Category Archives: Tories

The Better Together Party

The Better Together Party logo.
The Better Together Party logo.
At the moment the front-runner to take over the leadership of Labour’s Scottish Branch Office appears to be Jim Murphy.

Mr Murphy is my local MP, so I’ve taken a certain interest in his career in the past, and he’s as New Labour as they come. If he becomes leader, it means that Scottish Labour is finally accepting its natural home is to the right of the SNP. Socialism will be dead as a dodo inside the Scottish Labour Party.

This means that Scotland will have three right-of-centre Unionist parties: Labour, the Tories and the LibDems. It’s possible English voters can tell them apart, but in Scotland they’ll be virtually indistinguishable.

The logical step will therefore be for the Unionist parties to merge. The most obvious name would be the Better Together Party, and I’ve designed a logo for them above that they’re welcome to use free of charge.

Obviously this merger will be impossible without cutting the ties to the Westminster parties, so it’ll probably not happen any time soon, but it would be the logical way forward for three parties that clearly enjoyed working together in their No Thanks coalition.

The election of Juncker means we must vote Yes

Eu  Council: President Van Rompuy welcoming the British PM David Cameron
Eu Council: President Van Rompuy welcoming the British PM David Cameron by President of the European Council, on Flickr.
It’s now certain that Jean-Claude Juncker will become President of the European Commission. The European Council (the heads of government of the 28 EU states) voted 26–2 in favour of Juncker — only the UK and Hungary voted against — and getting approved by the European Parliament is a formality in this case.

I’m not at all impressed by the way David Cameron has conducted his campaign against Juncker, and it bodes ill for the UK’s future in the EU.

From a federalist continental European perspective, Juncker looked like a popular and democratic choice. Everybody has been complaining about the lack of democratic legitimacy for ages, and an obvious improvement was made possible by the fact that the Lisbon Treaty requires the election of the Commission President to “take account of the elections to the European Parliament”. Each of the European political parties (political parties in European countries are affiliated to these) therefore put forward a candidate (a so-called “Spitzenkandidat”, using the German word) prior to the elections. Most voters in the UK might not have been aware of this, but a vote for Scottish Labour was also a vote for Martin Schulz to become Commission President. The result of the elections was that the European People’s Party (which didn’t field any candidates in this country) again became the largest party, and therefore it was natural that their Spitzenkandidat, Jean-Claude Juncker, should become President.

However, Westminster wants to roll back the EU, so they block all moves towards federalism (which in an EU context means making joint decisions democratically in the European Parliament and the European Council). It was therefore obvious that Westminster didn’t want Juncker — he’s a committed federalist, he was backed by the European Parliament, and he didn’t owe Britain any favours. They wanted to veto him and instead elect a useless compromise candidate that would ensure the EU didn’t achieve much.

This has often been Westminster’s way. Perhaps the most blatant example was seen 20 years ago, when John Major vetoed the appointment of Jean-Luc Dehaene, after which Jacques Santer was appointed in his stead. Since then, national vetoes have been removed from lots of places in the EU, and Cameron didn’t have the power to veto Juncker, which is perhaps why this tried and tested method of sabotaging the EU didn’t work this time.

In retrospect, Cameron should have tried to prevent Juncker from becoming the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat, but that was impossible because of his stupid decision to pull the Tories out of the EPP and set up its own Eurosceptic political group (the ECR), which now includes Danish and Finnish xenophobic parties in a failed attempt to prevent UKIP from getting enough members to create its own group in the parliament.

However, this leaves Cameron and Westminster in a very bad position. They have antagonised the new President of the Commission by making their opposition to him very public, and it has also become clear that the other EU countries aren’t bending over backwards in the hope that it will entice the British population to vote to remain in the EU in the in/out referendum.

It seems increasingly likely that Cameron won’t be able to negotiate any significant exemptions, and that rather than rolling back European integration, the threat of a British exit will actually encourage the federalists, which again will make it increasingly hard to get the mainly Eurosceptic English electorate to vote to remain in the EU.

