An interesting take on Scottish, UK and international politics that hopefully stimulates a little debate on topics where there is too little debate.

17

Nov

Wee country with a big voice or part of a big country with a wee voice?

 

President Obama is in Australia this week and the talk is of the shift in the axis of world influence to the Pacific. However, the real story should be his comments on the crisis in the Eurozone and how this signals a realignment of influence in Europe. In particular he praised Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy for their effort to resolve the Eurozone crisis. Indeed, this shift was acknowledged by the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf who said in relation to the crisis:

"The time for too little, too late has passed. What is needed, instead, is ‘too much, right now’. Power brings responsibility. Germany alone has the power. It is up to it to exercise the responsibility"

From the appointments of EU technocrats as Prime Ministers of Italy and Greece and the role Germany played in developments in these countries, we can further confirm Germany is in the driving seat of the EU. Angela Merkel made it clear at her party conference this week the direction of travel she wants to take the Europe: “The task of our generation now is to complete the economic and currency union in Europe and, step by step, create a political union”. Little by little, the falacy of UK influence at ‘the top table’ is being eroded, as the Tory-led UK Government further isolate us from the centre of gravity.

The Government in London seem perfectly happy for this state of affairs to continue, the more aloof we remain from Europe, the happier their backbenchers. Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary has accused the Government of ” a tendency to empty chair those meetings that seem to be on the periphery of our interest”. Whilst UK Ministers are in the building but not in the room, Scottish Ministers are battering the doors down to no avail. In her speech to the SNP Conference Elin Jones AM (an impressive candidate for leadership of Plaid Cymru) talked of her experience as Welsh Agriculture Minister and of how she and Richard Lochhead (her Scottish counterpart) would often have to fight with UK civil servants to even sit in the second row at EU meetings. The low regard with which the UK Government holds the EU is only matched by the passion of Scottish Ministers to stand up for Scotland in Europe.

In David Cameron’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet this week, his pandering to the right-wing Daily Mail-esque set was summed up in his blast at the EU: ”It’s the pointless interference, rules and regulations that stifle growth not unleash it.” Rather than reinforce the UK’s committment to the EU and attempt to bring public opinion on side, this serves only to reinforce the negative assumptions the public already have about the EU. In fact, for all it’s faults, the EU does a lot of good. Some examples of community laws currently being scrutinised by the UK Parliament include: a regulation to enfore the UN Firearms Protocol; a directive to create a single portal of business registers across Europe; and a Commission Report on animal testing for cosmetics. Not exactly Eurocrats gone wild? Furthermore, the EU also spends money right here in Scotland to create jobs and support businesses. As Alyn Smith MEP welcomed two days ago, €1.9 million is set to be spent in Scotland business spaces and community hubs, potentially creating 76 jobs. There are many areas of the EU that are not perfect but there are far more advantages to membership that disadvantages.

Reform of the EU is the real myth of UK politics, every politician likes to say ‘the EU must reform’ but very few can, or do, ever acheive this. David Cameron peddled this line in his speech this week, calling the Eurozone crisis “An opportunity, in Britain’s case, for powers to ebb back instead of flow away”. It should be pointed out at this point that the EU only as power over economic matters, specifically trade, competition, agriculture, fisheries etc. In terms of foreign affairs and defence it is only a conduit for cooperation of soveriegn nation states. So what powers does David Cameron want back? On this point politicians are particularly vague, none more so than those in Government. Moreover, how would you get these powers back? David Cameron need look no further than his Deputy Prime Minister who made a rare valid point in his speech to the European Parliament earlier this month:

"[I] feel that it is right to caution against returning to the EU’s founding texts without first seeing if we can meet these objectives through other means. Our priorities are stability and growth – and they are urgent.

To sit around tables for months on end, agonising over this article or that one, becoming engulfed in endless institutional introspection, would be a huge political distraction from the economic task at hand.”

For the first time in a long time “I agree with Nick”. We only have to look at the failed EU Constitution project and the lengthy (and costly) Treaty of Lisbon that was born from the ashes to realise that reform isn’t easy. The problem is there seems to be a growing Eurosceptism across all three main UK parties so the call for reform and repatriation is becoming louder, just as the current crisis makes it even less likely.

