Better Together have been circulating an illustration of beer prices on Twitter today.
It seems to be based on figures from Pintprice.com, which is hardly a reliable source for such information — it’s simply a site for people to record what they’ve paid for a pint somewhere in the world. The result is that the Danish price is an average of prices as diverse as the following: Aalborg: £1.04, Aarhus: £3.44, Copenhagen: £5.08, Kastrup: £7.22, Odense: £2 and Sønderborg: £6.69. One should therefore take the figures they used with a grain of salt.
I don’t dispute at all, however, that a pint in a pub in Denmark tends to be more expensive than what you’d pay in a similar place in Scotland.
This is to a large extent because Danes tend to drink more at home and private parties, and less at pubs. (The situation might be changing slowly, but that definitely used to be the case when I lived there.)
For many people in Denmark, a pub is a place you go for a drink after your cinema trip, not your regular watering hole.
So most Danes buy a lot of the beer they drink in supermarkets, not in pubs, and prices aren’t shocking in shops. A typical price for a 500ml can of Carlsberg (which is of course not by any means the cheapest brand) in a supermarket seems to be around 15 Danish crowns (= £1.65).
Beer prices are much higher in Sweden and especially Norway than in Denmark, but that’s because of a deliberate price policy in order to combat alcohol-related problems, so trying to estimate the general cost of living by looking at pub prices is a very bad idea.
Apart from that, GDP per capita is much higher in the Scandinavian countries than in the UK (Norway $100,318, Denmark $59,190, Sweden $57,909 and UK $39,567), so even if Scandinavians want to spend their salary drinking lager in pubs, they tend to be able to afford this.
The whole point of the Yes campaign in general and of the Common Weal project in particular is that we need to move away from the current low-wage economy and try to achieve a situation like in Scandinavia where prices might a bit higher but salaries are much higher so that a typical person can afford a better quality of living.
In other words, perhaps putting up the minimum wage to a reasonable level will mean that pub prices will rise a bit, but if most people are much better off than before then it’s not a problem at all.
Besides, increasing the minimum wage and/or increasing alcohol taxation will be policy choices for an independent Scotland. If we want cheaper pints after independence, we can simply vote for political parties who want to achieve this. It will be up to us.
I’ve been wondering why the Scottish independence referendum has been annoying me increasingly over the last few months to the point that when I hear it mentioned on the news or similar, I turn off.
It isn’t the I am not interested. I am passionately interested. It is plain to see that England, first under Labour and now under the ConDems, has no idea whatsoever what to do to start moving in the right direction. Their education system has been priced out of realistic people’s grasp, and not in line with the rest of the European continent that it is part of. Their health service is failing miserably. The infrastructure is collapsing around them, they have youth unemployment but are trying to force pensioners into working till way beyond the age when people (in my family at least) tend to die. They are hysterical about immigration, even when fears are not realized.
Childcare is so beyond people’s reach that many women (even with degree-level education and beyond) are no longer able to go out to work — salaries just don’t meet the costs. Some stay home and decimate their careers, others choose to have no children, many rely on aging parents who suddenly find themselves incapacitated and then they’re faced with losing their home because their mortgage was based on granny childminding. Many, like me, try to work half-time (plus a little) from home, staying up till the wee small hours to make ends meet, working all weekends and holidays but that isn’t the way forward in the 21st century.
Sure enough London seems to be working reasonably well, a little part of the South East too but Birmingham up is quite frankly in a state! I want my kids to live in a fairer, more progressive country so it is incomprehensible to me after reading the figures (as quoted in the FT and even occasionally the Economist), reading independent GDP projections and reports on other small countries that are working much better, reading the White Paper and its far-reaching ideas that anyone would vote to sink with the ship that is floundering on the Somerset plains.
Now this is nothing anti-English — many of my English friends who live here are also Yes supporters, quite frankly I think Northern England needs it as much as we do, they simply aren’t being given the option and I am not willing to join them in a suicide pact when I can start to build a future they can hopefully draw example from.