Today’s events have made it much more likely that the country led by Westminster will leave the EU in a couple of years’ time. The question that remains is whether Scotland remains in the EU together with Ireland, Denmark and Sweden.

The move towards European federalism is actually a good thing for Scotland (because the alternative is that the big countries call the shots), and Juncker is a rather good candidate that an independent Scotland most likely would have supported.

However, we can only chose to remain in the EU if we’re independent. If we vote No to independence and the UK votes to leave the EU, the only thing keeping the country afloat will be the global financial services in London. It would be a disaster for Scotland, probably even worse than the Thatcher years.

The election of Juncker makes a Yes vote even more imperative. It doesn’t serve Scotland well to be represented by these numpties in Westminster who don’t even understand how the EU works, who think only in terms of vetoes and rebates.

We must be independent!

Addendum (29/6): Alyn Smith MEP and Iain Macwhirter make some interesting observations about this in today’s Sunday Herald. First the MEP:

Cameron does not know how Europe works, he does not know the rules, he has ignored and belittled most of the other players and, worse, he gives every impression of not caring less. “He’s f***ed it up, he’s totally f***ed it it up.” Excuse the language, but those are not my words, but those of Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski — an urbane, smart, arch Anglophile Atlanticist, and an Oxford graduate and Bullingdon Club member to boot — in secret recordings, in a scandal running large in Poland.

That’s the way David Cameron’s closest allies talk about him when they think the recorders are off. In the cafés and bars of Brussels in recent weeks I’ve heard worse language than that used to describe the Prime Minister.

And now Iain Macwhirther:

I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in England recently and I can confirm that this debate about federalism barely figures on the metropolitan radar. What does figure is a very widespread hostility to the European Union of a kind we very rarely hear in Scotland. This isn’t got up by the press. Many ordinary English voters seriously believe that Europe is bossing them around, taking their cash, flooding them with immigrants and generally taking away their liberties. The strength of feeling is quite startling to those of us who have seen European integration as a broadly positive movement – an expression of internationalism.

Move to London if you want a promotion

Yes, Minister
Yes, Minister by D Huw Richardson, on Flickr.
I used to work in the Scottish branch of multinational corporation that — like so many others — has its UK HQ in London. During my years there I observed how management in London kept bringing more the people reporting to them down south to make things work more smoothly there. The effect might have been positive there, but the effect in Bishopbriggs was a dwindling number of employees and a strong feeling that you had to be willing to move away if you wanted a career.

My dear wife has also told me plenty of stories about uni friends who were told to relocate to London if they wanted a promotion. Some of them were able to move back to Scotland after a few years there, but others got stuck for life.

It was one of the consequences of moving to Scotland that I just wasn’t prepared for at all. In Denmark, it’s possible for almost everybody to spend their entire working life in that country without emigrating. In a few multinational companies, it might be preferable to spend a few years in other countries, but that’s generally only required for top management, not for people in the middle. So when I moved to Scotland, I naturally expected I would be able to have a career without flitting abroad once again.

I therefore found the Tories’ Devo Jam proposal (PDF) very interesting. Apart from the proposals for giving the Scottish Parliament full income tax powers, it contained the following on page 12 (my emphasis):

Civil servants obviously play a key role in the development and
commissioning of policy. We believe that the Scottish Government and Parliament should be able to call upon the best and brightest from across the Civil Service UK wide. We also believe that the rest of the UK would benefit from a Scottish view and accordingly recommend that civil servants who expect to reach the higher echelons of their profession in Scotland should spend a part of their career development in other parts of the UK.

In other words, they want to ensure that what I encountered in my previous job becomes obligatory in the Civil Service. You shouldn’t be able to spend your entire working life in Scotland unless you’re happy never to get promoted. If that means that your children grow up in England and effectively become English, that’s just the how things are if you’re Scottish. (One shouldn’t forget that because the education systems are different in Scotland and England, it’s not easy to move back and forwards if you have school-age kids — it’s the equivalent of moving between Copenhagen and Stockholm, not between Århus and Copenhagen.)

