All posts by thomas

Hanging on to the consultation responses was a masterstroke

When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, David Cameron and the rest of the UK government were ecstatic that they had managed to restrict the referendum to a single question, while the Scottish government were saying they had never wanted a second question in the first place, but that they had wanted to keep the option open in case there had been huge demand for it in their consultation.

I thought at the time it was a bit odd they couldn’t find the resources to publish the analysis of the consultation responses before the decision was made, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

However, today the analysis of the responses was published (PDF), and suddenly everything has clicked into place.

The consultation responses showed a big majority in favour of a single question, so the Scottish Government could never have used them to put a second question on the ballot paper.

In other words, if the Scottish government had released the responses a month ago, the UK government would have realised there was no danger that the Scottish government would actually put a second question on the ballot paper, and they would have asked for something else instead in the negotiations.

So by delaying the release of the responses to the consultation until after the Edinburgh Agreement had been signed, the Scottish government managed to get everything they wanted themselves, as well as what the Scottish public asked for in the consultation.

One Nation Labour and what it means for a No vote

Ed Miliband with banner
Originally uploaded by net_efekt

Labour used to campaign for Scottish devolution because they thought it would give them a permanent Scottish power base, but they seem to have realised that it has reduced their influence in Scotland instead. Now Ed Miliband has invented One Nation Labour, and these two strands have potentially worrying consequences for Scottish devolution, as noted by Iain Macwhirter:

Certainly, there is no point giving lectures on how Scots can’t “have it all”, which is what the Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, appears to be doing. She wants to take the cake away altogether. She has gone through almost the entire sum of policies achieved under devolution and dismissed them as “SNP bribes”. Tuition fees, prescription charges, free personal care, concessionary bus fares – they’re all part of the “something for nothing” society. But if you strip out these headline measures – most of them of course introduced by Labour – there’s not a lot left to celebrate about the devolution decade.

Is there perhaps a risk that devolution will be abolished in the aftermath of af No vote?

To some extent, I think it would suit the unionist parties to the ground if Scotland became an English region like Yorkshire — abolishing the Scottish Parliament and introducing English law, the English school curriculum, English holidays, the English NHS, tuition fees and so on.

Even many nationalists agree that the status quo isn’t optimal. For instance, two months ago Jock Morrison wrote an interesting article in The Herald in which he argued that Scots have to stop pretending to be separate from England while being part of the same country:

That’s the reality Scots have to face up to. If your country is not on the map, it’s not in the heads of other people. […] We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be part of England […] and expect foreigners to recognise the distinctiveness of Scotland. People around the globe have no interest in getting their heads around ‘Great Britain’, ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and the ‘United Kingdom’. After all, these are just fancy titles for England, aren’t they?

Commenting on this article, Doug Daniel wrote:

I desperately want Scotland to be independent, but if the rest of Scotland disagrees, then it’s time we faced reality and stopped trying to be this wee pretendy nation. The Better Together campaign tells us we have “the best of both worlds”, suggesting we can have all the advantages of both and avoid the disadvantages, but that’s a very juvenile way of thinking. Is it not time we grew up and decided to accept our responsibilities one way or the other? If we’re not brave enough to stand up on our own as an independent nation, then what right do we have to insist on separate education, law and health systems? If we want the “shelter” that being joined to England supposedly provides, then after 300 years of dragging our heels, is it not time we made a commitment to this “relationship” and formally make Britain a country, rather than a collection of countries?

Almost all Scots I know think of Scotland as a proud nation, and most people here think that devolution should be extended, not rolled back (even if many Scots still think full independence is a step too far at the moment). However, we have to accept the possibility that a No vote will lead to devolution being rolled back instead, especially as that will fit better into One Nation Labour’s narrative.

Viviane Reding on Catalan independence

Viviane Reding’s recent words about Catalonia’s continued membership of the EU has attracted a fair amount of attention in Scotland (see for instance the SNP’s press release).

However, this is important enough that it’s worth going back to the source. It appears she made her comment in an interview with the Spanish (not Catalan) newspaper El Diario de Sevilla. Here are the interesting bits together with my translation:

[DdS:] Cataluña plantea actualmente la posibilidad de independizarse. Pero si lo hace debería abandonar la UE y negociar su ingreso. Además, desde su salida habría un agujero en la libertad circulación de personas y bienes en la Unión. [Catalonia is currently raising the possibility of becoming independent. But if it goes ahead, it would have to leave the EU and negotiate its entry terms. Moreover, as soon as it left there would be a hole in the freedom of movement of people and goods within the Union.]

