All posts by thomas

The Green Tribe of Scotland

I thought I’d have a closer look at the four tribes of Scotland as described in my two earlier blog posts.

I defined the Green Tribe as being “home to the pro-EU unionists who were perfectly happy inside both unions (28% of voters) [mnemonic: green for hope, because they will hopefully vote Yes next time]”.

Members of the Green Tribe typically voted No to independence but Remain in the Brexit referendum. They also typically vote Lib Dem or Labour (or in some rarer cases Green or Tory). This means that most of them have been used to being in power for a while, and seeing the SNP take over in Scotland and then losing the Brexit referendum must have been a shock to many of them, which means they’re now angry and confused, in many cases even passive-aggressive.

The interesting thing about this Tribe is that it has just lost its ancestral land. The Brexit referendum was won by Leave, and there’s no signs that the UK as a whole will reverse that decision. As a result, they now have to choose between their two beloved unions, the British one and the European one. If they go for the former, they’ll effectively join the Red Tribe, and if they opt for the latter, they’ll become part of the Blue Tribe instead.

What we don’t know is how the Green Tribe will split. Those members who weren’t very strongly attached to the EU, perhaps only supporting it because the tribal elders told them to, will probably remain faithful to the UK and will thus become Reds. On the other hand, those who mainly supported the UK because they saw it as a vehicle for internationalism will soon realise that the Blue Tribe members tend to share their goals, perhaps helped by yesterday’s #WeAreScotland tweets.

Obviously joining the Blue Tribe is only attractive to Green Tribe members if they think it’s a safe way to escape the newly xenophobic rUK and remain within the EU. If a new independence referendum gets put on the back burner, there won’t be anything of interest for them to find in the Blue lands.

We independence supporters need to be very welcoming to Green Tribe members looking for a new home, and we need to stop ourselves for reminding them that “we told you so”, tempting as it is. They’ll bring a new perspective on things – for instance, they might be nostalgic for the liberal and internationalist UK of yesteryear, and waving Saltires might enthuse them less than other independence supporters – but I’m sure that’ll do us no harm.

If we manage to win over a significant proportion of the Green Tribe, we’ll win Indyref2 easily. If we don’t, it’ll be a sair fecht. That alone should be enough to convince everybody to welcome them with warmth and patience.

Get it done!

My goodness how the time has flewn!
My goodness how the time has flewn!.
I’ve been a bit frustrated with Robin McAlpine’s articles recently. He’s been pushing for Indyref2 to take place a few years after Brexit has happened – something which I think would be utterly disastrous for Scotland – but at the same time he’s been one of the few people offering concrete advice on how to get ready for it.

However, today he’s written an article that recommends holding the next independence referendum sooner that he used to be in favour of. He still wants to hold it later than I think is wise, but at least our views are converging.

Also, very importantly, he has some really important recommendations on what we need to do now:

There needs to be a serious research unit set up immediately. It needs to be staffed with people capable of commissioning and carrying out the policy research needed to create what I’ve called a ‘consolidated business plan for a new nation state’.

We need a detailed plan for establishing a currency, a central bank, a civil service, a constitution, an embassy network, a pensions and social security system, a national grid with energy supply regulations, a tax system, an army. […] [We] need detailed proposals. And we’ve got 18 months to get it done.

And we need a proper cross-party, all-movement campaign organisation. Its job is to get every indy campaigner in the country trained, developed and prepared for the most important campaign they’ll ever fight.

And its job is also to prepare a proper, professional campaign strategy using all the approaches and techniques which are available – and which are shown to be effective. We also need all this done in the next 18 months.

I totally agree with all of these recommendations. Crucially, they can be done without calling Indyref2. Given the horrendous, xenophobic Tory conference, no rational person can criticise Nicola Sturgeon for following these recommendations now, and she’s then in an excellent position to call the referendum in 2018 if that’s the only alternative left that will protect Scotland’s place in the World.

