All posts by thomas

A deeply divided Scotland will be the result of a No vote

Heart Wrenching Position
Heart Wrenching Position by Kat N.L.M., on Flickr.

Better Together’s Campaign Director, Blair McDougall, wrote something rather odd on their blog (thanks to Newsnet Scotland for the link):

[A narrow victory to Yes] would be the worst of all worlds: a legitimate but unconvincing mandate leaving behind a deeply divided Scotland. There is a better alternative to a divided Scotland, separate from the UK. An idea we can unite around as Scots. Distinctively and proudly Scottish with more decisions made in Scotland with the strength, security and stability of being part of the bigger United Kingdom.

Obviously a clear result is always preferable, but here he claims a narrow Yes would be worse than a narrow No. This is very odd. Sensible Unionists (like for instance Michael Moore) have always said that they’ll change sides after a Yes vote and will start working to achieve the best result for the independent Scotland state. That doesn’t sound like a divided country to me.

In fact, almost no newly independent countries have significant political forces advocating a recreation of the country they broke out of. People get used to independence, and after a few years nobody wants to go back.

It’s a narrow No victory that will leave behind a deeply divided country. A landslide No victory would perhaps have finished off the independence movement for a long time, but that’s simply not going to happen. If the No campaign manages to scare enough voters into reluctantly voting No that they narrowly win the referendum, does anybody think the massive grassroots movement that has sprung up in favour of a Yes will just wither away? Of course it won’t, so the demand for independence will just grow stronger and stronger.

Thinking that Scots could possibly unite around the idea of being “distinctively and proudly Scottish with more decisions made in Scotland with the strength, security and stability of being part of the bigger United Kingdom” is just ludicrous. Two years ago, I would have said Devo Max could have satisfied most people, but too many people have now realised it’s independence they want (and Devo Max isn’t on offer anyway).

I don’t know whether Blair McDougall really believes it himself. Surely he should also be able to recognise that only a Yes vote will bring closure.

Darling, I am NOT an ethnic nationalist!

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling
Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling by Downing Street, on Flickr.
Like many other people I feel offended by the infamous Alistair Darling interview:

NS: Salmond has successfully redefined the SNP as [representing] a civic nationalism . . .

Darling: Which it isn’t . . .

NS: But that’s what he says it is. Why do you say it isn’t? What is it? Blood and soil nationalism?

Darling: At heart . . . [inaudible mumble] If you ask any nationalist, ‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’ they would say the answer has got to be no. It is about how people define themselves through their national identity.

It’s clear the inaudible mumble wasn’t a clear No, so he clearly agreed with the interviewer’s Blut und Boden provocation.

This is outrageous! I’ve been fighting ethnic nationalism all my life, I’m an internationalist. I’m even an Esperantist, for crying out loud!

I’m also a proud member of the Scottish National Party. The party that calls itself “National”, not “Nationalist”. As I’ve argued before, we independence campaigners should really have been called sovereigntists (or independentistas as suggested by Wee Ginger Dug), not nationalists, but that’s just a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as Shakespeare wrote.

In Scotland the word “nationalist” has come to mean “a member of the SNP” or even “a Yes campaigner”. I don’t have a problem with this, and I’m happy to call myself a nationalist in a Scottish context. However, outwith Scotland the word has the wrong connotations. This was why Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP group in Westminster, felt compelled to say the following in an interview with an Austrian newspaper:

Wir Schotten sind offene, freundliche Menschen, wir sind Weltbürger — von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten. [We Scots are open, friendly people, we are citizens of the world — because of this the German translation of my party annoys me: We are not nationalists.]

I agree with Angus Robertson. In some contexts it’s useful to talk about civic nationalism (which Wikipedia defines as “a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights”), and I’m very happy to identify myself as a civic nationalist. However, if you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t really know about civic nationalism and assumes nationalism means ethnic nationalism, it’s better to say you’re not a nationalist.

Finally, I feel I should answer Darling’s question (‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’). Yes, generally speaking — I think there are countries that would benefit from forming a union with a neighbouring country. However, the United Kingdom has so many flaws that I find it hard to think of anything the No campaign could say that would make me vote against independence. The union might have served a purpose during the age of imperialism, but these days it’s better to be an independent country. Even if there was no oil left and Scotland couldn’t remain the EU, I believe an independent Scotland would be much better at responding to the needs of its citizens than a corrupt and remote government in Westminster.

My national identity is complex. I guess you could try to define me as Scottish-Danish-German-Esperantist-European with a few sprinkles of Georgian and Basque, but it’s really a bit complicated. It’s not how I define myself, and it’s not the reason I’m voting Yes.

Alistair Darling should feel ashamed of himself. There are plenty of neo-fascist movements appearing all over Europe at moment that he could spend his time fighting. Ethnic nationalism is a horrible ideology, and applying that term to an anti-xenophobic party that welcomes foreigners like me with open arms is insulting, demeaning, harmful and evil. We are not amused.

Real home rule

Tory anti-Home Rule poster
Tory anti-Home Rule poster by Plashing Vole, on Flickr.
I’ve been wondering for a while whether modern Scottish Labour Unionists are right when they invoke the struggle for home rule by the founders of Labour in Scotland as an argument in favour of devolution and against independence, so I read George Kerevan’s article about Gordon Brown and James Maxton in The Scotsman with great interest:

Here is the authentic James Maxton speaking at a rally in Glasgow in support of the 1924 Scottish Home Rule Bill. Maxton declared that he asked “for no greater task in life than to make the English-ridden, capitalist-ridden, landowner-ridden Scotland into a free Scottish Socialist Commonwealth”. He went on to say that “with Scottish brains and courage … we could do more in five years in a Scottish parliament than would be produced by 25 or 30 years heartbreaking working in the British House of Commons”.

