All posts by thomas

Irvine Welsh: “Better together? Yes, certainly, but better independent and free together.”

IRVINE WELSH: IN PERSON, a photo by EIFF on Flickr.

Bella Caledonia has today published an original article by Irvine Welsh (of Trainspotting fame).

It’s a very thoughtful piece by a writer who has spent a long time in England, and I strongly recommend reading the whole thing.

Here are a few bits that struck a chord with me:

[The British] state has stopped England from pursuing its main mission, namely to build a inclusive, post-imperial, multi-racial society, by forcing it to engage with the totally irrelevant (from an English perspective) distractions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. From the viewpoint of the Scots, it has foisted thirty-five years of a destructive neo-liberalism upon us, and prevented us from becoming the European social democracy we are politically inclined to be.


The idea of the political independence of England and Scotland leading to conflict, hatred and distrust is the mindset of opportunistic status-quo fearmongers and gloomy nationalist fantasists stuck in a Bannockburn-Culloden timewarp, and deeply insulting to the people of both countries. Swedes, Norwegians and Danes remain on amicable terms; they trade, co-operate and visit each other socially any time they like. They don’t need a pompous, blustering state called Scandinavia, informing them from Stockholm how wonderful they all are, but (kind of) only really meaning Sweden.


The Union Jack is the increasingly shrinking fig leaf that strives to cover the growth of an English nationalism and consciousness, which is visible in almost every aspect of life in these islands over the last thirty years. And that, in a post-imperial world, is how it should be, and probably how it has to be. The problem that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish have to face, is that they have no place at this party, and neither should they: it just isn’t a great deal to do with them.

It’s a very powerful article, and even more so because Irvine Welsh knows England so well. As he concludes: “Better together? Yes, certainly, but better independent and free together.”

Scottish Labour after a Yes vote

Johann Lamont
Originally uploaded by Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour seem to be spending all their resources on attacking the SNP in every way possible and on spreading fear and uncertainty about the prospect of Scottish independence. We haven’t heard much about their visions for Scotland after 2014, no matter whether we vote Yes or No, apart from their determination to introduce university tuition fees and possible also prescription charges.

However, I hope and believe they’ll change after a Yes vote. Here’s how I imagine the process would work:

The day after the referendum (autumn 2014) — Scottish Labour press conference with Johann Lamont, Alastair Darling and the Scottish members of the shadow cabinet in Westminster, Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran. They declare that although they’re disappointed with the result, they will respect it, and they will work with the SNP and other Scottish parties to achieve the best possible deal for Scotland in the independence negotiations. Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran resign from the Shadow Cabinet.

Late 2014 — Scottish Labour sever all ties to rUK Labour.

Late 2014 — The Scottish independence negotiation teams are announced. The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon will head the main team, but Labour politicians get to lead several of the important teams, in particular Douglas Alexander who becomes the head of the foreign affairs team and Jim Murphy who is put in charge of the defence negotiations. Several Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians also get chosen to lead negotiation teams.

Late 2014 — Several Scottish MPs announce they will apply for rUK citizenship and stand for Westminster seats in England. At the same time, some Scottish MPs representing English seats declare their intention to move back to Scotland and try to get into the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

Late 2014 — A few Labour MSPs give up their seats “for health reasons”. Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran decide to contest these seats. They are duly elected without too much trouble.

Early 2015 — Johann Lamont decides to resign as leader of Scottish Labour because her leadership was too closely tied to the failed Better Together campaign. Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Margaret Curran all decide to run for leader. After an intense campaign, Jim Murphy becomes the new leader of Scottish Labour. [I’m not implying here that Jim Murphy is Labour’s best politician, but he happens to be my local MP.]

7 May 2015 — Westminster elections. By common consent, all main parties in Scotland decide not to put up challengers to the incumbents, given that independence is now only a year away.

April 2016 — Scottish Labour launch their manifesto for Scottish Parliament elections. Now that they can develop their own policies without undue interference from London, they’re suddenly against tuition fees and prescription charges again.

1 May 2016 — Independence Day.

5 May 2016 — Elections to the Scottish Parliament. The winner is unexpectedly Labour, and Jim Murphy becomes Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Scotland.

More devolution will never happen

The Scottish Parliament
Originally uploaded by mariancraig

Sometimes you find interesting articles in unexpected places. For instance, The Sun carried a piece yesterday called “Why promise more devolution when it will never happen?

In it, Andrew Nicoll argues that Scotland has only ever got more devolution to fend off the SNP, so after a No vote to independence there’s no chance anybody will give Scotland any more powers:

[I]t seems to me that every step along the way of devolution has been fired and driven by the threat of the SNP and a drift towards independence.

Take that threat away and there really is no reason to concede anything else.

Let’s look at the history books. Harold Wilson talked about devolution but nothing happened. Ted Heath promised it but nothing happened.

Then the SNP won a third of the vote in Scotland and, all of a sudden Jim Callaghan’s Labour government was determined to deliver.

But Mrs Thatcher said we should vote No and she would offer something better. The 1978 referendum failed, the SNP vote collapsed and Mrs Thatcher changed her mind — not a thing she did often.

