Category Archives: Westminster

A quickie divorce?

David Cameron and Alex Salmond
David Cameron and Alex Salmond, a photo by The Prime Minister’s Office on Flickr.
The Scottish Government suggested in the White Paper that a year and half would be sufficient to conclude the independence negotiations, leading to an independence date of 24 March 2016 (in other words, 554 days including the end points). This has always seemed to me like a very sensible suggestion.

However, many unionists have been complaining for a while that a year and a half is a ridiculously short time to unravel a 300-year partnership, and recently they even started threatening that they could stall the negotiations.

This threat was first made by one of David Cameron’s colleagues:

The planned Independence Day of March 24, 2016, will not happen, leaving the current set-up as the “default option”, unless negotiations between Edinburgh and London are completed satisfactorily, according to one of Prime Minister David Cameron’s most senior colleagues.


Dismissing the SNP Government’s 18-month timescale for completing negotiations as “totally unrealistic”, the source said: “A Yes vote in the referendum would be the start of a process, not the end of one; we would start negotiations. But if Alex Salmond made impossible demands, we would not just roll over and agree to everything he wanted. If we could not reach agreement, the status quo would be the default option.”

The senior Coalition figure said one such impossible demand would be the First Minister’s threat, repeated yesterday, that Scotland would not pay its share of UK debt if it were denied a currency union by Whitehall.

He was soon after backed up by a Labour peer:

Independence will “not automatically” follow a Yes vote in September’s referendum, according to a Labour peer and expert on the constitution.

Baroness Jay echoed claims of a senior Coalition source last week that the status quo could continue despite a vote to leave the UK.


Added Baroness Jay: “You can’t just start unpicking the constitutional arrangements. There would have to be paving legislation at Westminster first, then there’s the question of who would carry out the negotiations.

“These issues raise the idea that just because Scotland voted for independence in the referendum, it wouldn’t automatically happen.”

Finally, David Mundell has now also joined the bandwagon:

On what many see as a hostage to fortune – the First Minister’s declaration of March 24 2016 as Independence Day in the event of a Yes vote — the Scotland Office Minister appears clear that the timescale is wholly unrealistic, has “no legal status” and is just “an aspiration”.

“It’s only achievable if he was willing to make huge concessions on what his position is. Either he is immediately going to throw the towel in on a whole range of issues or it’s simply not achievable.”

He goes on: “It’s going to be more than 18 months if there is going to be meaningful negotiation on significant issues. I don’t suggest it’s a direct comparison but many people who have been through a divorce know that 18 months can be quite an optimistic timescale to get through that; that’s just two individuals trying to disentangle their lives. It can only be achieved from very significant concessions.”

However, if we look at other countries that have gained their independence, we find that most of them went through a much more rapid independence process.

For instance, when Czechoslovakia was dissolved, the amount of time from the Slovakian declaration of independence to independence day was 168 days (17 July to 31 December), although many details didn’t get sorted out till years later. However, after 31 December the negotiations took place between two independent countries.

Most other cases I’ve found were even faster — frequently practically instant.

It makes sense if you think about it. It will be almost impossible to concentrate on normal politics while independence negotiations are happening, and as the quotes above demonstrate clearly, there will be a huge incentive for Westminster to stall the negotiations until they get what they want. (“We won’t agree to independence unless you agree to a 100-year lease for Faslane, sign over 90% of the oil fields and take on half the UK’s debt.”)

If the independence negotiations get stuck, it might become necessary to declare UDI, telling the international community that Westminster has reneged on the Edinburgh Agreement which compelled them to negotiate in good faith: “The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.”

However, threats such as the ones mentioned above make me wonder whether there is any point in negotiating for 18 months if it’s likely we’ll be forced into declaring UDI anyway. Wouldn’t it be better simply to declare independence a few months after the referendum and then negotiate with Westminster as two independent countries?

The most likely reason why the White Paper is suggesting a long negotiation phase is to ensure that EU membership can be put in place before independence day. There’s no reason for the EU to act in a petty or vindictive manner, so it makes sense to negotiate the continued membership terms slowly and carefully.

I’d like to think that the Westminster politicians will become reasonable soon after a Yes vote. However, I fear it will become necessary to say in no uncertain terms that Scotland will declare independence on 24 March 2016 whether the negotiations have been completed or not in order to remove Westminster’s incentive to drag their feet.