[VR:] No querría inmiscuirme en asuntos de política española, pero no pienso ni por un segundo que Cataluña quiera dejar la UE. Conozco a los catalanes desde hace mucho tiempo, he sido una de las pocas personas no catalanas en recibir la Cruz de Sant Jordi, y sé que su sentimiento es profundamente europeo. [I would not want to interfere in matters of Spanish politics, but I do not think for a second that Catalonia wants to leave the EU. I have known the Catalans for a long time, I was one of the few non-Catalan to receive the Cross of Sant Jordi, and I know that they feel profoundly European.]

[DdS:] No le pregunto por la posibilidad de que Cataluña quiera o no ser parte de la UE, sino por el proceso que se abre cuando dejen de serlo. Lo dice la Convención de Viena: el Estado resultante de un Estado matriz abandonará todos los organismos internacionales en los que la matriz esté representada. [I am not asking whether Catalonia wants to be part of the EU or not, but about the process that begins when Catalonia ceases to be a member. The Vienna Convention says this: the state resulting from a parent state leaves all international organisations in which the parent is represented.]

[VR:] Vamos, hombre, la legislación internacional no dice nada que se parezca a eso. Por favor, resuelvan sus problemas de política interna en España. Yo confío en la mentalidad europea de los catalanes. [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.]

I’m finding the leading questions by the Diario de Sevilla almost as interesting as Viviane Reding’s answers. If they’re typical of the Spanish discourse outwith Catalonia, it’s clear the Catalans are facing a monumental struggle to become independent.

What is Lamont doing to Scottish Labour?

If you’ve been hiding under a stone, you might have missed Johann Lamont’s recent speech. Amongst other things, she said:

A council tax freeze, for example, costs. It’s cheap to say, but expensive to fund. And if you don’t fund it properly, and John Swinney isn’t funding this one, I’ll tell you what it costs. In North Lanarkshire alone, another 1400 jobs at risk. […] That is potentially 1400 incomes taken out of the economy. When the Scottish economy desperately needs a stimulus, that is 1400 people spending less, supporting fewer jobs, buying fewer goods and services.


This is the stark choice that Scotland has to face up to: if we wish to continue some policies as they are then they come with a cost which has to be paid for either through increased taxation, direct charges or cuts elsewhere.

Because she’s a committed unionist, increased taxation is not the way she wants to go (it would increase, not decrease, Scottish exceptionality), and she’s just condemned the cuts. She’s therefore left with direct charges — she wants to abolish free care and bus travel for the elderly, introduce tuition fees and prescription charges and end the council tax freeze.

In other words, she’s abolishing Scottish Labour’s commitment to universality, which is strange, given that Labour in the UK and in Wales are still in favour of universal benefits.

Abolishing universal services is a slippery slope, as pointed out by George Eaton in New Statesman:

[U]niversal public services, to which all contribute and from which all benefit, are the essence of social democracy. Once this principle is abandoned, greater cuts will inevitably follow as the rich, no longer receiving, have less incentive to give (you could call it “nothing for something”). For this reason, as Richard Titmuss sagely observed, “services for the poor will always be poor services”.

There are different analyses of her motives.

My first reaction was that she’s trying to secure the votes of public sector workers, especially in local councils and in the NHS, who are fearful of their jobs and would rather that everybody else paid more in order to secure their jobs and generous pensions.

The Herald thinks the new direction is a consequence of the independence referendum, quoting Professor James Mitchell: “Labour is in a difficult place – it must either align itself with policies from south of the Border in order to emphasise its Unionism or with the SNP and its own previous policies but thus undermine the Union.”

The best analysis I’ve seen was probably this one by Robin McAlpine in an article for the Jimmy Reid Foundation (do read the whole thing!):

I tried to think who in Labour would like this. I concluded that Westminster Labour would be very happy. So local-government-Labour will like it and Westminster-Labour would like it. And that is two thirds of Scottish Labour’s warring factions. If – and it seems a big if to me – Scottish-Parliament-Labour can be persuaded that this is good for them, it solves Ms Lamont’s short-term problems, uniting the three warring factions of her Party.


