Category Archives: Brexit

Why we’re in a hurry

mauerfall photo
Photo by Gertrud K.
History seems to develop in sudden bursts (the punctuated equilibrium theory) – nothing happens for decades, and suddenly everything changes at once. For instance, the map of Europe changed very little between 1949 and 1990, and then a lot of borders changed in the space of three years. After that, things went fairly quiet again.

The financial crash, austerity, rising inequality and other factors are now turning the world unsteady once more, and there is a potential for quite a few changes to the map of Europe. (We’ve already seen Crimea and parts of Georgia getting occupied by Russia, and Catalonia might be independent in a month’s time.) However, at some point in the near future, this window of uncertainty will close again, and the status quo will reign supreme again for a long time.

It was probably the financial crash that in 2014 convinced a lot of people in Scotland that independence was a better option than remaining within the UK, and Brexit is now a great opportunity to make even more people come on board. This doesn’t happen on its own, of course – somebody needs to explain to former Unionists why Brexit means that Scotland is a safer way forward.

However, at some point Brexit will get resolved, and things will stabilise again – the companies and people that couldn’t accept it will have left, and the rest will have found a new to live. Even if the new status quo is clearly worse than the old one, people’s livelihoods will depend on the new state of affairs, and they will not want to rock the boat. At that point it will again get much harder to interest people in independence.

For instance, if the UK has left the Internal Market and the EU’s customs union and instead entered an association agreement with the US, leaving the UK and rejoining the EU (or Efta) will seem like an enormous change, a step too far for the vast majority of people whose jobs depend on trade with the USA, even if they vaguely remember that the jobs they had before Brexit were better.

Furthermore, it doesn’t seem at all certain that there will be a pro-independence majority at Holyrood after 2021, and that could make it impossible to call a new referendum, even if the opinion polls at that time find a majority of Scots in favour of independence.

This means that if ScotRef hasn’t happened by 2021, the window of uncertainty is likely to have closed by the time pro-independence parties gain a majority again, and then the ball will have been kicked into the seriously long grass.

However, this doesn’t mean that waiting till 2021 is a good idea at all. In fact, I’m getting increasingly worried that time is already running out, and I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the Scottish Government – they seem to be focusing mainly on getting the best possible Brexit deal from the UK, instead of spending their time campaigning for independence. I’m not saying anybody should really be talking about a referendum at this stage – there’s a lot of referendum fatigue in Scotland – but if nobody explains why Scotland will be better off as part of the EU than as part of the UK, former No voters won’t change their mind.

The thing is that people and companies are moving. I’m aware that relatively few people have left yet, but that’s because it takes time to make such a big change.

To take my own family as an example: My wife holds UK citizenship, and nothing else. Moving to the rest of the EU will thus be much harder for her after March 2019, so if we move, it’ll need to happen sooner than that. We have kids in both primary and secondary school, and making such as fundamental change during a school year isn’t a great idea. The best time to move is thus the summer of 2018. It’ll take us at least six months to plan such a move – we’ll need to find new jobs, sell the house and many other things – so we’ll need to make our decision by Christmas this year. This doesn’t mean that Scotland will need have to have left by then, but if it’s still looking like the UK might be going for a hard (or even a cliff-edge) Brexit, and if there’s no concrete plan for Scotland to be doing anything about it, we’ll have to execute Operation Flit.

I imagine that many other people and companies are working to similar time scales. What’s important here is that once the house has been put on the market and new job contracts signed, it’ll get very hard to reverse the decision, even if ScotRef suddenly gets announced next summer.

There is a mandate for independence both in Holyrood and in Westminster (counting only the Scottish seats). We need to act while Scottish independence can act as a solution to Brexit, not as yet a further upheaval once things have finally calmed down. And we need to signal what the plan is before lots of people and companies have relocated themselves permanently to the rest of the EU.

We’re in a hurry.

The leaked paper: What will Scotland do?

immigration photo
Photo by markhillary
The Home Office’s leaked paper on EU citizens was sadly rather predictable. They clearly want to deal with EU citizens in the same way as all other foreigners – and as Pavel Iosad has repeatedly reminded us on Twitter, nobody has ever seemed to mind that much.

However, it will have huge repercussions for the UK. Most EU citizens have ID cards only (no passports), and if that’s not good enough any longer, a large number of tourists and business people will go elsewhere.

Also, whereas people from outwith the EU will expect to jump through various immigration hoops if they want to work anywhere other than in their home country, EU citizens will still have nearly 30 hassle-free destinations to choose from. For instance, when I accepted a job offer in Bishopbriggs back in 2002, I was weighing it up against another opportunity in Norway. If the Scottish job had required a time-limited visa, I don’t think I would have been interested in it (or at the very least, they would have had to offer a much higher salary to make me consider it).

