Tag Archives: Scottish independence

A better nation…?

Scotland's FutureWhen I published Leaning Towards No, I expected reaction from Yes voters who’d been hoping I would come down on their side of the fence.

I wasn’t expecting the reaction to be so supportive of the SNP. From the reactions, [hardly anyone]* who plans to vote Yes intends to challenge the SNP’s plans to install devomax “currency union” in place of our present devolved system, and while some actively support the plan, many simply don’t see changing the SNP’s policy as possible.

*Not quite “no one”, as I initially wrote.

It therefore seems likely that – much to my annoyance and disappointment – I really don’t have any choice but to vote No. I don’t support devomax. I never did. I won’t vote Yes to have devomax replace status-quo devolution, and that’s what the Scottish Government’s White Paper says is going to happen.

Let me go through the various objections I’ve received to this, beginning with the silliest. (None of these are direct quotes from anyone, so if you recognise yourself in them, it’s purely coincidental.)
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Goodbye NHS

David Cameron - NHSThe Tory/LibDem policy of destroying the NHS has been sweeping along since 2010, to the financial benefit of Tory donors.

This is really just one more step, but it’s a big one.

The prolife Conservative party instituted charges for maternal health care for “immigrants and tourists” in 2011. With the obvious results:

The researchers heard the case of a woman who needed a caesarean for medical reasons, but who gave birth at home because she could not afford the charges. The midwives and overseas visitors officers told the charity that some women were not going to their antenatal appointments and were instead turning up in labour with severe complications.
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Undecided Leith

Undecided About ReferendumAt the beginning of October someone tweeted me a link to Yes Edinburgh North & Leith‘s first public meeting, on 3rd October in the Halls on Henderson Street.

Unlike most Yes events, this one was billed explicitly, both in the header and in the text, as for undecided voters – so, unlike with most events organised by Yes Scotland, I felt free to go along. When I got there, about five minutes before the start, I found some Yes activists who’d come anyway were leaving, and people identifying themselves as undecided were being let in on a one-for-one basis (the hall was packed). I got a seat at the front that had been vacated by a Yes voter and was sitting next to two Yes voters who weren’t budging and who didn’t know Leith votes Labour.

Undecided voters in the audience will have the opportunity to ask a top panel – including Nicola Sturgeon and leading human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar – why they should vote Yes on September 18th next year.

Yes LeithThere were four speakers: Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP, Aamer Anwar for Labour – the only speaker who wasn’t a politician, Margo MacDonald – the woman the SNP tried to get rid of in 2003, still being elected as an Independent MSP for the Lothians – and Chas Booth, the Scottish Green councillor for Leith.

I didn’t know how I was going to vote on the 18th of September when I got there, and when I left I still didn’t know, and six weeks later I still don’t know – but I’d been convinced all over again by the event that I’ll have to make up my mind on my own – because nothing the Yes Scotland campaign or the Better Together campaign say is likely to be helpful.

Lesley Riddoch, though herself a solid Yes voter, puts it bluntly:

the thinking Scot does not want to hear “Just say yes” or “Independence is the normal condition for a country” (tell that to the happily and highly devolved Lander of Germany or the federal states of Canada) or “Independence gives us the chance to decide Scotland’s future” (it does, but devolution’s already given us a stack of choices we haven’t had the courage to use) or “Decisions made in Scotland are better than those made in Westminster” (the trams debacle and Holyrood Parliament scandal spring all too quickly to mind).

It’s not that these bald assertions are untrue. They just aren’t enough. Repeating formulaic arguments won’t cut it in this debate. “Heart” supporters of independence are already signed up. The gullible are least likely to vote. The majority of Scots want grown-up, credible reasons to up-end the constitutional arrangements of several lifetimes.

This, none of the speakers provided, though Chas Booth came closest: unsurprisingly, since the Scottish Greens have spent years of party time thinking about how Scotland could do better. And will continue to do so, I have no doubt, whichever way the referendum next September goes.

You can see for yourself what they all said: Yes Leith had organised a video record.

Chas Booth presented independence as the chance to create a better nation in Scotland. He mentioned a Leither who’d come to him for help, and presented a solid case that she was in less trouble than she might have been had she lived in England, because of Scottish legislation that was keeping the more vulnerable better protected.

