Category Archives: media

The Economist is havering again

Improved Economist front page
Improved Economist front page by Thomas Widmann, on Flickr.
In the most recent issue of The Economist, there are four articles about Scottish independence, as well as a photo of a glaikit-looking man with a bad Saltire facepaint and a Buchanan-tartan scarf (which isn’t a good way to win me over, given that I’ve married into the Buchanan clan).

There are lots of errors, omissions and tendentious vocabulary in all the articles, so a full fisk would be a massive undertaking. Instead, I’ve picked out a few bits and pieces below.

“Don’t leave us this way”

The leader sets the tone and places The Economist — yet again — firmly in the No camp.

Britain doesn’t feel like a nation on the verge of cracking up. Many have clutched patriotic flags and wept this summer — but most of them were fans of the English football team.

This might be how it felt in London, but obviously there weren’t many supporters of the English football team in Scotland, and the independence campaign is now starting to be very visible north of the border. The person who wrote this clearly hasn’t been to Scotland recently.

A democratic, peaceful, well-governed nation state is a blessing which should not be casually thrown away.

Is the UK democratic? The unelected House of Lords still plays a major role! Is the UK peaceful? There were riots in London not that long ago, and I doubt people in Iraq and Afghanistan would praise British peacefulness! Is the UK well-governed? There are new scandals all the time, showing us the level of nepotism and corruption that is commonplace in Westminster! Is the UK a nation state? Better Together campaigners keep telling us it’s a union of nations, and not a nation state at all!

Tellingly, most members of ethnic minorities describe themselves as British rather than English or Scottish.

While that’s true in England, it again shows they haven’t been to Scotland recently. Here ethnic minorities happily call themselves Italian Scots, Pakistani Scots, English Scots, and so on.

“How did it come to this”

This article is the best by far — probably because the author actually has been to Scotland. However, it’s by no means perfect:

The impression is of a party promising Scandinavian-style public services supported by taxation closer to American levels. That is fantasy, not socialism.

This is of course a complete misrepresentation of reality. Nobody has talked about American levels of taxation, but simply a slightly lower corporation tax than in the rUK in order to attract more businesses. And although Scandinavian-style public services would be great, that’s a long-term ambition. Here and now we’re talking about practical measures such as providing enough childcare to allow women to return to the labour market — something which will probably be self-financing.

“Dear Prime Minister and First Minister”

Although the idea behind this article (to discuss the independence negotiation options) is great, it’s unfortunately full of errors.

The timetable will be contentious, too. Mr Salmond claims that Scotland could become independent on March 23rd 2016 […]. That is fanciful. […] [S]uch breakneck negotiations will store up problems for the future. […] A deadline of 2018 would be more sensible.


Past break-ups suggest that even after independence day, fiddly negotiations will continue. The Czechs and Slovaks only reached agreement on Czechoslovakia’s gold reserves in 1999, seven years after they had opted to break up.

As I’ve discussed many times in the past, the UK will be almost ungovernable between a Yes vote and Scottish independence day because you cannot implement anything that the Scottish Government doesn’t agree with. This means that a year and a half is probably the maximum Westminster can put up with, so negotiating until 2018 is simply not going to happen.

It’s much more likely deals will quickly be made on the really important issues, followed by further negotiations after independence day, just like the Czechs and Slovaks did.

The second [principle] should be that movable assets (such as arms) be split proportionately and that immovable ones (such as public buildings) remains with the state they are in.

This might be a fine principle, but I guess it means that Scotland gets the nuclear weapons, which Westminster might not particularly like. Also, lots of shared institutions are placed in London, so giving them all to the rUK without any compensation might be unfair.

[Y]ou will need to strike a grand bargain on defence. This may involve the RUK supporting Scotland’s NATO application and helping it assemble viable armed forces, in return for a long-term deal to postpone Trident’s move (something akin to Britain’ 99-year lease of Hong Kong from China).

This is simply not going to happen. The SNP has been very explicit that they will not accept a long-term deal that keeps Trident in Scotland. Also, NATO isn’t that important to most Scots, so it’s not an efficient threat to make people accept Trident. NATO might also not want a huge hole in the middle of their territory, so I’d be surprised if they decided to be too bloody-minded about Trident.

