Category Archives: ScotRef

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.

The road to EU membership

eu flag photo
Photo by European Parliament
How do countries join the EU? I’ve noticed a lot of confusion about this. In particular, there seems to be an assumption that you either remain within the EU and somehow alter the treaties, or that you leave and copy the accession route followed by other countries in the past (a process that can go on for many years).

Joining is all about closing chapters of the so-called acquis, which basically means that you need to show that you’ve implemented EU legislation in all the various areas. If you’re already an EU member, almost all the chapters can be closed immediately, because full convergence has already happened. All that remains is to negotiate things such as voting rights and fisheries quotas, and that shouldn’t take very long.

Leaving the EU together with the rUK would mean diverging from EU legislation, which would mean that Scotland would then spend years realigning itself with the acquis afterwards. It makes no sense, because it would involve years when it was aligned with neither the rUK nor the EU.

I still think my old timeline still seems reasonable, although it potentially conflicts with Nicola’s new position of not holding a referendum until it’s clear what Brexit means:

30 August 2018 Second independence referendum
28 February 2019 Scottish independence day
4 March 2019 Scotland sends a membership application to the EU and asks to remain within the Internal Market and the Customs Union in the interim.
4 March 2019 Scotland sends a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations expressing the intent to remain a party to all treaties signed and ratified by the United Kingdom.
14 March 2019 The European Commission and the European Council agree that Scotland can remain within the Internal Market and the Customs Union without voting rights while the membership application is processed.
31 March 2019 Brexit takes place – the rUK leaves the EU. Scotland is not yet a member state but remains within the Internal Market and the Customs Union.
26 September 2019 Formal EU membership negotiations begin.
28 February 2021 The new Scottish currency is launched, linked to a basket of Euro and Pound Sterling.
9 May 2021 (Europe Day) A majority of MEPs, all EU member states and Scotland ratify the treaty of ascension and the country joins the EU. 13 Scots get elected to the European Parliament (not 6 as before independence, but the same as Denmark).
28 February 2024 The rUK leaves Faslane, taking their nuclear weapons with them.
28 February 2034 The last of many independence treaties between Scotland and the rUK is signed (this one finalising the maritime border).

This timeline is assuming the UK will leave the Internal Market and the Customs Union immediately. If Westminster and Brussels agree on a transitional period, it would give Scotland more time. On the other hand, if the UK government walks out and slams the door (something that the Tories might be planning to do, as I wrote yesterday), there could be even less time available.

It’s important that Scotland is ready for all eventualities. It’s finally starting to dawn on most people that Brexit will be an enormous disaster, so this is a good time to talk up independence as a solution.

No more referendums?

referendum scottish photo
Photo by duncan
I believe Brexit is going to such an epic disaster that stopping it is much more urgent than achieving Scottish independence (I’d prefer both, of course), but time seems to be running out.

One of the main problems is that none of the main parties in England seem to be able to do much about it. I’ve discussed before why I think that a new anti-Brexit party is needed down south. For a long time, nothing seemed to be happening, but James Chapman’s new party seems to be ticking the boxes (even though I don’t think the Democrats is nearly as good a name as the Whigs).

Most of the policies he has suggested for The Democrats are good and sound (in particular I’m delighted that they would enfranchise EU citizens like me). From a Scottish perspective, however, one of his ideas would be quite revolutionary:

At the moment, practically everybody in Scotland agrees that the best way to achieve independence is through a referendum. However, if The Democrats get into power and ban future referendums, how can Scotland achieve independence? As far as I can see, there will only be three ways:

  1. A pro-independence majority at Holyrood will be able to trigger independence.
  2. A pro-independence majority of Scottish MPs at Westminster can declare independence.
  3. A majority of all MPs at Westminster (not just the Scottish ones) will need to vote in favour for Scotland to become independent legally.

It’s unlikely that all three options would remain on the table. The Supreme Court would probably decide on one of them if somebody asked them. If they go for the last option, I have my doubts that such a vote could ever be won, which could effectively place Scotland in the same situation as Catalonia, which at the moment seem to be going down the line of an illegal referendum (seen from a Spanish point of view) and a subsequent UDI.

Although I agree that there are many democratic problems with referendums – especially the fact that the losers might have to implement the result while the winners are criticising them from the sidelines – I still believe it’s the best way to make huge decisions such as whether Scotland should be an independent country.