And then he said: “Decisions that affect Scotland should be made in Scotland.”

Well yes: but why? Decisions that affect Scotland are also made in Westminster, in Brussels, in Strasbourg, in Geneva, in New York, in Vienna. Independence will not get rid of any of those other external-to-Scotland decisionmakers, nor, I assume, would Chas Booth wish it to – except, presumably, OPEC in Vienna.

Margo MacDonald presented the purely nationalist case for independence: fair enough, until the SNP were foolish enough to think they could drop her from the ballot in 2003 and replace her with someone more in the party mould (stale, pale, male….) she was a member of the Scottish National Party.

I will admit that Margo MacDonald put my back up almost immediately by arguing that she didn’t see why people who planned to vote “no” wanted to call themselves Scots. I have called myself Scottish, British, and European for decades: whichever way I vote in 2014 won’t change that.

By the nationalist argument, I mean the argument for voting yes that rests on the idea that things will magically become better because we are Scottish. We have as much capacity to screw things up as any other nation: I don’t believe in arguments that rest on the idea that Scots are kinder or more just or more socially conscious than the English. Nor do I believe that Scots will necessarily keep voting for left-wing governments, just because we mostly have so far.

Aamer Anwar presented the negative case for independence. Perhaps that’s too a negative a way of putting it. Kenny Farquarson calls it the “I’m not a Nat, but – “ I find it strongly compelling, but it is a negative argument, and one based strongly on the current political situation.

David Cameron’s Tory/LibDem coalition are doing a terrible job running the country. The great institutions – the Royal Mail, the BBC, the NHS, the welfare state itself – that might have been a fine argument for a “No” vote, are being destroyed; broken up and sold off. If the Conservatives win in 2015, or even scrape in with the LibDems to support them, the only way Scotland will keep a national mail service or retain our NHS or keep welfare intact is to go independent. That is an honestly compelling argument, but it’s an argument that depends on David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, and the rest of the sorry crew to make it for Yes Scotland.

Even if Labour wins in 2015, it’s fair to say that Ed Miliband and Rachel Reeves and Ed Balls have none of them convinced me that they intend to try to undo what the Tories and LibDems have done. The argument that we need to take the drastic step of independence merely to ensure we’re rid of the Tories lessens in force the better chance there seems to be of Labour getting in – but it doesn’t go away, because Ed Miliband and the rest of his crew aren’t standing up and committing themselves to ensure the Royal Mail is re-nationalised, the NHS is re-founded, the welfare state is re-formed: still less to undoing the damage done by Tony Blair’s New Labour government.

So, that’s an argument. But, it’s not a good argument. It doesn’t present voting Yes as a positive choice, merely as a desperate manoeuvre to destroy the bridge in order to stymie the pursuing wolves. The wolves are still there, still hungry, still rabid: all we’ve done is cut ourselves off from them while leaving them loose just across the Border, with allies north of the Border.

Are we justified in doing that? If the Conservatives – or the Tories/LibDems – look likely to get into government again in 2015, yes we are: that would be self-preservation. But it doesn’t look likely that they will: so far Labour is well ahead in the polls.

And then Nicola Sturgeon spoke.

Nicola Sturgeon is a good speaker and an admirable politician. She spoke about putting the levers of government into our hands. And primarily because of that, I thought I’d wait til the White Paper came out today to post about the Yes Leith event, because I didn’t want to be told “oh, wait for the SNP to publish Scotland’s Future!” Well, they have, and it confirms what Sturgeon told me in response to my question about these “levers of government”.

The plan from the White Paper, which is much as Nicola Sturgeon described it briefly on that night in October, is that if Scotland votes a definite Yes* in 2014, then on Thursday 26th March 2016 Scotland becomes independent and six weeks later on Thursday 5th May 2016 the first election for a Scottish Parliament will be held, elected under the current system of Regional party lists and constituency first-past-the-post, and this new Parliament will be responsible from Friday 6th May onwards for creating a Constitutional Convention to determine how newly-independent Scotland will be governed.

The next General Election in Scotland after 2016 would be in 2020 if, by that time, the 129 MSPs have decided Scotland will continue to follow the four-yearly general elections laid out in “Scotland’s Parliament: Scotland’s Right”.

