Monthly Archives: June 2016

What happens next?

Posted by Euan Bennet on 24/06/2016

This morning the First Minister of Scotland made a statementclick here for the video.

At about 5am this morning I posted an attempt at dark satire on Facebook:

I’m given to understand that UK political discourse now fashionably features extreme, even provocative, language. So let’s try and join the bandwagon:

The UK Government can take my EU citizenship from my cold dead hands.

That’s how we express things now isn’t it? In Europe’s North Korea, living in the prequel to Children of Men.

I actually checked with Greg, who I watched the full results with, before posting it in case it was too extreme, but it does kind of sum up how I feel about the result and what I want to happen next. I am extremely encouraged by the First Minister’s response to the result, and with the Scottish Green Party launching a petition to #letscotlandstay in the EU, we know that a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament will support exploring every option to make sure people in Scotland retain our rights and protections as EU Citizens.

I’ll just leave some links here for those motivated to join a pro-EU rights party in Scotland, in alphabetical order.

Scottish Green Party

Scottish National Party

Scottish Socialist Party

At the time of writing I am not aware of the positions of the other political parties in Scotland. I have seen members of the Conservative Party saying that we should accept the result and go along quietly with what follows (of course they would say that). I assume UKIP are saying the same.

I don’t know if the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats have expressed a view regarding Scotland’s future status. For both of those parties their next move on this could either save them from political extinction or hasten it – and I am not optimistic about them saving themselves.

 

 

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People of Scotland, it’s time to choose: one Union or the other?

Posted by Euan Bennet on 24/06/2016

Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU? The people have spoken, and the answer was

Remain in the European Union: 16,141,241 (48.1%)

Leave the European Union: 17,410,742 (51.9%)

 

result_map

The results by council region

This striking results map shows at a glance that the UK is now more than ever a Union in name only.

Scotland only

Remain a member of the European Union: 1,661,191 (62.0%)

Leave the European Union: 1,018,322 (38.0%)

Every single council area in Scotland voted Remain, some overwhelmingly (67% in Glasgow and 74% in Edinburgh), and some were a wee bit closer (Remain win by 119 votes in Moray). Watching the map of Scotland turn uniformly yellow as the night went on was very pleasing. The country is united, as the saying goes.

The Disunited Kingdom

The absolute opposite applies to the “United” Kingdom.

England only

Remain a member of the European Union: 13,266,996 (46.6%)

Leave the European Union: 15,188,406 (53.4%)

The only Region of England to vote Remain overall was London (59.9% Remain). Check out how the other English Regions voted.

Wales only

Remain a member of the European Union: 772,347 (47.5%)

Leave the European Union: 854,572 (52.5%)

Wales man, what on Earth happened there? Even with UKIP’s vote shares there in 2014 and 2016, I still expected Remain to narrowly win. Show’s what I know!

Northern Ireland only

Remain a member of the European Union: 440,437 (55.8%)

Leave the European Union: 349,442 (44.2%)

The vote in Northern Ireland seems to have split along Unionist (Leave)/Republican (Remain) lines. I’m not really in a position to comment in detail on the unique situation in Northern Ireland. Suffice it to say they, London and Scotland tried our best – but collectively we were still outnumbered by the rest of England and Wales.

So it’s an overall Leave then

Facebook is full of people expressing their disbelief at this result. I’m oddly calm today – maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet. More likely it’s because I’ve been anticipating this for nearly two years.  I was one of the raving Yes campaigners during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum who wouldn’t shut up about Better Together’s dishonesty on EU membership.

BTlies.jpg

This image has been doing the rounds all night, and rightly so.

Looking at the direction of travel politically of the UK as a whole (driven by England [and Wales, as it turns out]) my view during the IndyRef was that the real danger to EU membership was with a No vote. The trouble is, at the time there were no guarantees either way. For me as I’ve discussed before, the primary driver for a Yes vote was the better democracy that would have resulted from it, with everything else following.

I complete understand people who voted No based on the premise of wanting to keep EU membership. Whether they agreed with me or not, voters all made their decision based on the available information, and why would they listen to vile separatist bloggers like me over the UK Government and official No campaign assurances that the “only way to guarantee EU membership is to vote No”?

A material change in circumstances

In 2014 voters made their decision based on the information available at the time. Last night the available information dramatically changed. Voters in Scotland can now choose: either stay in the UK, or stay in the EU. Both are no longer an option.