Let’s get it done!

I wish I had a time machine

Großmutter und Großvater
Großmutter und Großvater.
I’m half Danish, half German. I grew up in Denmark (before flitting to Scotland when I was 30), but of course I still identify as German, too.

My German grandparents were born in 1899 and 1900, so of course they remembered both World Wars equally well, and they obviously had vivid memories of raising their kids between and during the wars (they had thirteen weans, born between 1927 and 1944, and ten survived till adulthood).

They weren’t Nazis. They voted against Hitler at every opportunity, but given the number of kids they had, there was a limit to what they could do. Nevertheless, I believe they always felt guilty not to have done more.

While they were still alive, their memories of the interwar period seemed somewhat irrelevant to me, like it was ancient history without relevance to the modern world.

And yet, today I’m sitting here wishing for a time machine so that I could speak to them. The Tories’ hideous conference is making me want to discuss Hitler’s ascent to power with somebody who lived through those years. How certain have you got to be that what you’re seeing is beyond the pale before you act? What should you be looking out for? What would they have done differently with hindsight?

My great-grandparents lost their entire fortune during the German hyperinflation. My great-grandfather was a lad-o-pairts who had moved to Stuttgart as a teenager, got an apprenticeship as a baker and ended up owning one of Stuttgart’s largest and most central bakeries with lots of employees, but he and and my great-grandmother lost everything during the 1920s, and they had to move in with my grandparents. My dad remembers them as grumpy and disillusioned.

Given the way the pound is falling like a stone, I wouldn’t mind using my time machine to have a wee chat with them too about what to do when you live in an economic basket-case country.

Sadly, however, there are no time machines, and we have to use history books and our gut feelings to navigate these troubled waters. I guess that’s why history keeps repeating itself.

Abandon ship!

Sunrise Orient wreck
Sunrise Orient wreck.
Do you remember when the Coalition government got into power in 2010 and introduced austerity because the UK’s finances apparently were so dire that foreign investors would pull out their money if nothing was done? There was some truth in that, but of course the Tories only made things worse by taking money away from poor people (who would have spent it) and giving it to the rich (who didn’t do much with it), so the deficit has continued to rise.

I’m mentioning this because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has now abandoned Osborne’s fiscal rules because Brexit is forcing him to do so. This means that the deficit is likely to rise dramatically soon, but without seeing the improvements that borrowing to invest could have led to without Brexit.

The pound is already falling like a stone, but once the financial markets fully realise that the UK is heading for a hard Brexit (and Theresa May was very clear about this on Sunday, as I’ve discussed before), and once they’ve factored it this ballooning deficit, it’s likely to fall even faster.

I’m also very concerned that the Treasury seems to be contemplating to pay compensation to companies for losses caused by Brexit if they remain here. On the one hand they have to do so to prevent all exporting companies from leaving before March 2019, but on the other hand the money for doing so can only come from printing even more money, which isn’t going to be good for the exchange rate.

Of course the pound will stabilise at some point, but it can fall a lot before that happens, and there won’t be many well-paid jobs left at the end of it.

GDP of ArgentinaPerhaps things won’t be that bad, but I’m starting to think the UK could go the way of Argentina, which over a hundred years fell from being on the same level as Germany or France, to a point where their GDP per capita is less than 30% of the USA’s (see the adjacent graph).

Unless the majority of non-Brexiteers in the House of Commons get their act together and kick out this mad government before it’s too late, Scotland has to get off this sinking ship fast or we’ll get dragged down with it.

The Blue Tribe of Scotland

I thought I’d have a closer look at the four tribes of Scotland as described in my two earlier blog posts.

I defined the Blue Tribe as “the 33% of voters who want Scotland to be an independent country inside the EU [mnemonic: blue as the Saltire and the EU flag]”.

The Blue Tribe of Scotland encompasses a spectrum of people, ranging from people who’re closer to the Yellow Tribe and are relatively happy to put up with an independent Scotland being outside the EU so long as we get independence, to people who’re closer to the Green Tribe and only want to see Scottish independence within Europe, not without.