The development of a constitutional government for devolved Scotland took seven years to work out, from the initial decision in 1988 to the publication in 1995: and it was not implemented until 1999. If we assume that the Constitutional Convention envisaged by the SNP as being set up some time in 2016 proceeds at about the same pace, probably there will be a Scottish Constitution published for us to think about by 2023 – a year before the second general election of the independent Scotland.

I have said for over a year now, and at this point it’s far too late: the time to think about presenting a Constitution to Scottish voters would have been before the referendum. I think Yes will lose: it will be interesting to see if one of the follow-on effects of a lost Yes vote will be a renewal of interest in developing a Constitution. This would be easier to do across party lines and with real effort to be inclusive, if it were not happening under pressure to get it done in time for a referendum or a general election. (I suspect, supposing Yes were to win, that the Constitutional Convention would be instructed to hurry up and get it done in time for campaigning, well before 2020.)

The Constitution for an independent Scotland would be far more important than any stagey TV “debate” between David Cameron and Alex Salmond. (Which will never happen, because Cameron and his advisers know perfectly well it would win them no votes in Scotland, no matter how well Cameron presented himself and his arguments for voting No.)

North Pole lake

There is the red herring of whether Scotland would be in the EU, the important but not particularly debatable question of what currency Scotland would have, human rights questions – we are not magically less racist or less homophobic or less sexist than other nations – questions about Scotland’s oil and our territorial waters and global warming.

But what was my question to Nicola Sturgeon?

I asked what would change about Scotland’s governance if we voted Yes.

Nicola Sturgeon had said the SNP wanted to “put the levers of government into our hands”. That should mean, if it means anything, that the centralisation of powers to the Parliament in Holyrood would be reversed: a campaign for real local government, for an increase in the number of local authorities, for an end to the practice of instructing local government what their policies will be and forbidding them from raising their own funds from local taxation: an end to siding with billionaires over locals.

We will lose 59 Scottish MPs. The 129 MSPs will find their workload double or triple, as they must do what Westminster MPs do, what they now do, and also are responsible for setting up the Constitutional Convention. Either their funding for personal staff increases, or don’t expect a good response time if you’ve got a problem you want your MSP to help with.

Nothing below that level will change. We will continue a system of local government that is quite literally the least democratic in Europe, until or unless the Scottish Constitutional Convention, appointed by MSPs, proposes a change.

Simon Brookes notes the state of Scottish local democracy today compared to the smaller countries that the SNP are so fond of citing:

Iceland is an extreme case, of course; a nation of proud and independent people with an ancient history of democratic organisation, and strong civil society. But Denmark, with a population roughly equal to Scotland’s, has three times as many local authorities. Norway, with three quarters our population, has 400 more local authorities than Scotland has.

Put it differently: Dumfries and Galloway has three times the population of the average Danish local authority; four times of the average Swedish or Dutch; twelve times the average for Norway; thirty six times the average for Iceland. I said Iceland was an extreme case, didn’t I? Get this. Dumfries and Galloway has eighty four times the population of the average – the average – French commune.

To say this system will continue until further notice is not “putting the levers of government into our hands”: it is ensuring the levers of government stay centralised and far away from us, our only access to them much what it is now: except that we lose 59 MPs at Westminster.

What struck me about the evening at Yes Leith was that even though the evening had been billed as for undecided voters (and I do appreciate the Yes voters who went back out into a cold and rainy night to let those of us undecided have a seat – thank you!) there appeared to be no thought by any of the four speakers or by most of the audience that one could listen to Yes speakers evangelising for independence, and still not be convinced, because nothing new has been said and nothing definite offered, to give me a reason to vote Yes beyond the negative reason “The others are worse”. So, I remain undecided.

Yes Scotland are talking to themselves. They don’t want to hear from the undecided. The same is true of Better Together, but the status quo does have an advantage: it’s Yes Scotland that needed to pay attention to the undecided, and hasn’t and doesn’t.

*Note: I would say for a definite Yes they need a 60% turnout and a clear majority from those who voted. The last time Scottish voters had a 60%+ turnout was for the Scottish devolution referendum in 1997. I know that the SNP got the Tories to agree to a simple Yes/No vote and a simple majority of those who voted, but if turnout for the independence referendum is below 50%, I do believe that’s an answer: not enough people care about the issue for constitutional change. Low turnout is itself an answer, just not one that politicians want.

