All posts by thomas

Close your eyes and think of England!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westminster has ‘learned the lesson of Quebec’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting the rUK’s interests first

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness Jay added:

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

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

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

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

Will Scotland be a lucky country?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Wiseman adds:

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

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

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

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

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.