It would make little sense to insist on splitting the BBC, which benefits from economies of scale and could adopt a federal structure fairly easily.

They want us to keep the Westminster Propaganda Corporation?!? This is simply not going to happen. We’re going to create our own public-service broadcaster, and we’ll agree a deal (like Ireland’s) that’ll allow us to watch the BBC, too.

[A]fter independence the RUK could well opt to import cheaper green electricity from continental Europe.

Would it really be cheaper? But even if that was the case, the cables aren’t there — the existing ones are already running at full capacity. So they couldn’t do this immediately.

[Scotland will need] a dialling code (+424 is the most likely choice) and an internet domain (though the Seychelles have nabbed .sc, and Sierra Leone has .sl).

It’s good to see that The Economist reads Arc of Prosperity (this and this). I just wish they would read the newer articles, too.

“A costly solitude”

This final article deals with the economic aspects, but unfortunately they’re being unnecessarily negative.

[O]ver the next 50 years, the Scottish workforce will actually shrink (the rest of Britain’s will grow). The number of pensioners will rise.

The forecast that these numbers stem from are showing what will happen if Scotland remains part of the UK. In other words, as a British region, Scotland will grow older and poorer. This needs to change, but that requires access to some policy levers that are only available to independent countries (such as immigration policies).

Excluding oil, Scotland ran a public-sector deficit of £14 billion in 2012-13. At 11% of GDP that is a bigger gap than in crisis-stricken Greece and Ireland.

Excluding oil is crazy, given it’s there at the moment. Also, once you subtract the costs of Trident, HS2 or many other of Westminster’s white elephants, the deficit shrinks to much more reasonable levels.

Scottish productivity is 11% lower than the rest of Britain’s; anaemic exporting, together with a shortage of innovative firms and low R&D investment, helps to explain this lag.

It’s true that Scotland has problems in these areas, but that’s because it’s been impossible to fix them while part of the UK. As an independent country we can do something about this — for instance by making it worthwhile for companies to invest more in R&D.

To sum up, The Economist managed to disappoint again — although this issue wasn’t nearly as abusive as their infamous Skintland front page.

I had hoped they would finally have sent some unbiased reporters to Scotland to find out exactly what is happening up here, but I guess they’re too much a part of the Westminster bubble.

They should heed the final words of their second article: “The polls suggest they will not [form a new country]. But that is not how it feels right now on the streets of Glasgow.”

The rUK is already another country

Ninja rat parachuting
Ninja rat parachuting by Nic Price, on Flickr.
My dear wife and I used to read The Economist and Private Eye regularly, and we watched the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday mornings. Of course we were often annoyed by the way they handled Scottish news, but by and large the reason for doing so was enjoyment rather than masochism.

However, something has changed over the past couple of years. Of course the London-based media too frequently treat the independence referendum in an offensive and contemptuous manner, but that shouldn’t in itself make the rest of the programmes and publications irrelevant.

Nevertheless, I increasingly react to news from London in the same way as news from Sweden, Germany, Canada or any other foreign country that use a language I know, namely with three parts boredom because the issue at hand doesn’t seem relevant to me, two parts perplexity because they’re approaching an interesting subject from a bizarre angle, and one part anger because they’re ignoring something which would have been very relevant.

The way UKIP is being fêted in England is perhaps the best example of this, but there are countless examples from all policy areas.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the independence referendum campaign itself has already turned Scotland and the rUK into separate countries, simply because we have now been having very different national conversations for the past two years.

This is yet another reason why we need a Yes vote in September. I simply cannot see how the UK can feasibly become reunited after a No vote; in all likelihood, the divergence would continue growing until a second referendum became unavoidable, but the years between the two referendums would be such a waste of time.

If independence is a state of mind, Scotland is already there.

English newspapers in an independent Scotland

The Guardian | Billboard (A)
The Guardian | Billboard (A) by observista, on Flickr.
When I moved to Scotland twelve years ago, I had to find myself a daily newspaper to read. I tried out most of the broadsheets before settling for the Scotsman in the first instance, and later the Herald.