Lamont wants to unite Labour by cancelling devolution. That’s the only way I can read this. She has systematically gone through every area where the Scottish Parliament (largely through the actions of Labour itself) has differentiated itself from Westminster politics and she has abolished the differentiator. The big selling point of devolution was Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. Scotland’s biggest problem has been that it really likes a strong welfare state and adheres to the principle of universalism. It has voted this way over and over. Yesterday it seems that Lamont called time on this experiment. She has signalled her intention to pull the party in line with the UK Party, means testing everything, breaking down universalism, championing fiscal conservatism.


It is like she has absorbed so much ‘Better Together’ rhetoric that it is now her defining belief in politics, that Scotland must be pulled into Britain, that Labour must become first-and-foremost unionist.

It is a retreat into two comfort zones from different decades. From the late-1990s she takes Blairism which was superficially effective (although not in Scotland). From the 1980s she takes a model in which the real power of Labour is held in two places – Westminster and local government. Both are fantastical memories of times past, neither seem to me to offer a way forward.

Much as this strategy might appeal to Labour apparatchiks and many of their core voters, I simply can’t see how it will help them win either the referendum on Scottish independence or the next elections to the Scottish Parliament.

International support for Scottish independence

The March and Rally for Independence in Edinburgh last Saturday was full of people from all over Europe supporting Scotland’s quest for independence: There were fifty Flemings, a large group of Venetians, and smaller groups of people from Catalonia, the Basque Country and Padania (North Italy).

However, there were no Danes (apart from me and my daughters, I presume), no Estonians, no Croats.

In other words, the international supporters were all from other non-sovereign nations seeking their independence, not from countries that are already internationally recognised independent states, even if that independence was only achieved within the past twenty years.

I guess it’s natural — Scotland, Euskadi (the Basque Country), Catalonia and Flanders all face similar obstacles, and they can help each other overcome them.

However, it’s a bit of a shame that the sovereign countries don’t want to get involved.

In the case of the neighbouring countries, such as Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Denmark, the emergence of an independent Scotland would have a significant impact on their world, and they might well find Scotland easier to work with than the current UK, so it could be in their interest to support the Scottish independence movement.

In the case of the countries that gained their freedom within the last couple of decades, they must have gained a lot of experience in the process, experience which could benefit us in Scotland.

I suppose sovereign countries will get in trouble if they support other countries’ independence movements openly. However, I don’t believe there’s anything that would prevent private citizens in other countries from forming groups to support Scottish independence.

Perhaps I should simply start up Danes for Scottish Independence on Facebook?

Will the Scottish-English border look like this?

There’s an article on Yes Scotland’s website today about border controls in Scandinavia (or rather the lack thereof).

At first I thought it was a rather pointless article, given that the absence of actual border controls is the norm in most of Europe these days.

However, as the article points out, “for those who travel infrequently, or who usually fly rather than make land crossings, the concept of moving between neighbouring countries without having to show any form of identification, or even stopping at the border, can be hard to envisage.”

So to illustrate how easy it is to cross a national border in the EU at the moment, I’ve found a small video on YouTube showing how to drive from Germany into Denmark:

Will the Scottish-English border look like this after 2014?

The wave of new countries 2012-17

Originally uploaded by

Just as very few people in 1988 expected that during the following five years Germany would be reunified and the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia would break up, very few people at the moment expect that we might in just five years’ time live in a world in which Quebec, Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders, the Basque Country and several others are independent, sovereign countries.

However, history might again happen in one rapid wave.

I guess it all started when the SNP gained an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament last year. However, the wave gained strength when David Cameron in January 2012 decided to allow a referendum on Scottish independence. Of course the SNP would have held a referendum anyway, but Cameron in this was legitimised the process in the eyes of the international community, and it strongly inspired independence movements elsewhere.

On the 4th of September 2012, the Parti Québécois became the largest party in Quebec and declared its desire to hold a new referendum on independence.

On the 9th of September 2012, more than 1,500,000 Catalans marched through Barcelona in favour of Catalan independence, and already the Catalan politicans have started to talk openly about independence.

On 21st October 2012 elections will place in the Basque Country, and as far as I know there’s a good chance pro-independence parties will gain a majority there.

What else will happen now? It’s clear the independence movements in various countries are talking to each other, and as soon as the first EU region manages to become an EU member state in its own right, the process will accelerate, because the fear of being chucked out of the EU is one of the major arguments against independence.

We live in interesting times, and I’m proud to be a member of the SNP, the party that started the wave.