It is, however, just about possible that The Democrats will get into power in the UK within the next five years, so we need to start thinking about how to deal with them. Will their antipathy towards referendums make them unelectable in Scotland, or will it be extremely popular amongst unionist voters? Will they be able to work closely together with the SNP, given that they both agree on Brexit, or will they become sworn enemies?

Perhaps the new party will never get off the ground, but politics is certainly very volatile at the moment, so we should be prepared.

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.

Why do people believe the Brexplanations?

eu flag photo
Photo by Sebastian Fuss
It’s becoming clear that the EU is coming together again, after suffering from a spell of rightwingitis. As Joris Luyendijk wrote:

But then Europeans started to vote. First Austria chose a Green president over a nationalist one. Then the populist PVV party of Geert Wilders received a paltry 15% of the vote in the Dutch general elections. And now the unapologetically Europhile Emmanuel Macron has come out on top in the first round of the French elections, setting him on course for victory against Marine Le Pen next month. The next European elections are in Germany, where all traditional parties are solidly pro-EU. The new Eurosceptic party Alternative für Deutschland is mired in divisions, infighting and confusion.

Even Donald Trump seems to be realising that the EU isn’t going away and that a trade deal with the block is much more important than a quick deal with the UK. (It took him a while, though. Apparently Angela Merkel had to tell him 11 times that he couldn’t do a trade deal with Germany.)

However, the London-based media seem to have painted themselves into a world where Brexit is the new black, so having talked up Le Pen for ages, they’re now struggling with finding a way to explain Macron’s victory in the first round. It seems to be some sort of ‘Brexplaining’ that somehow tries to find ways to confirm that Brexit was the right move, even to the extent where they’d argue that black is white. As part of this, they need to argue that the EU is falling apart, which it isn’t.

The countries of the world seem increasingly to be heading in two different directions: Some are aiming for a centrist, open, liberal vision, and others are choosing illiberal authoritarianism. The former group includes most EU countries and Canada, while the latter includes Russia, Turkey and Theresa May’s UK. (I’m not entirely sure what’s happening in the US – Trump seems slowly to be shifting away from Bannon’s vision, and it’s not very clear what’s replacing it.) The SNP and the other pro-independence parties are clearly in the former camp, too, which is why EU membership is such an obvious move for an independent Scotland.

What really frustrates me at the moment is that too many members of the public are buying these Brexplanations. If people realised what Brexit really means, the Tories would be lucky to get 10% of the votes in June’s general election.

I must reluctantly accept that they think Theresa May is the best person for the job at hand. As the Guardian wrote:

Most voters conclude that strong leadership is needed more than ever. [In] focus groups conducted this week, after Theresa May’s shock announcement, […] one voter commented: “If it’s 27 against one, we need our strongest people at the table.” Another said: “I’ll be voting for strength, direction and whoever will represent the UK in the best light possible.” To those swing voters, May looks a lot like that leader.

The thing is that to people on the continent she doesn’t look strong, just xenophobic and mad, whereas they love Nicola Sturgeon (and to some extent Tim Farron, if they know him).

It reminds me of an interesting tweet about Donald Trump I saw a while ago:

In the same way, the Brexplainers are telling us that Theresa May is strong, organised and leading the country to a bright future, when she’s really weak, disorganised and leading us back to the 1950s (just with more unemployment).

It’s really important at the moment to supplement your diet of UK media with a selection of other sources. Google Translate is not perfect, but it’s good enough to allow you to understand most of a newspaper article, so do spend a bit of time glancing at for instance German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Finnish newspapers from time to time, in addition to Irish newspapers and other clued-up media in English, like EUobserver. They’ll tell you what’s really happening instead of feeding you bizarre Brexplanations.

What is happening at the moment is that the EU’s economy is starting to grow steadily again, and all EU countries agree that Brexit has to be seen to be a bad move, so that no other country gets tempted. There are two options for the UK – either it becomes a tax haven with low taxes and no welfare state, or Brexit gets reversed (or at least ends up with a soft, Norwegian-style solution). So long as the British public are buying the media’s Brexplanations, we’ll remain headed for a disaster, and Scotland needs to get out before it’s too late.

The benefit of a transitional period

European Union
European Union.
It’s becoming clear that the EU negotiators are expecting the UK to go through three phases of Brexit:

  1. The negotiating period (March 2017—March 2019): During this time, the UK will negotiate the divorce while remaining a full member of the EU.
  2. The transitional period (starting in March 2019, and lasting for two to five years): The UK will not be a member any more, but will remain inside the Internal Market and the Customs Union, and there will still be free movement of people. This time will be spent negotiating trade agreements and all the other bits and pieces that will regulate the future relationship between the rEU and the UK.
  3. Full Brexit: The UK will now be outside the EU, including the Internal Market and the Customs Union, so the relationship will be similar to the one between the EU and Canada.