Anyway, back to why the Indy Ref is annoying me. It suddenly hit me, while listening to Osborne’s speech in Edinburgh ten days ago… It is because of my divorce. I didn’t just go through a divorce eight years ago, I went through the most acrimonious divorce that any one I know has gone through. That is not what I intended but it is what transpired. I don’t usually blog about my real, innermost private life but let’s discard that rule just for once and let me take you through my divorce blow by blow. There is enough distance between me and it now for this to be possible without it being overly upsetting…
So let’s go back to five or six years before I left my first husband. We had grown apart. We were coexisting but didn’t have much in common. I saw my future differently from where he saw it but I wasn’t the divorcing type so I sat him down and told him we had to start having more time for each other, sharing parenting more and moving in the same direction. I said I wanted a little more respect and a bit more affection. He barked at me that by living in my “shitty country” he was showing me enough affection so I’d to leave him in peace and not nag him again.
After that spectacular fail at repairing our relationship things carried on as before with me working full time, parenting full time and doing everything in the house while he worked long hours and de-stressed by treating himself to café trips, cinema trips and piles of rental videos of his choice. When I had finally had enough, I told him I wanted to leave and he came out with a phrase I will take with me to my grave: “I didn’t need to make an effort because you were never going to leave.” Of all the lessons from my divorce that one line has possibly shaped the way I have lived my life afterwards most. So does that attitude ring any distant bells? Anyway, for my marriage it was too late. I didn’t love him any more.
His first reaction after I announced I was leaving was to declare his undying love for me and try to show me the affection I had craved for the previous decade. I was appalled and repulsed. I didn’t want him to go anywhere near me, let alone hold my hand.
After a few weeks of “I love you”, he moved on to undermining me. I was never going to survive on my own, I was too dependent, I was too used to his salary, I was pathetic. Too wee, too poor? Any bells?
Next I was told he’d go to court and have my children taken off me because I was a hopeless parent and he was a victim of my mid-life crisis so he would obviously be favoured by a judge. The thought of him trying to take my kids terrified me. That kept me voting “No” to leaving for a another few weeks. Slowly, I started to realize that I was the only constant in their lives so it was another lie — a bluff.
Then he tried bribery. He’d never bought me any jewellery and had always spent most of his money on things for himself so he told me that if I promised to stay I could have a diamond ring and a brand new seven-seater car. I guess this was his version of further devolved powers. Firstly, I wasn’t as shallow as that, but moreover, I was slowly beginning to realize that I’d rather have neither than stay with him.
When that blackmail tactic didn’t work he tried threatening to leave his job, so I would get no maintenance, this was followed by threats that I would have destroyed his career by leaving and he’d be destitute and it’d all be my doing. Of course later this all culminated in threats of self harm. I worried for another few weeks until again it started to dawn … all bluster and bullying. Yes, they worked for a little while but eventually I realized they were all time-buying bluffs.
He became quite verbally abusive for some time after that but that didn’t wear me down, it strengthened my resolve greatly. Finally I got the threat that he would not give up the house. He wouldn’t sell me his half so I’d lose my home. I guess this is the parallel of the current currency issue.
But the problem was that by that point starting again from scratch with less money, somewhere else, was still preferable to giving in to his bully tactics because we had gone way beyond the point of repair and more importantly I had started to believe in myself and see my route out. I’d seen what my future could hold and contemplated that other world.
Of course, he promised me the earth if I stayed but I knew realistically that once I opted to stay he wouldn’t change, he’d be no more loving or supportive than before and worse still he’d spend the rest of my life casting the almost-divorce up to me, taking more and more to compensate himself for the hurt he perceived. Life after a No vote to divorce would have been an utter nightmare.
So on balance, I think the reason I’m turning off to the Indy Ref is because it is way too close to the bone. The parallels are so strong, I am finding them upsetting. I’ve been through lies and bullying once and that is enough for one life time. Watching interview after interview on the BBC where Westminster politicians are allowed to lie or embellish the truth without being picked up by the interviewer just gets me down. I have read enough foreign and independent sources to notice the bullying lies and half truths. The fact that someone less well informed will be sitting there falling for their sound bites frustrates and scares me immeasurably.