While I was still evaluating the newspapers, one of the easiest decisions was to discard the Independent and the Guardian, although they were my favourite UK newspapers when I still lived in Denmark. This was simply because they sold their normal edition here instead of producing a Scottish edition (like for instance the Times does), and the result was that they almost ignored the Scottish Parliament and the devolved policy areas from a Scottish perspective.

However, I had many English colleagues who were still reading for instance the Guardian after many years in Scotland. I guess they didn’t feel they had moved abroad, moving from one part of the UK to another, so why should they change their newspaper habits of a lifetime? The result was that their knowledge of Scottish affairs was minimal, however. They would assume the Scottish NHS worked in the same was as its English counterpart, for instance, or they would be utterly surprised at the differences in the education system when their first child started school.

Would my English colleagues have done the same if Scotland had been independent at the time? Would they really have moved to another country but not changed their daily newspaper? Would the Independent and the Guardian even have attempted to sell the London edition in Scotland after independence?

Basically newspapers fall into three broad categories in Scotland: (1) Scottish newspapers that are written in Scotland, such as the Herald, the Scotsman and the Record; (2) Scottish editions of English newspapers, such as the Times and the Sun; (3) English newspapers that aren’t changed for the Scottish market, such as the Guardian and the Independent.

Once Scotland is independent, the first group will of course continue as before, and there’s no reason why the second one would need to change their model fundamentally (although it’s likely they’d need to change more contents than they do at the moment). This is indeed what we see in Ireland, where for instance The Sun produces a local edition in Dublin.

However, what will happen to the last group? Will they start producing Scottish editions (e.g., the Scottish Guardian), will they quietly disappear from most shops, or will they just continue to sell their rUK editions in Scotland as if nothing has changed?

The Eurovision Song Contest, Kosovo and Scotland

Eurovision Song Contest 2011
Eurovision Song Contest 2011, a photo by ianxn on Flickr.
Today’s scare story (do they coordinate them to ensure there’s at least one every day, I wonder?) comes from the Daily Mail:

But now Alex Salmond faces perhaps the biggest threat his dream of Scottish statehood.

For the country’s first minister has now been warned that, if it opts for secession, Scotland might not be allowed to enter the Eurovision Song Contest.


The annual song contest is run by the European Broadcasting Union, and a spokesman said it would require the Scottish broadcaster to re-apply for entry once it leaves the Royaume Uni, as our country is known at Eurovision.

Application involves a complicated list of criteria they would have to meet – and Scotland would not be guaranteed admittance.

Kosovo is not able to enter the song contest, in part because of the opposition of Serbia, the country it seceded from six years ago.

Let’s have a look at Kosovo and Eurovision. Fortunately, The Eurovision Times has written an FAQ on this topic:

After Kosovo’s independence in 2008, the national broadcaster Radio Televizioni i Kosovës (RTK) applied for membership in the EBU (European Broadcasting Union). Membership of the national broadcaster in the EBU is the prerequesite for a Eurovision participation. However, in order to become a member of the EBU, the broadcaster first needs to be a member of the International Telecomunications Union (ITU). And there we have the problem: In order to become a member of the ITU, the country needs to be a member of the United Nations. As Kosovo is still not recognised as an independent country by many countries, for instance Russia, Serbia and Spain, it is not a member of the UN.

It sounds extremely unlikely that Scotland wouldn’t be accepted as a new member by the UN, given that independence will have been won through a democratic process agreed with the UK.

Kosovo’s problems seem to have been caused by the fact that new member applications can be blocked by the permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, the UK, France, Russia and China), and Russia have decided to block Kosovo’s application (because they’re friendly with Serbia).

It’s thus actually irrelevant whether Spain would be happy with Scottish independence or not (and they have said repeatedly they don’t have a problem with it so long as independence has been achieved through constitutional means). It also seems very unlikely any of the permanent members of the UNSC would want to cause any problems.

In short, it’s practically certain that Scotland will quickly become a member first of the UN, then of the ITU and finally of the EBU, after which Scotland will be free to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Giving up on mainstream media

BBC Scotland
BBC Scotland, a photo by Kasia!! on Flickr.
All independence campaigners have been aware of a varying degree of bias in mainstream media (MSM) for a long time.