The Blue Tribe is the only one of the four tribes that has lost two referendums in short order, first the Indyref and then the Brexit vote. As a result, many of its members are getting a bit paranoid and are wanting to play it safe, calling Indyref2 only when victory is practically ensured. Although I’m a Blue myself, I do wonder whether this ultra-cautious approach is going to cause us to miss the boat by delaying the next independence referendum for too long.

Both the SNP and the Green Party are dominated by the Blue Tribe. However, the SNP also contains most of the Yellow Tribe, and the Green Party also contains a good number of Green Tribe members, so it would perhaps be more accurate to think of the SNP as a Yellow-Blue Party and the Green Party as belonging to the Green-Blues. As a result, the SNP is now perhaps finding it harder to rally all its members behind a new referendum than the Green Party.

It would probably be fair to describe the Blue Tribe as internationalist civic nationalists, and most of its members are probably as far removed from ethnic nationalism as you can get, which of course made them rather angry during the last Indyref when they were accused of being blood-and-soil nationalists.

So although this tribe is the one which has dominated Scottish politics for the past decade, its members are feeling rather paranoid and under attack. This will probably not change till we win Indyref2.

Brexit means hard Brexit, so Scotland must leave the UK

Theresa May has apparently been spending quite a lot of time reading up the EU: “[T]he prime minister is ploughing through hundreds of pages of briefing papers on all aspects of EU policy. After six years at the Home Office, she knows justice and home affairs inside out, but is having to learn at speed the intricacies of the customs union and the impact of Brexit on 38 economic sectors. She wants to master the detail before revealing her hand.” However, she must have set herself the Conservative party conference as her deadline to learn enough to decide what Brexit should mean, because today the time for waffling was clearly over.

In spite of claiming that “there is no such thing as a choice between ‘soft Brexit’ and ‘hard Brexit’,” everything else in her conference speech was pointing very clearly towards the hard variety:

We’re going to talk about Britain […] in which we pass our own laws and govern ourselves. […] In which we win trade agreements with old friends and new partners. […] Our laws will be made not in Brussels but in Westminster. The judges interpreting those laws will sit not in Luxembourg but in courts in this country. […] We are going to be a fully-independent, sovereign country, a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts. So it is not going to a “Norway model”. It’s not going to be a “Switzerland model”. […] And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

She could hardly have been clearer than this. She wants the UK to fully leave the European Union and to become as independent from it as for instance Russia or Egypt. I think it’ll be an economic disaster because a lot of jobs are going to move to rEU countries, and she’s now given all companies the clarity they’ve requested to start the process.

She also slapped down any hope of Scotland getting a separate deal (such as the Reverse Greenland that has been discussed in the past): “[W]e will negotiate as one United Kingdom, and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom. There is no opt-out from Brexit.”

Finally, she gave us a time for Brexit: “We will invoke Article Fifty no later than the end of March next year.” This means that Brexit will take place no later than March 2019 (but possibly a few months earlier).

I thought it was right and proper for Nicola Sturgeon to explore all alternatives to a new independence referendum, and to bide her time. If Theresa May had opted for a soft Brexit, I’m sure we could have lived with that for a few years, and if they’d be open to a Reverse Greenland solution to allow Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to remain within the EU after England and Wales left, if would have been very hard to argue that we needed to vote on independence at this point in time.

However, now that we know that the UK is leaving the EU fully no later than March 2019, with no special deal allowed for Scotland, there are no reasonable alternatives left on the table. We can of course hope that a majority of MPs decide to get rid of Theresa May within the next couple of years and elect a soft-Brexit Prime Minister instead, or that Brexit gets blocked permanently by the Northern Irish courts, but I can’t see it happening.