I am starting to suspect that this divorce is becoming more acrimonious by the day and even if we do return a No, I sense we will have gone beyond the point of repair.
In my recent post about Osborne’s bullying session in Edinburgh, I wrote:
By ignoring [the alternatives to a currency union] and by failing to explain why rUK politicians would opt for a solution that might harm rUK businesses, he shows that his sole purpose is scaremongering. He didn’t make this speech to provide visibility for rUK businesses (which would have been prudent), but to bully Scottish voters into voting No.
This morning the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, opted for a very similar approach when he was interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show:
Of course it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state… I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries getting the agreement of the others.
As many EU experts have discussed at length in the past, there is no precedent for this type of situation, and there are many options available to the EU in order to reach a pragmatic compromise that everybody can live with — see for instance Yves Gounin’s article, either my summary or the full translation.
Indeed, as Yves Gounin writes, the EU has a lot to lose too:
As soon as the Rubicon of independence has been crossed Europe would have everything to lose by putting these states into quarantine: its entrepreneurs could no longer invest there; its young people could no longer study there; its workers could no longer travel freely there; its fishing fleet could no longer fish in their waters, etc…
Barroso is a spokesman for the governments of the EU member states. He’s not elected to represent the European Parliament nor the EU Court of Justice. It’s therefore hardly a big surprise that he finds it hard to resist when he gets asked by David Cameron or Mariano Rajoy to lend them a wee hand, especially given that his stint as Commission President comes to an end in early summer, so dealing with a Scottish Yes vote will be somebody else’s problem anyway.
It’s therefore very clear that Barroso has done an Osborne, trying to bully the Scottish (and Catalan) voters to reject independence rather than expressing an informed opinion about what actually will happen after a Yes vote.
Actually excluding Scotland from the EU would not just go completely against the Union’s founding principles, it would also deeply harm the EU and its citizens, as well as quite possibly being illegal according to EU law. In the past, the EU has always found a pragmatic solution when needed rather than adopting a legalistic approach.
Osborne and Barroso both want us to believe that they’ll cut off their noses to spite their faces after a Yes vote. In reality, they’re just trying to bully us into voting No.
Most modern politicians are great tacticians but lousy strategists. They spend huge efforts on planning the run-up to the next election, but they don’t often think about the longer-term consequences of their actions (presumably because they don’t expect to be in power for that long anyway).
However, the SNP and the wider independence movement are a great exception to the rule. Until very recently, nobody joined the SNP because it was a smart career move, but because they wanted to make Scottish independence happen.
I think this explains why most Unionist politicians have been so bewildered by the independence referendum. They assumed from the outset that the SNP wanted a referendum because they thought it’d be a smart tactical move, not because they actually thought it was the right thing to do.
As this excellent (but long) article argues, David Cameron agreed to the referendum because he thought it would tactically be a good way to shut up the SNP. (However, this tactic failed because he agreed to holding it in 2014, giving the Yes campaign plenty of time to convince the voters.)
The focus on tactics also explains why Unionist politicians so often talk about the short-term costs associated with independence. Of course independence is likely to be a very bad tactical move — within the first couple of years, the costs are very likely to outweigh the benefits.
However, as soon as we start looking further ahead, the transitional costs will be dwarfed by the huge financial and social benefits associated with independence.
The Unionists keep staring at the immediate costs and don’t understand why people aren’t scared. Meanwhile, the independence movement is full of people with strategic sense who can see why independence makes perfect sense as soon as you take the slightly longer view.
I haven’t discussed the independence referendum opinion polls for a long time, mainly because they haven’t shown a clear picture.
However, the polls are starting to converge. To see why, let’s first look at the raw Yes/No results reported since the beginning of 2012 (see the graph on the right — click on it for a larger version; all data from Wikipedia).
