Category Archives: Westminster

The strange death of Great Britain

Made in England
Made in England by Daniel Kulinski, on Flickr.
When my Georgian friend Kakha visited me six months ago, he made the following prediction:

The reason the Westminster politicians aren’t offering you Devo Max at the moment is because they think they’ll win without doing anything. However, if the Yes side manages to close the gap later in the year, Westminster will suddenly offer Devo Max or whatever it takes to preserve the Union.

Because Kakha had already watched another Union — the Soviet one — implode from the inside, I thought this was a sound piece of advice, so I’ve been watching intently for offers of Home Rule since the recent YouGov poll came out.

But no. Nothing. Not a sausage. It’s like they really don’t care.

Unionist-leaning Spectator blogger Alex Massie put it well:

From a Unionist perspective, it does not help that, in general, London has been useless. Even now Westminster seems more interested in the Clacton by-election than in the referendum that will decide the future stability and integrity of the United Kingdom. Viewed from North Britain, this seems desperately petty and small. There is, whether one likes it or not, a sense that perhaps they’re just not that into us.

Westminster Scots are clearly starting to panic. For instance, Fraser Nelson today suggested that ordinary people from the rUK should make a mass rally in Scotland:

What the Canadians then did to save their country offers plenty of lessons for us now. […] [T]here was another last-minute tactic that the Canadians used, which proved as powerful as any speech. […] [The fisheries minister] found out about a unity rally being held in Montreal, and decided to turn it into a rally with thousands of Canadians flying in to join it. […] And this is what saved the country. The “stay with us” message was delivered by more than 100,000 Canadians.

All Scots I’ve suggested it to so far seem to think it would backfire spectacularly.

Of course, I might be wrong. Westminster might have something huge up their sleeve. It sounds unlikely, but a friend of mine completed a YouGov survey today asking questions like this: “If the UK gave Scotland control over oil revenues, would you vote No instead of Yes?” Of course it might simply be an academic exercise, but it does sound a bit like Westminster is searching frantically for a panic button to press next week if Yes is suddenly in the lead in the polls.

Personally, I think it’s too late. No matter what they suggest now, most voters are likely to dismiss it as a last-minute stunt.

Future history books will most likely discuss the outrageous complacency displayed by Westminster, the way London-centric politicians spent their time rearranging their deckchairs while Scotland was busy building up the confidence to vote Yes.

I believe independence will be great for Scotland and ultimately good for the rUK too, but it will almost certainly be a disaster for the Westminster elite. It’s hard to understand why they’re just shrugging their shoulders instead of doing everything they can to protect their cosy wee world. We’re witnessing the strange death of Great Britain.

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 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.

Close your eyes and think of England!

bunting as far as the eye can see...
bunting as far as the eye can see… by Scorpions and Centaurs, on Flickr.
It’s become customary for Better Together supporters to prefix their attempts at talking down Scotland with the words “I’m a patriotic Scot, but …” or similar. (It’s always followed by an example of how they believe Scotland is either too wee, too poor or too stupid so survive in the real world.)

This use of patriotic (a word that independence supporters rarely use) is straightforward enough — they want to ensure that people don’t think they’re doing this because they don’t feel Scottish.

However, today the Scottish Office (which at least on Twitter ought to change its name to the Better Together Propaganda Office) tweeted this:

This seems to imply that voting No is a patriotic duty, that voting Yes is a temptation that must be resisted. It smacks of “Close your eyes and think of England” and “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori“.

It’s an interesting change of semantics. Whereas the way patriotic is normally used by No campaigners clearly refers to Scotland, this seems to say that people have a duty to the United Kingdom, and that it would be an unforgivable folly to vote Yes to independence.

This tweet seems to be condensed version of this quote by Alistair Carmichael: “Being passionate about independence does not make you more Scottish. It does not mean you are the only ones that care about Scotland’s future. People who care are asking questions about our pensions and the Pound and if they do not get convincing answers then the patriotic decision will be to reject the idea of Scotland leaving the UK.”

In the longer version, patriotic seems to have its usual meaning (although the logic is somewhat flawed).