Although it’s possible the new rules will only apply to new arrivals from the EU after Brexit, nothing is certain at this stage, and practically all EU citizens are watching developments with fear and dread. Lots of people have already left, and many more are frantically searching for a job on the continent (or two jobs, if their partner expects to work, too) to allow them to leave, too.

A year ago, Nicola Sturgeon’s reassuring words made a lot of EU citizens in Scotland relax – it felt like she was standing up for us, and that she wouldn’t allow Scotland do be dragged out of the Internal Market.

However, after June’s general election, things feel different. Although we still feel welcome on a personal level (which is very different from the stories EU citizens in non-metropolitan England are reporting), it now feels like the Scottish Government has lost its ScotRef mojo, that their plan now is to exit the EU with the rUK, trying to gain some powers over fisheries and agriculture in the process (something which I couldn’t care less about), and hope that the Brexit clusterfuck will make the people of Scotland rise up and demand independence within a few years. But if that’s the plan, I’m most likely to leave, together with a great many other EU citizens.

I might of course be wrong, and something might be happening behind the scenes. The Scottish Government might for instance have been told confidentially that the UK government will stay in the Internal Market (including free movement of people) forever more (but that doesn’t tally with the Home Office paper), or that Scotland will get full powers over immigration after Brexit. It might even be the case that Nicola is planning to declare independence without a referendum if need be, but that’d surprise me.

The main thing is that the EU citizens in Scotland increasingly feel like we’ve been forgotten. That we’ve been marched up to the top of the hill, and then abandoned.

If the Scottish Government has a great plan for how to protect us, they’d better start saying it out loud, or we’ll start leaving in great numbers. And the only two things that will really reassure us are either that the UK decides to remain within the Internal Market (either by ditching Brexit or by going for a Norwegian-style solution), or that Scotland declares independence before Brexit happens.

Ceterum censeo Caledoniam esse independentem

scotland roman photo
Photo by LightSweep
Everybody seems to be delighted by the Scottish Government’s legislative programme, which Nicola Sturgeon announced today. I’m not happy, though.

It’s not that I’m against much in the programme itself. It’s actually full of great ideas, such as setting up a Scottish investment bank and conducting basic income trials.

My problem is that it seem to be either either ignoring or accepting Brexit, and that’s not going to end well. It seems to be ignoring Brexit in the sense that many of the proposals are going to cost money, and if the economy collapses, that’s simply not going to be possible. And it seems to be accepting Brexit because it talks about repatriating powers coming back from Brussels, and that clearly doesn’t make any sense if Scotland isn’t leaving.

Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman, kept insisting that Carthage was still a danger to the Republic after two wars and needed to be destroyed in a third one. Most famously, he was known to add as a closing remark to any speech he made, whatever the topic, “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” (i.e., “furthermore, I am of the opinion that Carthage should be destroyed”).

Scottish independence is more important than ever, given the epic disaster that Brexit is shaping up to become, and yet it feels like the SNP has almost stopped talking about it in public, probably because they felt they got their fingers burnt in June’s general election.

I’m not suggesting that we should be discussing the timing of the next independence referendum all the time, but it is important to point out why we need independence in order to pursue the future we want, perhaps to the point of ending every speech with “Ceterum censeo Caledoniam esse independentem”.

In particular, Nicola should have spent a good part of her speech saying that it was dependent on Brexit getting cancelled or turning into a soft Brexit, remaining within both the Internal Market and the Customs Union (in which case, by the way, there won’t be any significant powers to repatriate). She should have said in no uncertain terms that a hard Brexit (or even worse, a cliff-edge one) would cause the whole programme to get cancelled and replaced by an emergency programme, including a new independence referendum.

As an EU citizen, I need certainty that Scotland won’t get dragged out of the Internal Market, and that was what Nicola promised the day after the Brexit referendum. I didn’t sense any urgency today, no attempt at explaining why Brexit has the potential to be such a disaster for Scotland.

Ceterum censeo Caledoniam esse independentem.

Entering the Brexit endgame

endgame photo
Photo by Roberto Condado
Rational people (including most Remainers) have been assuming that the UK and the EU of course would negotiate a reasonable agreement, including a longish transitional deal and a comprehensive trade deal – that all the talk about no deal being better than a bad deal was just negotiation tactics.

However, there have been rumours for a long time that the Tories have always been planning to walk out from the Brexit negotiations later this year.