We should also plan for the possibility that Westminster won’t negotiate for real at all, in which case we might as well declare independence in 2015. It might become a quickie divorce after all.

Forget asylum seekers — what about the expats?

This is the first ever guest blog on Arc of Prosperity, written by Ed “The Guero”.

Ed is a thirty-something professional from Hamilton who has been travelling for the better part of 15 years in pursuit of work, love and life — though not necessarily in that order! He is a proponent of assisted healthy living for children and improved social welfare. He tweets as @EdTheGuero.

Border Sign
Border Sign, a photo by Dunnock_D on Flickr.
Case studies, case studies, case studies. As an expat it pays to pay attention to case studies especially when preparing to return home accompanied by your foreign-born spouse and/or children. I say “foreign-born” in reference to those not of the EEA (European Economic Area) or the EU. One has to be mindful of the rules ensuring we dot all of the i’s, cross all of the t’s and, after what we assume should be a relatively straight forward process, we can expect our spouse to be granted a visa and welcomed to the UK as a well received extension of ourselves. After all — this is what we should expect from ‘Team GB’ right?

Not so fast!

This piece is not an attempt to vilify Westminster nor is it an effort to sway a vote in the referendum, but my own situation grants me insight into what we might do better should Scotland be free from the overriding control of a Westminster, so out of touch that it leaves many of its citizens yearning to simply come home with the person they love.

Much has been said lately in the mainstream media and social networks regarding UK immigration policy. In recent years policies have been pushed, pulled and contorted in an effort to protect the UK from an influx of “benefit tourists” and relationships of convenience whilst at the same time providing an avenue for asylum seekers in their pursuit of security. The UK, in the latest policy change, seems to have adopted a rather elitist approach and in Westminster’s efforts to “protect” they have cast a net so fine that British expats find themselves wrongfully affected, unable to feasibly come home with their family in tow.

Evidently, we are of secondary importance, an issue being missed in the haste to close Britain’s doors to immigrants. Statistics, explanatory documents filled with tables, appendices, diagrams and equations can all be readily found should you feel the need, but as a Scottish expat married to a beautiful lady from some unspecified Latin American country, I can tell you that it comes down to nothing other than money.

There are minimum requirements to be met regarding finances and accommodation as you would expect. What irks me are the countless stipulations and the unrealistically high-set bar which take no account of economic relativity and engineers a scenario in which families are separated indefinitely. In the most common type of family member application, £18,600 is the magic number. As my wife’s sponsor I must earn in the months prior to and after my wife’s application £18,600 gross annual salary or have savings which supplement my income, have worked for my employer abroad for 6 months minimum and have a contract on the table back home. If I have savings – subtract £16,000, divide by 2.5 and that gives you the number I can add to my gross annual income to meet the minimum requirement. Who has enough savings to subtract £16,000 then… Never mind.

Basically you need a lot of money and now is a good time to point out the cost of application — a whopping £851. When you struggle to meet a minimum requirement of £18,600 and face set-up costs back home, who has £851 (non-refundable on refusal)? You had best be certain your case is clad in iron.

There are two approaches here — have your spouse apply whilst you are both overseas or whilst separated with you in the UK. I know it may be an arbitrary number to some but I earn a good salary and live comfortably abroad — I still earn less than £18,600 per year! My wife earns similarly to myself, but that is not considered a factor in her application, and that leaves us with only one option.

If I want to come home I need to find a job in the UK and then have my wife apply for her visa from overseas when conditions are right. There is a golden ticket which we do not have, £62,500 in savings (subtract the £16,000, divide by 2.5 = £18,600) so it falls to me to accept that we may be apart a minimum of 6 months, realistically up to a year for some.

Are we to believe that this approach is suitable for a country with such disparity, where in London I can expect to earn X% more than in Glasgow or Y% more than in Inverness? Worth noting is of the 422 occupations listed in the 2011 UK Earnings Index, only 301 were above the £18,600 threshold. That’s a lot of discrimination and one should consider the fact that Scotland traditionally has a lower average income than the South-East of England. According to the 2012 salary survey by the Guardian, care workers, hairdressers, bar staff, pharmacists, chefs, travel agents, florists, beauticians, cooks, fitness instructors, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers all earn less than the £18,600 minimum and that’s before filtering by region.

The obvious conclusion is this: The further South & East you live, the more savings you have and the higher profile your profession, the easier it is for your spouse to obtain a visa.