There’s only one realistic way to prevent Scotland from leaving the European Union and the Internal Market in 2019, and that’s by voting Yes to Scottish independence before then. It’s time for a new independence referendum, and this time we’ll win it!

Fisking Alex Neil’s article

Minión asegurado
Minión asegurado.
I mentioned Alex Neil’s article (“How my party leader Nicola Sturgeon could get ‘neo-independence’ from Brexit – without another referendum”) in my post about the Yellow Tribe of Scotland. However, his article seems to be attracting some support and I thought it’d be useful to look at it in more detail, so here’s a fisk of the main parts:

Three months on from the EU referendum it is blatantly obvious the UK Government hasn’t got a clue about how or when to proceed with Brexit. […] The Scottish Government has therefore got a golden opportunity, which it should not let slip, to fill the void by putting Scotland’s Brexit demands at the top of the UK/EU negotiations agenda and doing so now. Rather than wait until Theresa May eventually gets her act together, the Scottish Government should immediately publish its “List of Scottish Demands” for the Brexit negotiations. […]

Yes, fair enough, but it can easily seem like an acceptance of Brexit if the demands don’t go far enough, and it can easily undermine any effort to call a new independence referendum. It also means accepting Westminster’s view that it’s irrelevant that a large majority of Scots voted against Brexit, instead of insisting that the Scottish people is sovereign and voted to Remain.

Top of the list of Scottish demands should be the transfer of the powers being repatriated from Brussels, as they relate to Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament; not Westminster. All the powers relating to existing devolved matters, such as farming and fishing, should automatically transfer to Edinburgh. Brexit also provides the ideal opportunity to devolve all the other powers currently controlled by Brussels to the Scottish Parliament.

The problem with this is that it’s completely contrary to making Scotland an independent country within the EU. Basically, if Westminster is currently in charge of A, B and C, and the EU is in charge of D, E and F, an independent Scotland within the EU would take over A, B and C rather than D, E and F, so if we follow Alex Neil’s proposal, once we leave the UK and join the EU, we’ll have to swap A, B and C for D, E and F instead of simply taking over A, B and C. That doesn’t seem very sensible, especially not if Scottish independence is expected to happen within a decade or so. I can only interpret this as a way to sabotage any subsequent move to rejoin the European Union.

This would include powers currently exercised by the EU covering employment laws and workers’ rights, environmental protection, social policy, consumer protection, certain aspects of transport policy, some aspects of energy policy, public health matters, and certain aspects of justice and home affairs policies as well as external affairs.

So basically Scotland would take over legislation that was already harmonised with the EU and then start changing it to make it different? Or would we try to keep it in sync with EU legislation? I rather suspect Mr. Neil has the former in mind.

Finally a range of other powers which haven’t been devolved to Scotland because of EU rules should also be transferred to Edinburgh. The most important of these would be giving the Scottish Parliament full control over Value Added Tax (VAT).

This actually would be OK, because the EU does allow the various member states to set their own rates. The reason Scotland hasn’t been able to do that is because the EU requires one set of rates per member state. So rejoining the EU while having different VAT rates from the rUK wouldn’t be a problem.

The UK Leave Campaign’s promise during the referendum that if the UK voted for Brexit then Scotland would get control over immigration policy must also be honoured and included in Scotland’s List of Demands.

I believe this has already been shot down by Westminster, but it was probably always going to be a non-starter so long as the UK doesn’t issue residence permits that are only valid for specific places – otherwise everybody wanting to move to England would simple go via Scotland if that was easier. From an EU perspective, this shouldn’t be a problem so long as Scotland maintains a less restrictive policy than the rUK.

The second item on Scotland’s List of Demands should be the transfer of all the funding associated with these new powers mentioned above, including Scotland’s share of the UK annual contributions to the EU budget, itself estimated by the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre to be worth around £800 million a year net of all the funding Scotland currently gets from the EU. With this money, post-Brexit the Scottish Government could continue to finance all the projects currently supported by the EU in Scotland to the same level of funding as at present and still have another £800 million per annum or so left over to invest as we choose.