Would it be possible to imagine this rule applied to everybody, so that civil servants starting their career in Whitehall had to spend a number of years in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast in order to gain a promotion? Of course not! It’s a way to enforce a UK mindset and to emphasise London’s role as the only place in the UK that really matters.

I want to live in a country where moving abroad is an option for the adventurous, not an obligation for a large part of the population. If my kids want to move abroad like I did, that’s fine, but I don’t want them to be forced to do so because there aren’t any decent jobs to get at home.

Incidentally creating more managerial jobs and company headquarters in Scotland will also increase the tax base, making it much easier to create a Scandinavian-style welfare state here. We can create a country where nobody is starving or homeless and nobody is forced to emigrate. We just need to vote Yes in September.

What will happen to the Scottish political parties after independence?

Everyone leads a party
Everyone leads a party, a photo by WordShore on Flickr.
The Scottish political scene is rather odd when compared to the political spectrum one tends to find in independent democratic countries.

Firstly, independence rather than any other political question is the biggest political shibboleth, separating the SNP, the Greens and the SSP from Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Secondly, the fact that the Scottish Parliament has almost no tax-raising powers means that the parties don’t divide into higher-tax-and-higher-spending parties on the left and lower-tax-and-lower-spending parties on the right. I guess the Tories are trying at times, but their message clearly doesn’t appeal because they can’t promise to lower any taxes.

After independence, independence will cease to be a dividing line — I’d be very surprised if any mainstream party advocated reunification with the rUK after independence.

Furthermore, in an independent Scotland it will again be possible for a party to get votes by promising to lower taxes — all Scandinavian countries have powerful centre-right parties, so even in a Scotland committed to the Common Weal project there will be people wanting to reduce the size of the state.

The consequence of all this is that the Scottish political landscape will most likely undergo a period of rapid change after independence.

The exact changes cannot be predicted. It’s likely the SNP and Labour will continue to be the two largest parties, but it’s impossible to say whether Labour will continue to be more right-wing than the SNP, or whether they’ll quickly become a left-wing party again once the ties to London have been cut. Also, although I’m certain there will be a centre-right party, I’m not sure whether it will be a descendant of the Conservatives, Labour or the SNP.

This doesn’t mean that Holyrood will suddenly look like Westminster. For instance, the centre-right party in an independent Scotland is likely to be a decent mildly Conservative/Liberal party more like the ones found in continental Europe rather than being dominated by lunatic Thatcherites, and left-wing parties will probably be in power more frequently than has been the case in the UK till now.

I’m definitely looking forward to Scotland becoming a normal country in this respect, too.

Tories for Independence?

Conservative inspiration?
Conservative inspiration?, a photo by willumhg on Flickr.
In general, winning the independence referendum is about convincing the people who don’t support the SNP or the Green Party.

Because of this, Labour for Independence’s leaflets are extremely valuable when talking to Labour voters about independence.

However, here in East Renfrewshire many people tend to vote Conservative, so it’d be really useful if we had a Tories for Independence leaflet to give to them.

I’m not a Tory, so I don’t think I should be writing it, but I guess it might look something like this:

The Tories used to be Scotland’s largest party. However, after Thatcher’s necessary reforms we are now hated in Scotland. We got only one MP elected in the last general election.

All over the world, democratic countries tend to have at least one powerful centre-right party, typically either in power or providing the main opposition.

Why is Scotland unique in having only centre-left parties? Because the Scottish Parliament doesn’t raise its own revenues, so all the debate in Scotland is about how to spend money, which is not natural Conservative territory.

However, if Scotland becomes independent, voters will again react positively to a message about cutting taxes, helping our companies and growing the economy.

As the 8th richest country in the world we would take control of our own resources. We would benefit from the GDP per head being some 17% higher than the UK average and the deficit levels being about one third lower than the UK. The full 9.9% of UK taxes Scotland currently generates would be available for spending in Scotland. The £4.4bn extra revenue this represents would enable us to lower taxes and to invest more in our companies, creating jobs for hard-working Scots. We can also lower corporate tax to make it attractive for companies to relocate to Scotland, creating thousands of jobs here.