I truly hope that every No voter who based part of their decision on the EU membership is willing to re-evaluate their decision. Those voters for whom this changes their mind about Scotland within the UK will be welcomed with open arms into the independence movement. Nobody benefits from saying “I told you so”. We voted in 2014, promises were made if we voted No (not just on the EU membership), and every single one of those promises have been broken. Those of us on the Yes side in 2014 will only persuade a majority of people to support our view that Scotland should be an independent country by positive encouragement and welcoming all to the cause.

Last night’s result was the starkest reminder ever that Scotland’s voice does not count as part of the United Kingdom “Union of Equals”. As a consequence our country faces being dragged out of a true Union of Equals against our democratic will. In 2014 I argued that one of the main constitutional reasons Scotland should be independent was that 60% of the time over the last 50 years we’ve had governments imposed on us that we soundly rejected at the ballot box. Functionally this time is no different: but it is more serious, and far harder to refute the fundamental differences in outlook after a binary choice vote as opposed to a multi-party election.

In addition to the constitutional angle there is the political angle. Politically the direction of travel of Scotland could hardly be more diametrically opposed to that of England (outwith London). The Leave vote won the referendum yesterday where the main focus of the campaign was on reducing immigration. Scotland needs MORE immigration, for goodness’ sake! Our problem for the last 3 centuries has been too much EM-igration! Not only that, Scotland now has a Scottish Government and a vast majority of Westminster MPs who were elected on an anti-austerity platform. David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister but do any of the candidates for the Tory leadership (and unless an unlikely General Election is called and an even more unlikely Labour victory occurs, our next Prime Minister) seem likely to give us less austerity given that the pound just crashed through the floor?

At what point is enough, enough?

During the 2014 independence referendum I debated with people who wanted to vote No to stay in the UK and help reform it for everyone. My view was that the UK had already proven itself unreformable and that it was futile to tie ourselves to the direction of travel that England (mainly) was choosing, when with less than 10% of total votes we had hardly a hope of affecting anything.

If ever there was clear evidence of Scotland trying to influence a progressive choice for the UK as a whole, and failing, then it was yesterday. Yesterday was a major turning point: the cliche in Scotland to explain Labour’s electoral annihilation is “I didn’t leave Labour, Labour left me”. After yesterday it would be fair to say “Scotland isn’t leaving the UK, England & Wales are leaving us”.

In 2014, Scotland was asked to vote No and be part of something bigger than ourselves. 55% of voters did.

In 2016, 62% of voters in Scotland voted to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We now face a clear choice: Which Union do we want to stay in?

What price are we willing to pay to stay in the UK?

Referendum differences and one similarity

Posted by Euan Bennet on 23/06/2016

I’ve left it a bit late to restart the blog for this vote, and perhaps that’s an indication of how engaging the referendum campaign has been. I’ve been appalled at the two official campaigns, and it’s only been relative fringe voices on either side that have presented anything in a tone worth paying attention to. I already had a pretty good idea of how I’d vote, but very little has been said or done by the campaigns to either make me reconsider or harden my resolve.

Several of the usual media suspects have lately attempted to equate this referendum with the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, and in particular the Yes campaign with the 2016 Leave campaign. I haven’t seen any evidence for their assertions, so it’s probably just a sneaky way of flogging the dead “Scottish Nationalists are racist: there’s no evidence for that, but it’s a fact” horse that the media loved to trip out regularly during our referendum. The tone and content of the Yes and Leave campaigns could not be more different. The prospectus for independence was a 650-page Scottish Government textbook. The prospectus for leaving the EU is a lie on the side of a bus, Boris Johnson promising to apologise on live TV if it causes a recession, and Lord Farage joining the UK Government. Casual observers might notice a difference in rigour.

The tone and content of the official No and Remain campaigns have been startlingly familiar however. Project Fear 2.0 has been rolled out promising all the same apocalypses that were supposedly going to befall Scotland. Though mercifully we were spared the “attack from space” scare story this time. Once again I was bemused by those in power essentially telling voters “vote for us or we will punish you in these varied and extensive ways”. Not exactly a good tactic for winning people over to their cause.

However, the point of this blog was to try to avoid the emotional aspects which undoubtedly play a part in any big decision. Let’s look at some evidence.

The difference between Scotland in the UK and the UK in the EU

The question of “how can you support one Union but not another?” has come up a few times. My answer is that the UK Union and the European Union are fundamentally different creatures, down to their DNA.

Scotland in the UK is in a position of having power devolved from the centre of a Union state that behaves as if it is a Unitary state. Power devolved is power retained: Westminster is the final arbiter of the powers of the Scottish Parliament. We can see this in the paltry offering of further devolution that has materialised since 2014 – a settlement that failed to meet low expectations, especially when compared to the desperate campaign promises made by the political leaders of the No campaign. Every single amendment proposed by MPs representing constituencies in Scotland was voted down and rejected by the UK Parliament.