I think many have thought that this was a temporary situation, that things would change once the Yes campaign had assembled enough facts to feed to the waiting journalists.

However, there’s no sign that things are changing. Just in the past few days, there have been three stories that showed the bias:

  1. An academic at the University of the West of Scotland published research that demonstrated bias in how the BBC and STV deal with independence stories. (Newsnet Scotland has the full story.)
  2. Another academic at the University of Stirling demonstrated that a Scandinavian-style welfare state can’t be constructed purely through the tax system. In other words, extended devolution is not enough — only independence will make it possible for Scotland to achieve this laudable aim. This research article wasn’t ignored, but the MSM tried to describe it as a blow for the Yes side. (See Wings over Scotland for details.)
  3. The Daily Mail has launched a campaign against cybernats, completely ignoring the vile abuse that No campaigners write every day. (Lallands Peat Worrier has written an excellent blog post about this.)

To make matters even worse, it now turns out that the BBC have not been ignoring the first story at all. They have instead been trying to undermine the researcher who created it. Derek Bateman has the full story.

What this means is that Yes campaigners can’t wait for the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media to drop their bias. Their recent aggressive reactions make me think it’s quite likely the bias will get stronger, not weaker, as the referendum gets closer.

Many voters are getting the vast majority of their information from MSM, so it’s an almost impossible struggle to convince them of the merits of voting Yes if they don’t get information from other sources, too.

I know there have been numerous small-scale attempts to make people aware of some of the pro-independence blogs (such as Newsnet Scotland, Wings over Scotland, Bella Caledonia, National Collective, Business for Scotland, etc.); however, I think this has to become a focus in the next six months.

Whenever we speak to undecided voters, we should give them a list of URLs, and somebody should seriously consider raising money to advertise these websites on buses and in Glasgow’s subway.

We know for a fact that informed voters tend to become Yes voters. We just need to ensure they get enough information to enable them to make up their own minds.

The most realistic answer

L'Assemblée Nationale Européenne
L’Assemblée Nationale Européenne, a photo by CedEm photographies on Flickr.
A short while ago, Yves Gounin (who is a high-ranking government official in France) wrote a very interesting article in the journal Politique étrangère.

The Catalan website VilaWeb has provided a useful summary, as has Wee Ginger Dug, and the article itself is here in PDF format.

It’s an excellent article, and I highly recommend reading it if you have any French (Google Translate will help you to a certain extent, but it will get confused in some places).

I decided to provide a summary of my own, maintaining the author’s section headings, and focusing on the bits that are most directly relevant for Scotland.

However, I very much hope somebody will soon provide a full translation into English — it’s an essential document in the Scottish independence debate.

Anyway, let’s get started! After a short introduction the article is divided into the following sections:

Longing for independence and European integration [p. 12]
The independence movements in at least Scotland and Catalonia are united by their desire to remain in the EU, not least because doing so reassures the voters that the countries won’t be internationally isolated after independence.

It’s therefore important to explore whether these new states will become EU member states automatically, or whether they will be placed in the same situation as the applicant countries of Eastern Europe, obliged to follow the long and risky process of accession negotiations.

A political gamble [p. 12f]
The independence supporters are therefore keen to assert that continued membership of the EU is practically automatic, while opponents claim that independence would lead to applying for EU membership from scratch.
The answers from public international law: succession of states [p. 13ff]
The author briefly explains how states can succeed states. It’s likely the remaning parts of the UK and Spain will try to claim continuing state status, whereas it’s unlikely either Flanders or Wallonia could do this if Belgium is dissolved.
Succession of states and international treaties [p. 15f]
After looking at how the succession of states affects international treaties, the author concludes one has to look at the rules of each international organisation separately — one cannot conclude anything about EU accession by looking solely at international law.
An unprecedented situation [p. 17]
Looking at the EU itself, it quickly becomes clear that there aren’t any clear precedents.
A brief detour via the UN [p.17f]
While there are no precedents within the EU, that’s not the case in the UN. Here the rules are clear: The new state has to apply for membership from scratch.
The EU hostile to the splitting of states [p. 18ff]
There are good reasons why the EU is against member states splitting up.