Accommodation is a similar story, unfortunately. You are expected to either a) have a place set up and ready to accommodate your family or b) have someone provide you with accommodation. I don’t know about anyone else but I am short on friends with a spare room, a letting agreement which allows them to sub-let, or an owned property with enough space so as not to constitute overcrowding.

So that’s the crux of the thing. A British citizen’s difficulty in obtaining a family visa from within the UK or without is long and arduous but the fun doesn’t end there. We have the added anxiety in knowing we must do it again 2.5 years down the line because the road to a permanent visa is a 5 year process. Who can plan so far ahead as to know their circumstances will match those at time of original approval and what of a failed application? Is it acceptable that if already in the country many families find themselves separated due to the UK’s insistence upon a refused applicant applying from outwith the UK? How does my partner support herself back home in such circumstances? What if she is the sole provider? It goes without saying that money spent on sending my wife to her country of origin only compounds the issue by pushing us farther from the minimum requirements. Then there is the frankly ridiculous “Life in the UK” test which, if the mock test is anything to go by, is as relevant to living in the UK as a Tunnock’s tea-cake in France.

The UK immigration system is convoluted, irrelevant, discriminatory and not fit for purpose. The system in place seems to be upside down — devised to inconvenience those “undesirables” who may not qualify to settle in the UK before serving those with a right to.

There is currently a legal challenge in progress concerning the minimum income threshold which has resulted on all applications that do not immediately meet the criteria to be put on hold indefinitely pending the outcome of legalities. Right now there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of families separated by British immigration policies and the best response on offer is: “I am prepared to consider whether we can put in place some rules that are not vulnerable to abuse” (Mark Harper, until recently Minister for Immigration). I propose that the level of abuse and method of controlling it should not take precedent over the rights of British Citizens and their families!

In my opinion there can be no abuse of such significance that keeping families apart for indefinite periods of time is justifiable collateral. Isn’t it our right to return home, to bring with us our loved ones? I cannot accept that the abuse of a few should weigh so heavily against the rights of the many and it seems straight forward to me than even if I come home, my partner and I face an uncertain 5 years where we cannot feasibly plan for a settled life.

So what then?

Scots are travellers by nature and we ought to be allowed to return home, our families treated to the same rights and privileges as ourselves, not assessed on the basis of net burden! Perhaps an independent Scotland can see a future in which common sense and versatility are the tools used to sculpt a system whose primary objective is to protect the rights of its own whilst, secondarily, providing for the well-being of those who wish to join us. Perhaps through inclusion we may deter the “abuse” Westminster fears so diligently.

To restrict the movements of a spouse is to restrict the movements of a British citizen. The result of such a hard handed approach to international couples is simply that many expats who wish to return home are forced to consider alternative destinations. We have for instance considered returning instead to the Republic of Ireland where we would be free of the stress the UK immigration system causes.

If we want this country to be a progressive, modern and caring place to live, surely it would serve to pay attention to the welcome mat we present at the door, especially when it is a member of our family who comes calling.

What George Osborne didn’t talk about

Chancellor visits Ealing Studios
Chancellor visits Ealing Studios, a photo by HM Treasury on Flickr.
I had expected George Osborne’s speech today to rule out a currency union and then discuss why a free-floating Scottish currency wouldn’t work either (I think it would, but that’s obviously not something he’d admit).

Curiously, however, both his speech and the paper the Treasury released at the same time (PDF) practically ignore an independent Scotland’s alternatives to a currency union, and instead focus on comparing a currency union with the status quo (see for instance the graphs on page 34 in the Treasury’s paper).

The Chancellor also looked rather uncomfortable when the BBC asked him how much rUK businesses would pay extra because of his refusal to contemplate a currency union:

It seems George Osborne was thinking that if he ruled out a currency union, voters would naturally vote No to independence. I’m not sure it has occurred to him that we might vote Yes in spite of his speech (or even because of it).

As I pointed out yesterday, a currency union is likely to benefit the rUK more than Scotland, so it’s still very likely Westminster will climb down after a Yes vote and agree to a currency union after all.

However, even without a currency union, it’s by far most likely that an independent Scotland will be using the pound. We might either simply use the rUK pound without an agreement, or we might issue Scottish pounds that are linked in a so-called currency board to the rUK pound. I believe the latter option is much more likely (see yesterday’s blog post for more details), and the average voter really won’t care so long as the pound in their pocket is worth the same as before.