The Brexiteers had clearly expected to skip the second phase, but the EU is being very insistent that it’s impossible to negotiate the details of the third phase during the first one, so it will be necessary.

It is possible, of course, that the Tory government will crash out of the EU without any deal – transitional or permanent – to avoid all this hassle, and it might indeed be the only way for them to keep their backbenchers and the tabloid press happy, but we’ll ignore this possibility for now.

So what will it mean for Scottish independence if the UK has to go through a transitional period? It’s actually really good news.

Without a transitional period, Scotland’s problem is there hardly will be any time after the second independence referendum before the UK leaves the EU, and Scotland will then be forced to choose between leaving the UK in a rush and leaving the EU for a while before joining again, neither of which is great.

However, everything becomes much easier with a transitional period. What’s important is for Scotland to leave the UK and negotiate membership terms with the EU before the rUK enters the third phase, but two to five years should be sufficient for these two tasks. In effect, the three phases will then look as follows:

  1. The UK negotiates Brexit and Scotland votes for independence.
  2. The UK (incl. Scotland) leaves the EU but remains inside the Internal Market and the Customs Union. The rUK negotiates future trade deals while Scotland negotiates membership terms.
  3. The rUK leaves the Internal Market and the Customs Union, and Scotland joins the EU as a full member.

If the UK crashes out without a deal, then this will of course not be possible. In that case, Scotland’s best chance is to vote for independence as soon as possible and then beg the EU for an temporary deal while negotiating membership.

However, I’d like to think that the UK government will see sense and agree to the three phases suggested by the EU.

The O’Brians: The decline of a family

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston
Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston.
This is the story of a man called Ingelbert O’Brian. He has a wife, Alba, and three kids: Wallace and the twins Nora Irene and Sara Irene. Sara Irene left home a while ago, but the others are still there.

Ingelbert’s marriage isn’t doing too well – in fact, Alba threatened to leave him three years ago. He promised her everything she asked for, and in the end she thought to herself: “I’ll be in a heady position because I looked like walking out, but decided to give things one last go.” However, as soon as Alba gave in, he reverted to his old ways, and she isn’t happy at all at the moment.

The biggest problem for the O’Brian family is that Ingelbert has decided to quit his job and go freelance. He fondly remembers how he used to have a great career when he was young, selling all sorts of junk to developing countries, and he’s thinking he could do the same again. Perhaps even branching into selling them tea and innovative jam. Lots of people – including Alba – have been telling him the world has changed, that his old customers won’t be overly pleased to see him again, and that he’d be much better off keeping his well-paid job as the finance director of a large company.

However, he just won’t listen. “I’ll make so much more money, and it’ll be really exciting too,” he keeps saying to his family. To show them how great it’ll be, he’s even painted their house red, white and blue to match the merchandise he’s planning to be selling.

Two days ago, Alba had had enough and told Ingelbert that she was again thinking about leaving him, given he’d broken all the promises he made last time. He wasn’t having it, though, repeating over and over that “now is not the time!” Alba asked him what happened to his promises of their marriage being a partnership of equals, and when would be good time to discuss a divorce, but he just stormed out and slammed the door.

The very next day, Ingelbert then handed in his notice to the MD, Mr. Tusk. In the past, he had often threatened to quit and in that way got a lot of special benefits that the other employees didn’t get, but to his surprise, the reaction was rather cool when he handed in the letter. He had expected them to offer him a great freelance contract on the spot, but instead they just told him he owed them a great deal of money, which he’d have to pay soon. They also made some noises about employing Alba instead, and they made it quite clear that his special benefits would be gone if he ever applied to rejoin them and that he’d be an ordinary employee like everybody else.

Nevertheless, he went home and told his dubious family that everything would be great and all he wanted to do was to build a more united family. Alba was not convinced, and even Nora Irene looked like she was thinking about moving in with Sara Irene instead.

What happens now? Will Alba and Nora Irene leave Ingelbert? If they do, will Wallace then want to leave, too (given that he’s always been close to his dad but also has benefited from the protection of his mum and his big sister)? Will Ingelbert manage to make a success of his freelance career, or will he end up under-employed, living in a bedsit, and trying to find the courage to go back to his old employer and beg them to get his old job back? Will Alba become the new finance director, and will Nora Irene and Sara Irene move in together? Watch this space!