To be honest, this reminds me of the Leave campaign’s infamous promise of £350m to fund the NHS (which was later disowned). Given that the UK is likely to lose an enormous amount of money due to Brexit, the reality is more likely to be a cut to the block grant going to Scotland.

In other words, the Scottish farmers would be expecting replacement subsidies from the Scottish Government, which unfortunately wouldn’t have any money to pay them. That doesn’t sound very attractive to me.

Don’t get me wrong – if the Scottish Government could convince Westminster to add all of the above to the block grant, it’d be great, but I don’t think there’s a snowflake’s chance in Hell of that happening.

The accumulation of all these new powers and finances would bring about “neo-Independence” for Scotland, creating the ideal platform for advancing to full sovereignty for the Scottish people in the early 2020’s.

As far as I can tell, these proposals would make it significantly harder for Scotland to join the EU, compared to remaining inside it when the rUK leaves, and this would worry all those voters who think that Scotland needs to be in the EU in order to be successful as an independent country. Furthermore, if the block grant to Scotland goes up, Scotland will get even more dependent on the UK and that would make it even harder to convince people that we can pay our own way after independence.

So far from creating a platform for advancing to independence, I fear Mr. Neil’s proposals would push Scotland even further into UK dependency.

The third key item on Scotland’s List of Demands must be continuing access to the benefits of the European Single Market. Eleven per cent of all goods and services sold furth of Scotland every year go to the EU. These exports support many thousands of jobs in Scotland that we can’t afford to lose; so retaining both free access to this market along with the other benefits of the single market, such as “passporting” for our financial sector, is essential.

Good – the only kind of Brexit I could live with is a soft Brexit, which basically means being an EU member without any influence (like Norway).

However, I’m not entirely sure how this tallies with repatriating “employment laws and workers’ rights, environmental protection, social policy, consumer protection, certain aspects of transport policy, some aspects of energy policy, [and] public health matters”. Some of them, perhaps, but many of these areas are covered by normal EU rules and would have to be adhered to. For instance, this is what Wikipedia writes about the EEA: “The non EU members of the EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) have agreed to enact legislation similar to that passed in the EU in the areas of social policy, consumer protection, environment, company law and statistics. ”

Scotland should continue to benefit from the free movement of people between Europe and Scotland. The crucial role played by people from Europe and elsewhere in the world in staffing some of our key industries such as tourism, agriculture and horticulture has to be protected. There is no reason why Scotland shouldn’t be able to implement its own immigration policy which would allow free movement to continue.

So basically we’d continue to have free movement of EU citizens, as well as freer immigration from the rest of the World. That’s fine, but as I wrote above, I simply cannot see how Westminster will put up with it, given that the main demand of the Leave campaign was for the UK to control its borders. It would entail having completely different immigration policies north and south of the border, which would be fine if Scotland and the rUK were independent countries, but it’s a complete non-starter at the moment.

I’m afraid that much of Alex Neil’s article to me sounds quite delusional and would seriously undermine any effort to achieve Scottish independence in Europe within my lifetime (I’m 44).

Don’t get me wrong – if Scotland could stay within the Internal Market in some sort of Norwegian set-up while the rUK pursued its wild hard Brexit dreams, that’d wouldn’t be too dire, but it would be almost impossible to implement and would depend on Westminster being willing to jump through hoops to make it happen, so I believe it’s a complete non-starter. But very importantly, it’s also completely incompatible with his vision of ‘neo-independence’ within the UK, which makes me suspect that the paragraphs about remaining in the Internal Market have been added to make pro-EU SNP members go along with his proposal.

It’s very clear that the only way we can build a coalition for independence is by focusing on the majority of Scots who want to continue to be part of the EU. Alex Neil’s proposal will only really appeal to the Yellow Tribe, and they only represent 11% of the electorate, so if we go down this road, independence will not happen for another 50 years.