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On being undecided…

yes no dunnoThe White Paper on Independence is due out tomorrow. Because the SNP have no respect for Scotland’s Parliament, it’s to be launched in the Science Centre in Glasgow. After all, launching the Yes Campaign in a dimly lit auditorium worked so well….

Blair Jenkins writes at Yes Scotland:

Large numbers of people have yet to decide how they will vote in next September’s referendum – and for many this is the moment they have been waiting for.

At Yes Scotland, we know from our own detailed research that the more people hear the independence arguments, the more attracted they are to that option.

I wouldn’t expect Blair Jenkins to acknowledge this (I think the “detailed research” he refers is the surveys carried out by Brandwatch for Yes Scotland discussed here) but the most effective campaigners for a Yes vote in 2014 aren’t anyone in the SNP or in Yes Scotland: they’re David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, et al.
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Unemployment is not a sign of bad character

Rachel Reeves became Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 7th October, Iain Duncan Smith’s new opposite number, replacing Liam Byrne. (She was Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 7th October 2011, and she’s been MP for Leeds West since May 2010.) Her first interview as IDS’s Shadow was published in the Observer late on Saturday night – and Twitter exploded. Blogs to read: Paul Bernal’s “Dear Rachel Reeves”; Mike Sivier’s “Sort out the tax dodgers, Labour, then the benefit bill won’t be a problem”; Jayne Linney “Oh Dear Rachel Reeves – You Got it Badly Wrong!!”.

But in the shouting and the tumult, a handful of people seemed genuinely bewildered as to the problem with what Rachel Reeves had said:

Neither Andrew Spooner nor Hossylass seem to have noticed that while Rachel Reeves is enthusiastic about forcing people into “compulsory jobs”, she’s said nothing about what kind of pay those compulsory jobs will get – and she’s made clear that if you are unwilling or unable to be forced, a Labour government will just let you starve homeless.

If you have been unemployed for a year or two, you are desperate. Read Jack Monroe’s speech to the Conservative party conference. You don’t need a kick in the face, you need a job. And there aren’t enough jobs going.

Well, say the comfortable people who’ve never been there, isn’t that what Rachel Reeves is offering?

Rachel Reeves MPImagine this scenario, then. A woman of 23, with a child to support, loses her job. She can’t find work. After a year, she’s summoned to the Job Centre and told that from now on, she’ll be stacking shelves in Tescos, on whatever pay the DWP choose to give her. If the pay isn’t enough to cover childcare? If the job is too far away and there’s no public transport? If she’s applied to Tesco a dozen times for a paid job and been told there were no vacancies because they can get all the compulsory labour they want from the Job Centre, no cost to themselves? If she wanted to find part-time or flexible work so that she could spend time caring for her child? Tough, says Rachel Reeves: take the compulsory job or we’re done with you, you can die on the street for all we care.
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BBC Question Time: why you should complain

Tonight at 10:35 the BBC will broadcast a very special edition of Question Time, from Edinburgh’s Cornmarket.

It’s special on two counts, one overshadowed by the other. Firstly, because the audience will all be 16 and 17 years old – the age range who will be able to vote for the first time on 18th September 2014. (Properly speaking it should have been an audience of kids with birthdays between September 1998 and September 1996, since anyone 17 today would have been able to vote in September 2014 anyway.) But, this means an audience of interested politically aware youngsters will be able to put questions to politicians directly concerned with the independence debate.

Except no.
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One question, two question, three question, four

Today, David Cameron and Alex Salmond meet to decide the terms of the independence referendum. Naturally, they wouldn’t be meeting to “decide” if all the actual decisions hadn’t been worked out already by Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon and others, with their civil servants. Alex Salmond and David Cameron

The BBC’s “news” report on the meeting that will take place is a fair sample of the “it is expected” style of thing:

It is expected to allow for a vote in autumn 2014 with a single Yes/No question on Scotland leaving the UK.
The deal will also see 16- and 17-year-olds included in the ballot.
The UK government is expected to grant limited powers for the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal referendum, under a mechanism called Section 30.
The Electoral Commission will play a key role advising on the wording of the question and other issues such as campaign finance.
A possible second question on greater powers has been dropped, while the Scottish government looks to have secured its preferred date.

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The March for Independence

The speculation about numbers for tomorrow’s march is quite amusing, because both sides seem to be refusing to give a number.