Just try referring to “English-ridden” Scotland today and you will be rightly ticked off. But James Maxton was an angry man. […] His anger was understandable to everyone in Glasgow. It expressed not an anti-Englishness, but a hatred of a class system run from London.

The Home Rule espoused by Maxton has nothing in common with the drip-feed of powers by London Labour. […] The Red Clydesiders […] wanted Home Rule in the sense of the full, de facto autonomy already enjoyed by Australia and New Zealand.

At the time, it made good sense to aspire to home rule like in Canada, Australia or New Zealand. These places had been running their own affairs for a while already. For instance, the modern-day Parliament of Canada came into existence in 1867 (and full legislative autonomy would be granted in 1931), and Australia’s Commonwealth Parliament was opened in 1901.

To a large extent, the British Empire consisted of countries that had a lot of independence (notable exceptions being foreign affairs, defence and international shipping). In other words, they had significantly more independence than Scotland has at the moment.

One could argue that the British Empire was the equivalent of EU and NATO of that era, maintaining an internal market with free movement of goods and people while providing a reciprocal security guarantee.

It made sense to want independence within the Empire. It wasn’t easy being a fully independent small country in the 19th and early 20th centuries. To take but one example, Denmark got her capital bombarded and the fleet confiscated in 1807, went bankrupt in 1813, lost Norway in 1814, lost Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 and was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1940 to 1945 without being able to liberate herself. If Scotland had remained an independent country instead of forming a political union with England in 1707, it’s quite possible similar national disasters would have occurred.

To return to the present, it’s still the case that most Scots want the Scottish Parliament to handle everything with the possible exception of defence and foreign affairs. (According to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (PDF), 32% of Scots agree that “the UK government should make decisions about defence and foreign affairs; the Scottish Parliament should decide everything else”, and another 31% want all decisions to be made in Scotland.)

The various devolution plans put forward by the three main Unionist parties don’t go nearly far enough. They’re mainly concerned with letting the Scottish Parliament collect a few more taxes, but they’re not even close to offering Devo Max along the lines outlined by the SSAS.

To be honest, I’m not sure many Scots really want Westminster to make decisions about defence and foreign affairs (gauging from the Scottish reaction to the Iraq War and all that). What people want is to make sure Scotland won’t get attacked by foreign countries and that we can continue to trade and travel freely.

In fact, a large majority of the Scottish population agrees with Keir Hardie, James Maxton and other early Scottish Labour politicians. We want real home rule, meaning independence with free international trade, the ability to travel and work abroad and a security guarantee. That’s what we’ll get by voting Yes.

Move to London if you want a promotion

Yes, Minister
Yes, Minister by D Huw Richardson, on Flickr.
I used to work in the Scottish branch of multinational corporation that — like so many others — has its UK HQ in London. During my years there I observed how management in London kept bringing more the people reporting to them down south to make things work more smoothly there. The effect might have been positive there, but the effect in Bishopbriggs was a dwindling number of employees and a strong feeling that you had to be willing to move away if you wanted a career.

My dear wife has also told me plenty of stories about uni friends who were told to relocate to London if they wanted a promotion. Some of them were able to move back to Scotland after a few years there, but others got stuck for life.

It was one of the consequences of moving to Scotland that I just wasn’t prepared for at all. In Denmark, it’s possible for almost everybody to spend their entire working life in that country without emigrating. In a few multinational companies, it might be preferable to spend a few years in other countries, but that’s generally only required for top management, not for people in the middle. So when I moved to Scotland, I naturally expected I would be able to have a career without flitting abroad once again.

I therefore found the Tories’ Devo Jam proposal (PDF) very interesting. Apart from the proposals for giving the Scottish Parliament full income tax powers, it contained the following on page 12 (my emphasis):

Civil servants obviously play a key role in the development and
commissioning of policy. We believe that the Scottish Government and Parliament should be able to call upon the best and brightest from across the Civil Service UK wide. We also believe that the rest of the UK would benefit from a Scottish view and accordingly recommend that civil servants who expect to reach the higher echelons of their profession in Scotland should spend a part of their career development in other parts of the UK.

In other words, they want to ensure that what I encountered in my previous job becomes obligatory in the Civil Service. You shouldn’t be able to spend your entire working life in Scotland unless you’re happy never to get promoted. If that means that your children grow up in England and effectively become English, that’s just the how things are if you’re Scottish. (One shouldn’t forget that because the education systems are different in Scotland and England, it’s not easy to move back and forwards if you have school-age kids — it’s the equivalent of moving between Copenhagen and Stockholm, not between Århus and Copenhagen.)

Would it be possible to imagine this rule applied to everybody, so that civil servants starting their career in Whitehall had to spend a number of years in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast in order to gain a promotion? Of course not! It’s a way to enforce a UK mindset and to emphasise London’s role as the only place in the UK that really matters.

I want to live in a country where moving abroad is an option for the adventurous, not an obligation for a large part of the population. If my kids want to move abroad like I did, that’s fine, but I don’t want them to be forced to do so because there aren’t any decent jobs to get at home.

Incidentally creating more managerial jobs and company headquarters in Scotland will also increase the tax base, making it much easier to create a Scandinavian-style welfare state here. We can create a country where nobody is starving or homeless and nobody is forced to emigrate. We just need to vote Yes in September.

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.