On the one hand, the EU promotes its own regional agenda but does not want to be accused of getting involved in the internal affairs of member states at the same time.

On the other hand, many member states are worried about their own independence movements and believe they can hold back these by obstructing the accession to the EU of new states forming from other EU member states.

Common sense arguments in support of automatic membership [p. 20f]
However, is it reasonable and realistic to expel parts of existing member states from the EU? Can one imagine border posts on the Catalan border? The reintroduction of a national currency in Flanders? Scots deprived of their rights derived from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights?

Also, a legal argument can be taken from Article 50 of the TEU, which outlines the procedure by which a member state can leave the EU. It could be argued that expelling these states and refusing to readmit them would be in breach of this explicit procedure.

Another argument stems from the EU’s founding principles: freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. It would be ironic if the Union denied the populations of Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders the right to self-determination, and this would undoubtedly constitute a democratic regression.

Europe of the citizens [p. 21]
An even more powerful argument can be drawn from the link established over time between the European Union and its citizens. The EU constitutes “a new legal order of international law whose subjects are not only States but also their nationals”. That means that unlike other international organisations, the EU is not only composed of states but also of citizens.

The question here is whether by losing their British, Spanish and Belgian nationality, the Scots, Catalans and Flemings will ipso facto also lose their EU citizenship.

A negotiation in good faith would be in everybody’s interest [p. 22]
It’s fair play for opponents of independence to raise obstacles to continued EU membership, but one might ask whether it’s in the EU’s own interest to complicate the (re-)admission of these states. Once the Rubicon of independence has been crossed, Europe would have everything to lose by putting these states into quarantine: its businesspeople couldn’t invest there any more, nor could its young people study there, its travellers move there freely, its fishermen sail there, etc.

A practical solution must be found.

The most reasonable solution would be to negotiate independence and EU membership simultaneously. It would thus be neither automatic membership nor going through the full procedures of Article 49. The absence of relevant precedents, legal uncertainty and the magnitude of the challenge will require the parties to negotiate. This is not the most illuminating answer to the question, but without a doubt it is the most realistic.

A British demos?

European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, 14 October 2010
European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, 14 October 2010, a photo by President of the European Council on Flickr.
Before I moved to Scotland in 2002, one of my main political interests was the European Union, and I went on a number of study tours to Brussels to visit the European Parliament and talk to politicians there.

(After moving to Scotland, I’ve gradually become less interested in the EU. I guess this is because EU politics is handled by Westminster, which means that it doesn’t feature very prominently on the Scottish political arena. I would like to think this area will be one of the unexpected consequences/benefits of independence, because the EU discussions will suddenly be taking place in Holyrood instead.)

One of the questions I spent many hours discussing back then was the absence of a European demos and how to create one. What this meant was that we could see that most Europeans were primarily concerned with the politics of the countries they lived in, and they discussed European politics in that framework. Even in areas where the EU is much more powerful than the member states (such as international trade negotiations, or fishing quotas), there never is a single European debate but instead there are separate debates in each country. A European demos would involve the creation of a place where people from everywhere in the EU could discuss political questions with each other instead of having to go through a national layer.

Nothing much ever came of our discussions. Even today, when it’s so easy to create a pan-European website, almost nobody accesses those sites instead of national media and blogs.

However, when I look at the Scottish independence debates in Scotland and in London-based media, I can’t help thinking back to some of the old demos discussions.

Is there a such a thing as a British demos today? Of course it’s possible to live in Scotland and get your news primarily from the BBC and the Guardian, for instance, but at least amongst the independence campaigners it seems to be the rule to get your news mainly from Scottish blogs, newspapers and TV programmes, whereas the UK-wide ones are mainly ignored (except as examples of scaremongering).

Are we seeing the separation of the Scottish demos from the UK demos, or has the latter never existed?

When we bemoaned the lack of a European demos, our main concern was that it was hard to make the EU fully democratic without one.

In the same way, if the Scottish demos is now separate from the rUK one (and it’s hard to argue it isn’t when you look at the massive ignorance of the Scottish independence debate you see in London-based media), a UK-wide democracy becomes almost impossible, and Scottish independence is the obvious solution to rectify the problem.