At a first glance, the picture isn’t very clear. Some pollsters are showing a strong movement — for instance, TNS BMRB is showing an enormous fall in the number of No voters since early 2013 — but it’s hard to spot a uniform pattern.
To make the results more comparable, many experienced psephologists recommend excluding the undecided voters (see for instance this blog post by John Curtice from last September). If we do that, Ipsos MORI, TNS BMRB and YouGov move closer together, but there are still huge differences (see the graph on the right).
Very broadly speaking, it does look like Ipsos MORI, TNS BMRB and YouGov are in agreement, just as Angus Reid and ICM seem to concur, and Panelbase appears to be on its own. There’s no way to conclude at this stage who’s right and who’s wrong (we won’t know until the day after the referendum), but the gap between the first group and the second one is about six percentage points, and the gap between the second one and the third one is about three points.
If we adjust the opinion polls by this amount, it becomes much easier to spot common trends. Of course, nobody knows for sure which pollster to use as the target, so I’ve done this exercise three times, once for each pollster group. However, to save space I’ve only included the graph where Angus Reid and ICM were to chosen to be the target that the other pollsters were brought into line with (see the graph on the right).
When displayed like this, it becomes very clear that the support for the No side seems to have peaked around the summer of 2013, and that Yes has been rising ever since.
If we were to draw a trend line through the results since August 2013, these adjusted figures would lead us to expect a very respectable Yes victory (55% to 45%), and Yes should overtake No in polls adjusted this way around mid May (the trend line isn’t shown on the graph).
On the other hand, if we adjust Panelbase, Angus Reid and ICM to force them into line with Ipsos MORI, TNS BMRB and YouGov, the trend line leads to the conclusion that Yes will lose by a bawhair (49% to 51%).
And finally, if we adjust all the other polls to bring them into line with Panelbase, it looks like Yes will win by a landslide (58% to 42%) and that Yes will overtake No as early as late February.
To summarise, if Ipsos MORI, TNS BMRB and YouGov are right about the proportion of Yes voters, we should expect a very close referendum result if the current trends continue; if ICM and Angus Reid are right, we’ll see a solid Yes victory; and if Panelbase are right, we’ll get a Yes landslide.
There’s a lot of work still to be done for the Yes side, but it’s very clear why the No campaign is starting to panic.
I get really annoyed at the way the No side constantly try to make people think that voting Yes is the equivalent of making Alex Salmond dictator for life. They also moan that it’ll cost a lot of money to buy a navy and duplicate certain shared institutions.
I just wish they would take the long view more often. How many people today are able to remember the names of England’s and Scotland’s leading politicians at the time the Act of Union was signed, more than three hundred years ago? And more to the point, do they actually care? Should people in 1707 have decided on the merits of creating the Union on the basis of whether they liked the political leaders of the day or not?
I’m not saying the Yes side never uses short-term arguments, but I do think the No side are the worst sinners in this regard. Focusing so much on Salmond is ridiculous — for all we know, he might decide to step down shortly after the independence referendum, and even if he doesn’t, it’s quite likely a revitalised Scottish Labour will win the 2020 Scottish General Election (or even the one in 2016).
It’s also silly to talk so much about the one-off costs associated with setting up an independent country. After a few years nobody will evaluate the decision to become independent based on these transitional costs; instead, they’ll look at how Scottish GDP developed over time after the referendum.
Whereas short-termism permeates the No campaign (probably because they know they have a very weak case when it comes to the longer view), it’s relatively sporadic on the Yes side. Of course we do get a lot of stories about how an independent Scotland will abolish the Bedroom Tax and such things, but that’s because they provide both a tangible benefit of independence and an example of how Scotland will do things differently, not because the short-term case is more compelling.
Next time I’m talking to a youngish undecided voter who says they’ll probably vote No because they don’t like Alex Salmond, I think I’ll ask them what they think their grandchildren will think of that in fifty years’ time.
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.