For instance, here is a tweet by J. J. Patrick from the beginning of March:

I had hoped this wouldn’t happen, but the UK are definitely not trying to win the EU over, which clearly increases the risk that the negotiations will break down. Just watch the following video clip, in which Barnier says (hattip: Steve Bullock): “The UK explained that their obligations will be limited to their last payment to the EU budget before departure. […] After this week it is clear that the UK does not feel legally obliged to honour its obligations after departure.”

The EU negotiators are clearly getting very frustrated, which means they won’t recommend that the trade negotiations should start soon, which again means the UK will have less of an incentive to negotiate constructively. It could definitely end quite soon with a walk-out.

It is also worrying that according to Jo Maugham, the Tories are planning to use the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to allow a government minister to set the exit day:

Yep, that’s right. The government is proposing that a Minister gets to decide when our membership of the EU ends. And to make that decision without any Parliamentary control at all. None, zip, nada.

Perhaps I’m just being a bit paranoid here, but it seems quite possible that the UK Government are planning to walk out of the negotiations before Christmas – blaming the EU’s inflexibility and stubbornness, of course – and then leave the EU sooner than March 2019.

It will of course be an enormous shock to the economy, but that might be exactly what they want. As I wrote last November:

[A] hard and chaotic Brexit will be a huge opportunity for the Tories to completely abolish the welfare state. They’ll be able to get rid of the NHS, free education, unemployment benefits and whatever else they don’t like. They’ll be able to do this while looking immensely sad, saying that it’s all the EU’s fault for denying them the package they wanted (but quietly always knew wouldn’t be acceptable to the other EU member states). They’ll blame everybody else for the economic collapse, but use it to create a neoliberal wonderland where only the strong survive. Eventually people will realise what has happened, but by then it’ll be too late to reverse.

I very much hope the Scottish Government are getting ready to launch the independence lifeboat sooner than they had expected!

Winning over the No–Remain voters

Yes–Leave voters in 2015 and 2017.
The British Election Study team has produced some really interesting graphs showing how the four main groups of Scottish voters voted in the 2015 and 2017 elections (the Yes–Leave graph is shown on the right). Here is a brief summary:

  • The Yes–Remain voters (what I’ve called the Blue Tribe in the past) have mainly remained loyal to the SNP, although a few have moved to Labour.
  • The Yes–Leave voters (my Yellow Tribe) used to vote SNP in huge numbers, but almost half of them are now voting for either Labour (probably left-wingers who like Corbyn’s Lexit stance) or the Tories.
  • The No–Remain voters (my Green Tribe) used to vote mainly Labour, but a large number of them switched to the Tories in the last election, probably because they liked Ruth Davidson’s stance on a second independence referendum. Interestingly the SNP lost votes in this group, too.
  • The No–Leave voters (my Red Tribe) used to vote 1/3 Tory, 1/3 Labour and 1/3 others (including the SNP), but most of them now vote Conservative.

Some people (for instance, Autonomy Scotland) have suggested that these graphs show that the SNP need to stop talking about joining the EU after independence to win back the Yes–Leave voters.

I disagree. We didn’t win in 2014, so to win next time we need to appeal to former No voters, not just to keep the old crowd together. Besides, at least some of the Yes–Leave voters are probably so happy with their new political home that we cannot win them back simply by aiming for a Norwegian solution rather than a Danish or Irish one. This means that appealing only to former Yes voters would probably lead to a horrible defeat next time.

The key to winning the next referendum is to convince many of the No–Remain voters that their interests are better served by an independent Scotland inside the EU than by a chaotic UK that keeps arguing with itself whether to be a European Singapore, the 51st state of America, or part of the EU again.

That won’t be easy, however. Many of them feel very British (which is why the Tories won many of them over in the last election), but surely many of them must be looking aghast at the incompetency of the current UK government and wondering whether Scotland would do better on its own.

We also shouldn’t conflate the electoral fortunes of the SNP with the chance of winning the next independence referendum. The Yes vote has generally been holding up well in the opinion polls, which clearly shows that people can remain Yessers while drifting away from the SNP.

Furthermore, it’s unlikely Leave would have won the Brexit referendum if they had had only one campaign. The two main campaigns (Vote Leave and Leave.EU) successfully appealed to different groups of voters, and this is probably something we should learn from.

I simply cannot see how one campaign can appeal to former Yes–Leave voters at the same time as to the ones who voted No–Remain.