So what happened? Is the Scottish Office on a mission here, or are they just bad at condensing statements down to 140 characters? It will be interesting to study the use of patriotic by Better Together for the remainder of the campaign.

Westminster has ‘learned the lesson of Quebec’

Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael
Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael by Cabinet Office, on Flickr.

There’s an interesting wee interview with the Scottish Secretary in the Sunday Herald today:

Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael said September’s ballot will be a now or never moment for the Yes side […]

Rather than a “neverendum” — where a No vote only led to further ballots — he said a No vote could prove a so-called “neveragaindum”, in which the independence issue was permanently settled.

Carmichael said Westminster had learned the lesson of Quebec, where botched reforms led to a second ballot on independence 15 years after the Canadian province rejected the option.

In the interview, Carmichael does give the impression that he simply doesn’t think there will an appetite for another referendum because of demographic change and the impact of further devolution.

However, if further devolution ends up delivering a mixture of Devo Nano and a removal of some powers from the Scottish Parliament in return, and it becomes abundantly clear to a large majority of people in Scotland that they were lied to by the No side in the referendum campaign, it’s easy to imagine a huge majority for independence in 10-15 years’ time.

What does the bit about having learned the lesson of Quebec mean then? It sounds like a thinly veiled threat that Westminster will take steps to ensure another referendum becomes an impossibility. This could for instance involve changing the electoral system for Holyrood or enacting legislation to make independence referendums illegal.

I might be wrong, of course, and all Carmichael means is that the nice Westminster politicians will teach the Scots to love the Union after a No vote, but it sounds like an unnecessary risk to me.

I’ve heard people saying they think the referendum came a bit too early, and that they would have preferred waiting a few more years before voting for independence. They should heed Carmichael’s warning. This referendum is quite possibly the only chance we’ve got for a generation or more. Nobody should vote No to get independence in ten years’ time. Because No means No.

Putting the rUK’s interests first

Londra - Il Parlamento
Londra – Il Parlamento by gengish skan, on Flickr.
The Lords Constitution Committee was in the news yesterday because they made some proposals concerning the aftermath of a Yes vote.

Most of the headlines were caused by some comments that I didn’t find particularly interesting, but Baroness Jay of Paddington, chairman of the committee, also said this:

We urge the UK Government to put the rest of the UK’s interests first in the event of independence negotiations.

This is a rather interesting statement. After all, the UK Government will still be the government for all of the UK between a Yes vote and Scottish independence day, and indeed it will still contain Scottish government ministers and be served partly by Scottish civil servants. Nevertheless, the noble Lords will want this UK government to function as the rUK government for the purpose of negotiations.

I really can’t see how this would work. They would either have to purge the UK Government of all Scots immediately (but I’m not sure how they could legally do that), or they would live in fear that Scottish moles (mowdiwarps?) would leak parts of the negotiation mandate to the Scottish negotiation team.

Surely the only solution will be to create an rUK negotiation team to match its Scottish counterpart, rather than using the UK government for a purpose for which it isn’t suited.

I cannot see how the Westminster government can conduct the negotiations while it’s still Scotland’s government, too. Only after Scotland’s independence day will the rUK government be able to conduct the remaining negotiations on its own.

Baroness Jay added:

The Prime Minister should feel under no obligation to conclude negotiations by March 2016. The Scottish Government’s proposed timetable has no legal or constitutional standing.

As I’ve argued before, I’m not sure it makes any sense for the negotiations to be dragged out. Does anybody really think that the UK can be governed as if nothing had happened between a Yes vote and independence day?

For instance, what happens if the Westminster government wants to do something that Scotland is 100% against (the Bedroom Tax and the privatisation of the Royal Mail are obvious examples from the recent past)? Will they go ahead and tell Scotland to reverse the decision afterwards? That wouldn’t be acceptable to Scotland after a Yes vote, so in practice a legislative moratorium will be put in place, meaning that only uncontroversial legislation can be passed, and I cannot imagine Westminster would put up with that for very long.

So although I agree with the noble Lords that the Scottish Government’s proposed independence date is only a proposal, my guess is that once the Westminster politicians get their heads round these issues, they’ll actually want Scottish independence to happen sooner than March 2016, not later.