Financially, the UK Treasury gathers almost all of the taxes collected in Scotland (about 88% before the referendum, now it’s about 85% off the top of my head). The Scottish Parliament has limited tax-raising powers, and still none of the important macro-economic levers such as corporation tax, duty, and social security. Westminster decides how much money is spent in Scotland based on a formula that translates how much spending has been done in England. No reference to what might be needed in Scotland. No agility to respond to changes in circumstances quickly. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for about £30 billion in spending, with Westminster spending the rest (another £50-60 billion) on our behalf.

The UK in the EU is a member state of an umbrella organisation that can legislate on matters that member states agree should be legislated on at a European level. Member states have “vetoes” over policy areas and indeed the UK has used vetoes in the past on issues such as immigration. Power is shared between the member states but ultimately still lies with the member states themselves.

Financially, the UK and other member states pay a “subscription fee” to the EU. This fee has been a big focus of the referendum campaigns. Putting it in context it amounts to between 0.5% and 1% of UK Government spending per year. Considering the fiscal multiplier attached to it, it seems to be a sound investment. The UK has in the past negotiated a “rebate” meaning effectively the other member states pay part of their fee. Some of the membership fee goes into funding the EU itself as an organisation, but a lot of it comes back in the form of funding and grants for a variety of projects. It’s actually an incredibly effective mechanism for redistributing wealth from Westminster to outlying parts of the UK.

One of these things is not like the other

Hopefully it’s obvious just how fundamentally different the UK and EU Unions are. There is a world of a difference between the relationships with power, and money, of each Union. There is also the fact that the EU was founded to preserve peace through diplomacy and shared economic development, while the UK emerged from feudalism straight into bloody imperialism. I would propose that there is evidence of both outlooks continuing to this day – though only one of those is a good thing.

The similarity (singular) between the 2014 and 2016 referendums

The only common link that I can see between the two referendums is the unacknowledged heart and core issue of the EU referendum, which was also the core issue of the Independence referendum (though it was only acknowledged and talked about by the Yes campaign): the issue of power, who holds it, and how it (and they) relate to the voters.

My number one reason for campaigning for Yes to independence was essentially as a super efficient mechanism of electoral reform. At a sweep we would have transferred power over the many important Reserved policy areas (energy, macro-economic  powers, welfare, foreign affairs, defence…) from the medieval sham democracy of Westminster to the proportionately-elected modern European parliament of Holyrood.

This time round the proposition from the Leave campaign is “Take Back Control”. Superficially the slogan bears a resemblance to some themes of the Yes campaign – but that doesn’t excuse so -called journalists from conflating the two. If we ask “ah, but Take Back Control for whom?” then the answer gets to the heart of the matter.

Presently the (imperfect) European Union functions a voluntary Union between member states, with an executive that can pass laws on issues that member states have agreed should be shared across the Union. The power to pass these laws ultimately rests with the European Parliament, consisting of 751 MEPs elected by proportional representation by voters in all member states. The power to propose laws (N.B. not pass) is partly with the European Commission, made up of one individual per member state. These individuals are nominated by their (democratically-elected) member state Governments, and their appointments have to be approved by the (democratically-elected) European Parliament.

So a democratic Parliament has the power to pass laws affecting all member states, but only on matters that member states agree should be legislated on at a European level.

By voting Leave and “Taking Back Control”, the powers that are currently shared with the other Member States will return to Westminster. The power will entirely rest in the hands of the least democratic Parliament in Western Europe, and far from having “unelected EU officials” passing laws (a popular outright lie from the Leave campaign) power will be passed to the House of Lords – a bona fide unelected chamber (the only one in any Western democracy) of 825 illegitimate lawmakers. Who would I trust more to make the decisions that are currently shared and rigorously debated by 28 Member States? That’s a simple answer for someone who believes in voters having the power to influence lawmakers.

Final point – international trade

We’ve heard a lot about how much trade the UK has with the EU compared with the rest of the World. Various figures have been bandied around, with no indication if they are remotely comparable – I suspect several apples and oranges situations have been used. However, the Leave campaign always talks about how we can trade more with the RoW than with the EU. That might be true, but today I realised I had a very strong gut feeling that what they mean by that is “we can sell more weapons to the rest of the World”. I don’t have any particular evidence so it’s just speculation, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if the growth in trade the Leavers are aiming for would be driven by arms deals.