves wrongfully affected, unable to feasibly come home with their family in tow.

Evidently, we are of secondary importance, an issue being missed in the haste to close Britain’s doors to immigrants. Statistics, explanatory documents filled with tables, appendices, diagrams and equations can all be readily found should you feel the need, but as a Scottish expat married to a beautiful lady from some unspecified Latin American country, I can tell you that it comes down to nothing other than money.

There are minimum requirements to be met regarding finances and accommodation as you would expect. What irks me are the countless stipulations and the unrealistically high-set bar which take no account of economic relativity and engineers a scenario in which families are separated indefinitely. In the most common type of family member application, £18,600 is the magic number. As my wife’s sponsor I must earn in the months prior to and after my wife’s application £18,600 gross annual salary or have savings which supplement my income, have worked for my employer abroad for 6 months minimum and have a contract on the table back home. If I have savings – subtract £16,000, divide by 2.5 and that gives you the number I can add to my gross annual income to meet the minimum requirement. Who has enough savings to subtract £16,000 then… Never mind.

Basically you need a lot of money and now is a good time to point out the cost of application — a whopping £851. When you struggle to meet a minimum requirement of £18,600 and face set-up costs back home, who has £851 (non-refundable on refusal)? You had best be certain your case is clad in iron.

There are two approaches here — have your spouse apply whilst you are both overseas or whilst separated with you in the UK. I know it may be an arbitrary number to some but I earn a good salary and live comfortably abroad — I still earn less than £18,600 per year! My wife earns similarly to myself, but that is not considered a factor in her application, and that leaves us with only one option.

If I want to come home I need to find a job in the UK and then have my wife apply for her visa from overseas when conditions are right. There is a golden ticket which we do not have, £62,500 in savings (subtract the £16,000, divide by 2.5 = £18,600) so it falls to me to accept that we may be apart a minimum of 6 months, realistically up to a year for some.

Are we to believe that this approach is suitable for a country with such disparity, where in London I can expect to earn X% more than in Glasgow or Y% more than in Inverness? Worth noting is of the 422 occupations listed in the 2011 UK Earnings Index, only 301 were above the £18,600 threshold. That’s a lot of discrimination and one should consider the fact that Scotland traditionally has a lower average income than the South-East of England. According to the 2012 salary survey by the Guardian, care workers, hairdressers, bar staff, pharmacists, chefs, travel agents, florists, beauticians, cooks, fitness instructors, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers all earn less than the £18,600 minimum and that’s before filtering by region.

The obvious conclusion is this: The further South & East you live, the more savings you have and the higher profile your profession, the easier it is for your spouse to obtain a visa.

Accommodation is a similar story, unfortunately. You are expected to either a) have a place set up and ready to accommodate your family or b) have someone provide you with accommodation. I don’t know about anyone else but I am short on friends with a spare room, a letting agreement which allows them to sub-let, or an owned property with enough space so as not to constitute overcrowding.

So that’s the crux of the thing. A British citizen’s difficulty in obtaining a family visa from within the UK or without is long and arduous but the fun doesn’t end there. We have the added anxiety in knowing we must do it again 2.5 years down the line because the road to a permanent visa is a 5 year process. Who can plan so far ahead as to know their circumstances will match those at time of original approval and what of a failed application? Is it acceptable that if already in the country many families find themselves separated due to the UK’s insistence upon a refused applicant applying from outwith the UK? How does my partner support herself back home in such circumstances? What if she is the sole provider? It goes without saying that money spent on sending my wife to her country of origin only compounds the issue by pushing us farther from the minimum requirements. Then there is the frankly ridiculous “Life in the UK” test which, if the mock test is anything to go by, is as relevant to living in the UK as a Tunnock’s tea-cake in France.

The UK immigration system is convoluted, irrelevant, discriminatory and not fit for purpose. The system in place seems to be upside down — devised to inconvenience those “undesirables” who may not qualify to settle in the UK before serving those with a right to.

There is currently a legal challenge in progress concerning the minimum income threshold which has resulted on all applications that do not immediately meet the criteria to be put on hold indefinitely pending the outcome of legalities. Right now there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of families separated by British immigration policies and the best response on offer is: “I am prepared to consider whether we can put in place some rules that are not vulnerable to abuse” (Mark Harper, until recently Minister for Immigration). I propose that the level of abuse and method of controlling it should not take precedent over the rights of British Citizens and their families!

In my opinion there can be no abuse of such significance that keeping families apart for indefinite periods of time is justifiable collateral. Isn’t it our right to return home, to bring with us our loved ones? I cannot accept that the abuse of a few should weigh so heavily against the rights of the many and it seems straight forward to me than even if I come home, my partner and I face an uncertain 5 years where we cannot feasibly plan for a settled life.

So what then?

Scots are travellers by nature and we ought to be allowed to return home, our families treated to the same rights and privileges as ourselves, not assessed on the basis of net burden! Perhaps an independent Scotland can see a future in which common sense and versatility are the tools used to sculpt a system whose primary objective is to protect the rights of its own whilst, secondarily, providing for the well-being of those who wish to join us. Perhaps through inclusion we may deter the “abuse” Westminster fears so diligently.

To restrict the movements of a spouse is to restrict the movements of a British citizen. The result of such a hard handed approach to international couples is simply that many expats who wish to return home are forced to consider alternative destinations. We have for instance considered returning instead to the Republic of Ireland where we would be free of the stress the UK immigration system causes.

If we want this country to be a progressive, modern and caring place to live, surely it would serve to pay attention to the welcome mat we present at the door, especially when it is a member of our family who comes calling.