Then Labour lost three elections on the trot. Scotland kept voting Labour and kept getting a Tory government. One more heave looked less and less attractive. Suddenly devolution was back on the cards.

And, when devolution finally came, nothing much happened until the SNP ended up as the biggest party in 2007.

Then, suddenly, we had the Calman Commission offering new tax powers to Scotland.


Why would the Tories give Scotland more devolution powers after [a No vote]? Is it because we will stop voting for the Tories if they don’t? It’s too late, we’ve already stopped.

Why would the Lib Dems give us more powers? Is it because they said they would, like they did over university tuition fees? Do you think there is a single thing the Lib Dems would not give up if it meant they could find themselves in government again?

Why would Labour give us more powers? Is it because we might stop voting Labour?

Well, who else are you going to vote for? Vote for who you like, but you won’t be voting for independence any more.

There won’t be more devolution because there is no need. Just like there will be no need to keep giving Scotland more cash than the rest of the UK.

I must say I agree with this. If Labour, the Tories and the LibDems are serious about giving Scotland further powers after a No vote, they need to pass a law before the autumn of 2014 that gives Scotland those extra powers starting from 2016 or so. If we vote Yes, the law will just never have any effect, but it’s the only way to guarantee that a No vote won’t become the beginning of the end of Scottish devolution.

The Swiss capital of the European country

The political class in Westminster tend to look at the UK from a London perspective, and to listen especially to the needs of the City of London (i.e., the big financial institutions). Most of the British media exist in the same bubble, which is why so many topics are being discussed as if everybody in the country was making a very comfortable living working in a multinational bank in London.

This became abundantly clear again yesterday, when a majority in Westminster voted to force the UK government to demand an EU budget cut, which is surely another small step towards the Brexit. In other news yesterday, it was noted that the regional divide is growing within England, and Scotland was fully preoccupied with the question of Scottish membership of the EU.

The problem is that London is to a large extent a global Switzerland, and as such EU membership isn’t necessarily such a good idea — a Swiss solution vis-à-vis the EU and lots of bilateral free-trade agreements would probably suit London best.

On the other hand, the rest of the UK is probably not that different from most of Europe, and although we can save Scotland through Scottish independence, I do fear for the prospects of the north of England if London takes the (r)UK out of the EU.

I often think that independence for Greater London would solve even more problems than Scottish independence, but alas it’s not on offer.

The current state of affairs is a bit like if the Switzerland and France had formed a union at some point and had moved the capital, the company headquarters, the politicians and the media companies to Zürich, with the result that both parts of the union were being run based on what was best for Zürich. I doubt most of France would have flourished in such a scenario.

More about Scotland and the EU

EU Flag
Originally uploaded by hounddog32

A few days ago I blogged about Scotland and the EU. At the time I wasn’t aware of a rather important document that had just been published by the UK parliament.

This document is a written statement about “the foreign policy implications of and for a separate Scotland” by Graham Avery, Senior Member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Senior Adviser at the European Policy Centre, Brussels, and Honorary Director-General of the European Commission. In other words, this is probably the greatest authority that has ever published an opinion on this crucial question.

Here is what he has to say about the question about Scotland’s continued EU membership:

For practical and political reasons the idea of Scotland leaving the EU, and subsequently applying to join it, is not feasible. From the practical point of view, it would require complicated temporary arrangements for a new relationship between the EU (including the rest of the UK) and Scotland (outside the EU) including the possibility of controls at the frontier with England. Neither the EU (including the rest of the UK.) nor Scotland would have an interest in creating such an anomaly. From the political point of view, Scotland has been in the EU for 40 years; and its people have acquired rights as European citizens. If they wish to remain in the EU, they could hardly be asked to leave and then reapply for membership in the same way as the people of a non-member country such as Turkey.

It’s definitely worth reading the entire document.

Needless to say, this document has ignited the Scottish blogosphere. See for instance Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Auld Acquaintance.

Will Scotland have to join the euro?

Scottish euro coin
Originally uploaded by viralbus

The unionists seem to be in a tizzy about the prospect that Scotland will be forced to join the euro, so let’s have a rational look at the most likely scenarios.

To start with, it’s entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that Scotland will be allowed to inherit the UK’s opt-out. In that case, Scotland will have a formal right to remain outwith the euro indefinitely.

However, what happens if Scotland has to let go of the opt-out as part of the renegotiation of the membership terms? It’s not like Scotland would have to introduce the euro at once. Before any member state can introduce the euro, the convergence criteria have to be fulfilled:

  1. Inflation rates: No more than 1.5 percentage points higher than the average of the three best performing member states of the EU.
  2. Government finance:
    1. Annual government deficit: The ratio of the annual government deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) must not exceed 3% at the end of the preceding fiscal year. If not it is at least required to reach a level close to 3%. Only exceptional and temporary excesses would be granted for exceptional cases.
    2. Government debt:The ratio of gross government debt to GDP must not exceed 60% at the end of the preceding fiscal year. Even if the target cannot be achieved due to the specific conditions, the ratio must have sufficiently diminished and must be approaching the reference value at a satisfactory pace.
  3. Exchange rate: Applicant countries should have joined the exchange-rate mechanism (ERM II) under the European Monetary System (EMS) for two consecutive years and should not have devalued its currency during the period.
  4. Long-term interest rates: The nominal long-term interest rate must not be more than 2 percentage points higher than in the three lowest inflation member states.