Vote Yes to independence to revive the Conservative party in Scotland!

It didn’t give me any pleasure writing the stuff above, but surely a message like that would appeal to many Scots of a Conservative persuasion?

Thatcher on Scottish independence

Baroness Thatcher portrait
Baroness Thatcher portrait, a photo by Downing Street on Flickr.
In Margaret Thatcher’s “The Downing Street Years”, she has this to say about Scottish independence:

If [the Tory Party] sometimes seems English to some Scots that is because the Union is inevitably dominated by England by reason of its greater population. The Scots, being an historic nation with a proud past, will inevitably resent some expressions of this fact from time to time. As a nation, they have an undoubted right to national self-determination; thus far they have exercised that right by joining and remaining in the Union. Should they determine on independence no English party or politician would stand in their way, however much we might regret their departure. What the Scots (not indeed the English) cannot do, however, is to insist upon their own terms for remaining in the Union, regardless of the views of the others.

Until I read this, I had been puzzled about why David Cameron agreed to a referendum so readily (to the extent that I’ve been known to joke that Cameron surely must be an undercover agent for the independence movement); however, it’s now clear to me that he’s just following his bible to the letter.

Apart from explaining Cameron’s behaviour, what I find interesting about this paragraph is that I don’t think many people in the pro-independence camp will find much to disagree with. We are in favour of independence exactly because we don’t believe we can insist on our own terms for remaining in the Union, so we want to move to a situation where we are in charge of our own destiny. On the other hand, I think many Scottish Labour politicians will have problems with this Thatcher quote — the way they think they can promise more devolution after a No vote without prior approval from all major UK parties seems to imply they believe Scotland can pick and choose freely from the devolution shelf while remaining in the UK.

How Thatcher destroyed the coalition of nations

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge
Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge, a photo by dannybirchall on Flickr.

Did Margaret Thatcher create the current independence movement in Scotland?

I was intrigued by a blog post on the pro-independence blog Bella Caledonia, which quoted James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still:

One of the unintended effects of Margaret Thatcher’s revolution […] was to destroy Scottish loyalty to the British State. If it didn’t provide you with a job, if it didn’t give you a decent pension or adequate health care or proper support when you were out of work, what was it for? It wasn’t for anything – except maybe things you didn’t want or believe in, like nuclear weapons on the Clyde, or the poll tax.

When you’re trying to govern a coalition, whether of parties or of nations, it’s important to keep them all happy.

Let’s have a brief look at Danish politics. Just after the last general election there was an interesting interview with Henning Dyremose, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first of Poul Schlüter’s Conservative governments (in my own loose translation):

What the Social Democratic Prime Minister needs to do is to create a situation where the Socialists win, where the Social Liberals win, and where she can ignore the Social Democrats. The latter are so delighted that she becomes prime minister that she does not have to give her parliamentary group and the ordinary party members any kind of concessions. If she can make a deal that makes both Socialsts and Social Liberals happy, she knows the Social Democrats will also be happy. If the Socialists — who were weakened in the elections — are also weakened in the government programme negotiations, their members will begin to ask whether the price they pay for supporting a Social Democratic prime minister is too high. If the Social Liberal leader doesn’t get enough concessions, she could just as well remain outside the government. The Social Liberal Party would have more influence if they chose to remain outside the government. That’s why they’ll be expensive to include in the government.

I find it interesting to apply Dyremose’s advice to the UK. That is, one should realise that the smaller nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have the ability to leave and realise their ambitions elsewhere, so England should give them more influence than strictly speaking necessary to keep them happy. Ultimately, English politicians (and to some extent English voters) will be content so long as England is leading a strong United Kingdom, even if the smaller nations sometimes get their own way. (This also applies to Spain, of course, where Catalonia is clearly not seeing the benefit of remaining within the Spanish Kingdom any more.)

It reminds me of my old suggestion to double the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster.

Anyway, I don’t think anybody in Westminster is going to pay heed to the advice above. The Scottish loyalty to the British state has been broken, and the natural way forward now is to vote Yes in 2014.