Category Archives: alternativestoindependence

Should Denmark join the UK?

Christiansborg Christiansborg  With the 'tower of power'. Christiansborg is where the danish parliment ('Folketinget') resides.
Christiansborg Christiansborg With the ‘tower of power’. Christiansborg is where the danish parliment (‘Folketinget’) resides., a photo by boegh on Flickr.
British unionists love to praise the Union in such a way that you’d think every small country in the vicinity would want to (re-)join the UK. I presume the arguments would be similar for Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, but given that I spent the first 30 years of my life in Denmark, I’ll examine whether this country ought to join the UK.

I’m assuming Denmark would get a devolution deal similar to Scotland’s, so that the Danish Folketing would still be in charge of quite a lot of policy areas.

From the UK’s point of view, the deal is a no-brainer because the UK would suddenly become an import player in the Arctic region (Denmark includes Greenland), which would reinforce the UK’s position as a world player and make it less likely the permanent seat on the UN Security Council would get lost. The practical implications would be minor:

  1. The House of Commons would get an addition of Danish members. Given that Denmark is tiny bit bigger than Scotland, we might be talking about adding 63 Danish members to the existing 650 MPs. The Danish members would probably support both sides equally, so it shouldn’t disturb matters too much.
  2. The House of Lords would need some Danish lords, too, but there wouldn’t be any need for a specific number.
  3. Revenues from the Danish North Sea oil rigs would go straight to Westminster.
  4. Danes would be paying a lot of taxes straight to Westminster. In return, a block grant would be sent back to Copenhagen.

From Denmark’s point of view, things are more complicated. The positives include that the British army would have to defend Denmark (but then they already have that obligation, given that both countries are part of NATO), and that the UK would be bailing out any bankrupt Danish banks (but in return Denmark wouldn’t be able to limit the size of the Danish banks, and it’s likely that the biggest ones would shift a large part of their operations to London).

Here are some things that wouldn’t change:

  1. Education: Education would be fully devolved, so Denmark could still let kids start school at the age of 7, maintain Danish as the language of instruction, and keep its own exams. The downside of this is that Danes wouldn’t automatically get better at English, nor would they start sitting internationally well-known exams.
  2. Health: The Danish NHS would be maintained without change. However, funding would come out of Westminster’s block grant for Denmark.
  3. Police: There would still be a Danish police force. But PET and FE would be replaced by MI5 and MI6, and the UK Border Agency would take over the task of guarding the Danish border.
  4. Agriculture and fisheries: Denmark would still have powers in these areas, but the UK would represent Denmark at the EU’s decision-making meetings.

But here are a few things that would:

  1. Oil: The revenues from this would go straight to London, rather than strengthening the Danish economy. The way Denmark has just decided to raid the oil companies to pay for a £3.2bn improvement of the railways would become impossible.
  2. Foreign policy would be run from London. Denmark would have to pull out of the Nordic Council and the special cooperation across the Danish-German border. Denmark would have to introduce passport controls at the borders with Germany and Sweden.
  3. Economic and monetary affairs would be run from London. From time to time, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee might include a Dane or two, but there wouldn’t be a fixed quota.
  4. The Danish monarchy would be replaced by the British one, and Denmark would lose the right to choose its own form of government.
  5. There would presumably still be commercial TV channels covering Denmark, but the public-service TV channels would be merged with the BBC. They would still broadcast some Danish programmes at times, but the majority of the programming would be standard BBC stuff.
  6. The Danish army and navy would become parts of their British counterparts.
  7. Denmark would have to introduce normal UK taxation. Amongst other things, this would mean a reduction in personal taxation, VAT and car taxes, but it would also mean a loss of interest payment deductions and the commuting deduction. In total, this would probably mean that Denmark would have significantly less money to pay for parts of the welfare state, such as subsidised nurseries.
  8. Social benefits would be paid from London. Denmark would have to introduce the bedroom tax, and unemployment benefit would be the standard British jobseeker’s allowance (something like £71 per week).

I find it very unlikely that a proposal for Denmark to join the UK would get even 1% support in a referendum. There are just almost no real benefits, and thousands of negative consequences.

Three hundred years ago, things might have looked different, but these days a small country can be part of the EU and NATO, and then there are just very few reasons for it to join a big one.

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.

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.

Scotland should have 109 MPs, not 52

The Tories and the LibDems are reducing the number of seats in the House of Commons from 646 to 600. As part of this, the four nations’ representations will be equalised to the same number of voters per seat (until now, the smaller nations have had smaller seats than England); for instance, Wales will see its number of MPs drop from 40 to 30.

Most people seem to think this is fair, and many English MPs are even calling for a further reduction in the number of Scottish MPs to cancel out the effect of Scottish devolution.

However, according to the Penrose method, also sometimes described as the square root formula, each nation should get allocated seats according the square root of the population to achieve equal voting powers for all people represented.

Here’s a table showing the figures for actual and calculated numbers of MPs:

Country Population Actual 2015 seats Square root seats
England 52,234,000 502 344
Scotland 5,254,800 52 109
Wales 3,006,400 30 83
Northern Ireland 1,799,392 16 64
Total 62,294,592 600 600

The square root method has been suggested for allocating seats in the European Parliament (although the current method used there results in similar results).

I guess it all depends on the status of the four nations of the UK. If they’re just seen as electoral regions of a single country, the CoLD coalition’s proposal makes perfect sense (but then devolution should probably be abolished); on the other hand, if the Westminster Parliament is seen as a supranational parliament for the union of the four sovereign nations of the UK, the Penrose method should be used.

If Penrose isn’t used, I presume it means Scotland will have more influence as an independent country, so unless the No parties put Penrose on the table as an alternative, I would strongly suggest voting Yes to independence.

Two options: Independence or Devo-Max

So now David Cameron is promising more powers after a No to Scottish Independence:

And let me say something else about devolution.

That doesn’t have to be the end of the road.

When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further.

And yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved.

But that must be a question for after the referendum, when Scotland has made its choice about the fundamental question of independence.

Alex Massie sums up quite nicely how much the Tory position has changed recently.

However, I do think Cameron’s idea that the SNP have to spell out in minute detail what independence will mean while he only needs to put his thinking-hat on after a No vote is manifestly unfair.

If a No vote effectively is a vote for Devo-Max, then Cameron needs to say so clearly now.

Incidentally this would solve the big outstanding issue about the referendum, namely that the SNP would like to include Devo-Max on the ballot paper while Westminster want only two options. The solution is simple: Put the following two options on the ballot paper:

  1. Independence
  2. Devo-Max

Of course, the Unionist parties would have to spell out Devo-Max in full detail before the referendum, but surely they’ll have time to do that before 2014.