Jeff Duncan told the Evening News:

“This is the first of three marches. We’ll be holding another one on almost exactly the same day next year and we’re hoping to quadruple the numbers we get tomorrow. Then in September 2014 we’ll be holding what we expect to be the largest march.”

He added: “We know there are going to be thousands coming along based on the number of seats we have sold on the coaches, but there are also those organising their own transport. Plus we imagine plenty of people already living in Edinburgh will attend, so we can’t really put a definite number how many will actually be marching. Only Saturday will reveal that.”

This is the March for Scottish Independence. (Jokes about Frodo and Bilbo Baggins – tomorrow is Hobbit Day – regretfully omitted.)

This is the first march of its kind: there is really no clue how many people will think they should or feel they can. It takes a certain degree of enthusiasm, even for a cause you support, to go on a march: the usual rule-of-thumb reckoning is that for every one person who goes on the march, there’s probably 10 at home who support. This is why the two million people who marched against the Iraq war all across the UK (over a hundred thousand in Glasgow) were such a warning that Labour should have heeded in February 2003.

The organisers will have been asked by the police to give some idea of how many will show up, but they’re not obliged to disclose that estimate to anyone else. “Yes in 2014″ gets about 30%-40% in opinion polls, but no one knows how many that will represent in actual willing-to-show-up-on-Saturday-morning-and-march numbers (gay marriage gets about 65%, but rallies in support of marriage get about 200 people).

Partly it depends how beleaguered supporters of a cause feel – how important they feel it is to get out there and tell the world. In so many ways, the Yes Scotland campaign’s habit of talking only to itself is against them there: many Yes Scotland supporters don’t seem to talk much with anyone who doesn’t already agree with them, allowing themselves the impression of wide support, suggesting a march is unnecessary.

The National Collective of artists and creatives for Scottish independence has a

Guide to Marching – a simple selection of 12 basic suggestions that can help make our march a symbol of a modern, progressive and creative movement that wants to imagine a better nation.

Okay.

(There have been several Countryside Alliance marches in London, and as I confirmed, Iain McGill has no idea how many Scots showed up to any of them.)

Obviously, the Yes Scotland campaign hope that they will at least get enough people that the rally in Princes Street gardens at the end won’t look too silly in overhead visuals. Choosing the Meadows for a starting point also suggests a certain confidence in numbers (and funding – you don’t get to use the Meadows for free).
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Yes, we would still be in the EU

There are many sensible arguments to be made for and against Scottish independence.

Red HerringIt is depressing that so much time has been spent on a non-argument: Scottish membership in the European Union.

If Scotland were to become independent, the rUK would still be a EU nation, and Scotland would have to apply for EU membership, UN recognition, and would have to ratify the various international charters, treaties, and laws. None of this would be automatic, but none of this would be difficult to accomplish.

From the conclusions of the Presidency, Copenhagen 21-22 June 1993 – the Copenhagen criteria:

The European Council today agreed that the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European Union. Accession will take place as soon as an associated country is able to assume the obligations of membership by satisfying the economic and political conditions required.
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Our constitution, July 2012: local government

“Constitutional recognition of the role and principles of local government”

Scotland has about 5.2 million people spread across 78,782 square kilometers – and 1,222 elected councillors.

From the Jimmy Reid Foundation:

It is time we fully recognised the state of democracy in Scotland. Below the national level, Scotland is the least democratic country in the European Union; some have argued that it is the least democratic country in the developed world. We elect fewer people to make our decisions than anyone else and fewer people turn out to vote in those elections than anyone else. We have much bigger local councils that anyone else, representing many more people and vastly more land area than anyone else, even other countries with low density of population. In France one in 125 people is an elected community politicians. In Austria, one in 200. In Germany one in 400. In Finland one in 500. In Scotland it is one in 4,270 (even England manages one in 2,860). In Norway one in 81 people stand for election in their community. In Finland one in 140. In Sweden one in 145. In Scotland one in 2,071. In Norway 5.5 people contest each seat. In Sweden 4.4 people. In Finland 3.7 people. In Scotland 2.1. In every single indicator we were able to identify to show the health of local democracy, Scotland performs worst of any comparator we could find. (The Silent Crisis: Failure and Revival in Local Democracy in Scotland)

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