Currently the UK doesn’t pass any of the tests apart from the last one, and as far as I can tell, the same would apply to Scotland at the moment. Therefore, Scotland wouldn’t be allowed to join the euro at first, even if the people of Scotland so desired.

It is of course possible (and probably also desirable) that Scotland will fulfil (1) and (2) in the longer term, but criterion (3) requires a deliberate step that Scotland can decide not to take.

This is how the Swedes have managed not to join the euro — they’re technically obliged to join the euro, but they have chosen not to join ERM II, which means that they cannot join. Scotland can do the same, even if it’s against the spirit of the treaties.

Finally, by the time the Scottish economy qualifies to join the euro, the European Union and the euro might have changed beyond recognition, and it is entirely possible that there will be a strong desire to join the euro by then.

It’s definitely not anything to worry about at this stage.

Scotland and the EU

european union
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo

There seems to be no definitive answer in sight to the question whether an independent Scotland will have to apply to join the EU as a new country or simply remain an EU member as one of the UK’s two successor states.

The issue is that there is no precedent, as pointed out on the Shifting Grounds blog:

Robin Cook asked the Foreign Office’s legal advisers for their opinion on the status of an independent Scotland in the EU back in 1999 when I worked as his Special Adviser. Three conclusions stood out in the advice that came back.

First, there is no existing procedure for handling a breakaway from an EU member state. The Council of Ministers would therefore need to improvise one according to its own design. […]

Lawyers are notoriously unhappy to give advice in cases where there is no precedent, which is why we’re mostly hearing from politicians at the moment.

On the apply from scratch side of the argument, we have a long list of Spanish unionist politicians, such as the European Parliament’s vice-president:

Alejo Vidal-Quadras, the European Parliament’s vice-president, became the first leading Spanish politician to suggest publicly that a fear of separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque country would influence his country’s approach to Scotland.

He said an independent Scotland should have to apply for membership and go through the accession process like any other state. He insisted that his views reflected the Spanish government’s position.

Mr Vidal-Quadras said: “If the result of the referendum is that Scottish people want to be an independent state, they should go through the accession process [for the EU].”

Asked if this position was taken because of separatist movements in Spain, he said: “You are exactly right.”

Taking more or less the same line, Spain’s foreign minister joined the fray:

[Jose Manuel] Garcia-Margallo told Spain’s senate that after independence, Scotland would face a potentially tortuous negotiating process and would also need his country’s support.

He said: “In the hypothetical case of independence, Scotland would have to join the queue and ask to be admitted, needing the unanimous approval of all member states to obtain the status of a candidate country — and to sign the final treaty [of accession].”

He suggested EU members nations would need to check carefully Scotland’s legislation before approving the 35 separate chapters that have to be negotiated before admission would be granted. EC president Jose Manuel Barroso recently made similar claims.

Looking at the other side of the argument, we have already quoted what the European Commission’s vice-president Viviane Reding said:

Diario de Sevilla: The Vienna Convention says this: the state resulting from a parent state leaves all international organisations in which the parent is represented.

Viviane Reding: Come on, international law does not say anything like that. Please solve your internal political problems within Spain. I trust the European mentality of the Catalans.

Another promininent member of the European Commission agreed:

Joaquín Almunia – a fierce opponent of Catalan independence – said it would “not be honest” to say a breakaway region would be stuck outside the EU if it was independent.

Mr Almunia also insisted citizens of the EU could not be stripped of their rights just because their territory separated from a member state.


He told a newspaper: “You cannot give a categorical answer that somebody who splits off would remain outside and we wouldn’t know anything about them for centuries. It’s not like that. If you are a European citizen you have certain rights.”

So where does this leave us?

There is no doubt in my mind that unless Catalonia has already left Spain and become a full EU member by early 2015, Spain will happily do its utmost to make things difficult for Scotland just to make the Catalans back down. In EU terms that means that if the decision to allow Scotland to continue its membership has to be taken by unanimity, Spain will veto it.

So the question is whether unanimity will be needed, and an EU lawyer denied this would be the case back in January:

However this was dismissed by lawyers for the EU who said an independent Scotland could be treated as one of two successor states, and that a separate seat for Edinburgh would require only a simple majority vote. No single EU member would have a veto.

A lawyer for the EU told the news agency that a deal could be “done by the [European] Council, using qualified majority voting and with the required say-so of the European Parliament.”

To conclude, the EU’s commissioners and lawyers seem to be saying that you cannot throw EU citizens out of the EU, and that continuing membership would be decided by qualified majority voting (which means Spain wouldn’t be able to block it).

I presume the specific legal advice that the Scottish Government are now seeking will be specifically concerned with the use of qualified majority voting in the European Council. I’ll be looking forward to reading the papers they publish subsequently.