It would make sense for the official campaign to take the same stance as the Scottish Government (i.e., Scotland in Europe), but I don’t see why the Yes–Leave crowd couldn’t set up an unofficial Yes campaign organisation to campaign for their standpoint. The alternative is to make the Yes campaign so agnostic on Europe that it doesn’t appeal to anybody post-Brexit.

For better or worse, voters in Scotland feel strongly about both independence and Brexit, and we cannot simply try to pretend that the Brexit referendum didn’t happen. Labour have spent the past three years trying to turn the clock back to before the independence referendum, and that clearly hasn’t worked.

The main Yes campaign should take a strong stance on Brexit and on the EU, one which is in sync with the position of the Scottish Government, and the Yes–Leave people should set up their own campaign. That will allow us to win next time.

Is the SNP suffering from acute Labouritis?

sick patient photo
Photo by Internet Archive Book Images
All political parties over a certain size are essentially coalitions. Their members generally agree on some questions but disagree wildly on others. So long as the questions they disagree on aren’t too important, the party can hold together.

If the national agenda changes, however, the conflicts might be brought to the forefront, and as a result the party will suffer, as Labour discovered a few years ago. Labour members tended to agree on for instance education and poverty, but they simply didn’t see eye to eye on Scottish independence. So when the independence referendum was called and was felt to be higher up the agenda than education policy, the party essentially fell apart. Labour’s best chance is to make the Scottish independence question go away and make people concentrate on education and poverty again, rather than seeing these issues through an independence lens. (To some extent Corbyn has succeeded with this, convincing some left-wing Yessers to vote for Labour.)

If we call this condition Labouritis, I do wonder whether it’s fair to argue that the SNP has caught a milder dose of the disease after the Brexit referendum. Of course the SNP isn’t split down the middle, but it’s clear that there is a vocal minority of members (perhaps up to 30% of them) that are opposed to the EU and definitely don’t want to leave a post-Brexit UK in order to rejoin the EU.

As a result, I’m sensing that the SNP over the past year has gone from being a shining pro-EU beacon that made EU citizens in Scotland (like me) feel enormously better than our compatriots in the rUK, to being an uninspiring entity that tries not to offend too many people, making EU citizens in Scotland reconsider their future here. (It’s entirely clear that the SNP leadership is on our side, but they often feel rather tongue-tied, probably because some of their own members fight them every time they say something nice and coherent about the EU.)

It’s actually quite simple: If the SNP tries to keep all its members happy, they will send out conflicting signals, for instance by talking simultaneously about the importance of the EU and about wanting to join EFTA instead. The risk is that they end up appealing to nobody, so that the voters that prioritise the EU join the Greens or the Lib Dems, and the ones that are against EU membership jump ship for Corbyn’s Labour, or even for the Tories.

On the other hand, if the SNP prioritises the majority view, campaigning strongly for an independent Scotland within the EU, it might lose 30% of its members, but at least the rest will feel motivated, and the it might also attract pro-EU voters from other parties.

The alternative is to hope that the Brexit question goes away, by convincing the UK as a whole to remain within the EU. If that could be achieved, the fundamental disagreement within the SNP would again be hidden from view.

I don’t know what the best way forward is for the SNP, but I don’t think Labour’s cure for Labouritis was very effective. I hope a better remedy can be found for the SNP’s ailment. It’s possible that two pro-independence parties (one in favour of the EU and the other one against it) would do better than a broad church – but of course such a split will be disastrous in Westminster elections conducted using the FPTP electoral system.

I don’t understand…

I don’t understand why the vast majority of people haven’t sussed yet that Brexit will be an unmitigated disaster.

I don’t understand why most people don’t understand that the Tories now stand for the same as UKIP, and that you shouldn’t vote for the former if you wouldn’t have considered voting for the latter.

I don’t understand why so many people in Scotland don’t realise that Scottish Labour don’t agree with Corbyn, and that voting for them to get his policies will backfire, because you’ll get a Tory instead of somebody from the SNP (who actually would have voted with Corbyn on many things).

I don’t understand why people are interested in what the manifestos say about spending money on this or that, given that Brexit means there won’t be money for anything.

I don’t understand why people aren’t up in arms about Theresa May’s desire to turn the UK into a totalitarian state without human rights or civil liberties.

I don’t understand why people aren’t noticing that the Tories are aligning the UK with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US Alt Right, and that an opposing liberal block consisting of the EU, Canada and other countries is being formed. Surely Scotland belongs in the liberal block, not in the totalitarian one.

I don’t understand why 90% of people in Scotland aren’t demanding a new independence referendum now to escape this madhouse, why they aren’t all voting SNP to get a get-out-jail-free card.

I don’t understand why people don’t get that time is running out.

I despair.