In fact, most Scots will probably prefer having a Scottish pound linked to the rUK pound, because it means we’ll have Scottish banknotes and coins, and we’re used to this type of arrangement already. In reality, it would just mean that Scottish notes would be issued by the National Bank of Scotland rather than three commercial banks, which surely wouldn’t be a bad thing.

By ignoring these options 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.

To share or not to share a currency

woc813 Great British enamelled coin cufflinks
woc813 Great British enamelled coin cufflinks, a photo by wowcoin on Flickr.
Everybody is expecting the Unionist parties to state tomorrow that they will never accept a currency union with an independent Scotland.

They’re shooting themselves in the foot if they do, because there’s good reason to believe that a formal currency union will benefit the rUK more than Scotland because it’s good for currencies to be anchored in natural resources (such as oil) and exports (such as whisky) rather than being dependent mainly on volatile financial services.

However, if they really want to cut off their nose to spite their face, there’s nothing an independent Scotland can do to save them from themselves, and it’s probably prudent to come up with a plan B.

Economists seem to talk mainly about three options: (1) A formal currency union (pound or euro); (2) using another currency without a currency union; and (3) creating a separate currency.

Nobody wants to introduce the euro just now (and even if we wanted to, one of the necessary preconditions is to have a separate currency that can be linked loosely to the euro), and if Westminster vetoes a sterling currency union, that means (1) is out of the picture.

Using the pound informally would be possible, but it’s an option that is normally used by rather small countries, and I can’t see it being a sensible long-term option for Scotland (although it might be a good idea for a transitional period), so that rules out (2), too.

Creating a separate Scottish currency sounds scary to many voters, but it actually isn’t. What’s important to understand here is that currencies can be either free-floating or linked to another currency, and those two options are as different as night and day.

A free-floating Scottish currency would indeed be a bit scary, especially at first until Scotland has had time to build up a relationship with the financial markets.

On the other hand, a Scottish currency linked to the pound sterling isn’t scary at all. In fact, that’s exactly what’s already happening at the moment when the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank issue their own banknotes. They basically have to store one pound from the Bank of England every time they issue one pound, and that’s exactly how a currency board (which is the technical name for a linked currency) would work.

To put it simply, the National Bank of Scotland will put one pound sterling into its vaults (or more likely, into an electronic account) for each Scottish pound it issues. In that way, a Scottish pound is exactly as safe as an rUK pound because the National Bank of Scotland has the means to replace the one with the other if needed.

A currency board would bring many advantages. The person on the street would think of the Scottish pound as a normal pound, just looking different (exactly like today, except that it’d involve coins as well as notes). However, if the rUK economy collapsed at some point, or if the euro suddenly started to look attractive again, it would be easy to break the link and do something else, either floating the currency freely or replacing it with a link to the euro.

Most people will not really care whether we’re in a formal currency union or using a Scottish pound linked 1-to-1 to the rUK pound, so if Westminster tomorrow rules out a currency union, it’s obvious what the Yes campaign’s plan B will be.

The postponement of the 2015 General Election

The Liberal Democrats: 'We've Done Some Redecorating...'
The Liberal Democrats: ‘We’ve Done Some Redecorating…’, a photo by Byzantine_K on Flickr.
Of course the thoughts of anybody from the Glasgow area are with the victims of the Clutha helicopter crash today.

However, there’s another story in the news today that needs commenting on, namely Angus Robertson’s call for a delay to the 2015 General Election:

That is actually an issue for the UK Government to consider. I think there is a very good case for putting the UK general election back by a year.

The reason why I say that is because of course a Yes result in Scotland will lead to a very, very intense period of negotiation between the UK Government and the Scottish Government — transitioning Scotland from a position within the UK into the EU, Nato, the United Nations and agreeing a whole series of other important measures.

I think it is going to be very important for decision makers at Westminster to wake up to the consequences of the Yes vote and why it will be in their interests to have a grown-up relationship with the government and the 
people of Scotland.

And perhaps being diverted by a general election in the middle of that process is certainly something one should be thinking about.

Predictably, the Unionists are trying to portray this as an evil Nationalist ploy:

Margaret Curran, Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary, said: “The SNP want another year of the Tories. Another year of the bedroom tax, austerity and David Cameron and if they win they’d rather negotiate with David Cameron than Ed Miliband. […]”

A UK Government spokesman said: “Parliament has legislated for fixed-term parliaments and the next general election will be in May 2015. The Scottish Government knew this when they chose the referendum date.”

It’s important to reiterate that this isn’t a Scottish problem. Angus Robertson is just pointing out what the rUK politicians should already be thinking about for their own sake.

Does any rUK politician really want to conduct a general election campaign six months after a Scottish Yes vote (which would have to take place in Scotland, too)? Will Labour want to write a manifesto while the Scottish politicians are still an integral part of their party structure? Would they not all prefer to get the Scottish independence issue dealt with first, and only then elect a new rUK parliament without any interference from Scottish politicians?

To be honest, it might be in Scotland’s interest for the 2015 election to go ahead, simply because the Scottish negotiation team will find it much easier to run circles round the newly elected rUK government than to deal with one negotiation partner throughout.

However, it’s definitely not in the rUK’s interest, and I think Angus Robertson should be praised for pointing this out to them, not abused as if he was trying to score party-political points.

Why there’s no Plan B in the White Paper

One of the recurrent criticisms of the Scottish Government’s White Paper that was released yesterday is that it doesn’t specify a Plan B, for instance in case the rUK vetoes a currency union. Many people are asking why the document couldn’t just state that if they fail to achieve a currency union, an independent Scotland will create its own currency, linked 1-to-1 to the rUK pound, for instance.

The reason they haven’t — and can’t — do this is because it would give away their negotiating position prior to the post-referendum independence negotiations with London.

The Plan B Triangle
The Plan B Triangle, a photo by viralbus on Flickr.
If the Scottish Government said that their first priority was a currency union with the Bank of England as the lender of last resort, their second one a currency union with a Scottish lender of last resort, and their third one a separate Scottish currency, Westminster could simply pick the answer they liked the best and veto the ones above it. In other words, Scotland cannot achieve the best possible deal if we give away our negotiation strategy.

Pre-negotiating some of the thornier questions would be an excellent solution to this, but this has been ruled out point blank by Westminster.

The three principles of getting the best deal, providing maximum clarity and refusing pre-negotiation are in direct conflict. We can display this in a triangle (see above). Only two principles of this triangle can be met, but not all three:

  1. If we want to get the best deal for Scotland and provide maximum clarity to the voters, we’ll have to pre-negotiate important questions such as which currency to use.
  2. If we want to provide maximum clarity and accept the veto on pre-negotiations, we’ll have to give away out negotiation strategy and accept the risk that we might not get the best deal for Scotland.
  3. If we want to get the best deal for Scotland and accept London’s veto on pre-negotiations, we have to be cagey about our negotiation strategy, thereby sacrificing a certain amount of clarity.

Given this trilemma, it’s understandable the Scottish Government has chosen the third option. They can’t force London to pre-negotiate anything, even if it would clearly be best for the voters, and of course they can’t accept not getting the best deal for Scotland.

Unfortunately, many undecided voters haven’t understood this, and they keep asking for more information. We need to explain to them that the Scottish Government has provided as much detail as they possible can without harming Scotland’s interests.

The UK as a cartogram

A cartogram of the UK.
A cartogram of the UK. From Views of the World.
When you look at a standard map of the UK, Scotland takes up a lot of space. The BBC’s weather maps reduce Scotland and enlarge southern England, but Scotland still looks like a significant part of the UK.

I sometimes wonder whether the physical size of Scotland is making Scots blind to the fact that Scotland’s influence in the UK is based on population, not on landmass: Scotland has only 59 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons.

To avoid this pitfall I often find it instructive to look instead at a cartogram, such as the one on the right. The size of the blue squares depend on the population living there, so London is a huge circle full of big squares. Sparsely inhabited areas are so small that they look like white lines instead. For instance, the white border around London means very few people are living in this “border area”.

From a Scottish perspective, we can see that Scotland is separated from England by a lot of white lines. In other words the Borders are almost empty, and this creates a very real border between the two countries. (We see a similar situation in Wales, and to some extent in Cornwall.)

More importantly, Scotland is clearly much smaller than London on this cartogram. This explains why the UK is increasingly being run by and for London, while Scotland struggles to get its voice heard.

Three hundred years ago, when the Union was formed, a cartogram would have shown a much more balanced map. Unfortunately, people (and money) have gradually gravitated towards the capital.

We need to rebalance the map, and the best way to achieve that is to vote for independence next year.