Reform, however, is not what is on the lips of Scottish politicians. Instead we have a pointless argument over whether an independent Scotland would even be a member. I say pointless for two reasons: firstly there is no legal precendant for this particular form of enlargment; and secondly there is no logical reason whatever the legal position, for Scotland not to have expedited membership. Nonetheless, let’s leave this argument to the lawyers and begin to debate what sort of member we want to be.

As the mythical power and influence of the UK ebbs away, the case has never been stronger for Scotland to be a wee country with a big voice and not part of a big country with a wee voice.

I welcome all comments and suggestions below. Let’s have a serious conversation about Scotland in Europe, not a distracting discussion on the legalities of membership.

18

Sep

Partnership or Subordination: Scotland’s Two Governments

In 2010 the coalition, at the height of its fluffy and nice ‘we’re all in this together’ mood, extended the hand of friendship to the Scottish Government, hailing a ‘respect agenda’. This has not been the case, and Danny Alexander’s latest threat to Scotland’s budget is just one more example of it. In response to a request by the Scottish Government to delay changes to public sector pensions Mr Alexander wrote the following to the First Minister:

"If you decide not to take forward these changes, the Treasury will need to make corresponding adjustments to your budget. I would have to reduce the Scottish Government’s budget by £8.4million for every month’s delay."

Where is the respect in this? Mr Alexander should heed to words of Alex Salmond:

"My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals There is a difference between partnership and subordination. The first encourages mutual respect. The second breeds resentment."

It is ironic that only today Danny Alexander at the LibDem conference called the Scottish nationalists the “enemies of growth” whilst rejecting a request from them that could potentially increase economic growth. As around 24% of the Scottish working population are employed in the public sector (higher than in England) reducing their disposable income has a knock-on effect on their spending and, hence, economic growth. 

But this is only one instance of the work the Scottish Government is doing to increase economic growth, the policy which above all others has been at the heart of everything the Scottish Government has done since its election in 2007. It is because they are making the right decisions that (according to the Bank of Scotlands PMI report) Scotland has shown growth in every month since the beginning of the year. It is because they are supporting businesses in Scotland that for the quarter May-July 2011 Scotland was the only nation/region in the UK where unemployment fell. In fact, unemployment has fallen this year by 33000 compared to UK unemployment increasing by 44000. Is this the work of the “enemies of growth”?

One of the key drivers of growth in Scotland has been the Scottish Government’s commitment to large infrastructure projects. Indeed this is why one of the early initiatives of the SNP Government was to push the UK Government for increased borrowing powers to fund such projects. This was delivered but at only £2.2 billion rather than the £3 billion that has been devolved to Northern Ireland and the £5 billion requested by the SNP. Limited access has been granted immediately but full borrowing powers will not come till 2015. Yet, on 14th September Nick Clegg announced the UK Government is to accelerate spending for 40 key infrastructure projects including Crossrail, improvements to the M1 and M25, the Switch Island link road in Merseyside. This is what governments do: prioritise their spending and borrowing to get the greatest economic yield. However, this right is denied to the Scottish Government. For them to do their best for Scotland they have to go cap in hand to the UK Government - that can’t be right and it is definitely not sustainable.   

Justification for this state of affairs is the ‘Scotland has two governments argument’. Michael Moore said as such on 30th August:

"Scotland has two governments - distinct, elected and legitimate. 

Both take decisions in the interests of Scotland, in light of their respective powers and their democratic mandate”.

The difference is one gathered 49% of the votes in a Scottish election and a majority of the seats in the country’s national parliament and the other is made of the third and fourth place parties in a UK election, 35% of the vote and only a fifth of the seats in Scotland. If it hadn’t been for the LibDems being in coalition, this gap in legitimacy would be even greater and not for the first time in Scotland’s history. 

There is only one solution that guarantees that the people of Scotland will be in charge of their own destiny. That it’s elected government will always work in its best interests. Independence. 

24

Apr

The State of #ge2010: Backing Change

It feels like there has been an earthquake. The earth has moved and changed the landscape forever, the political classes now survey that change trying to map out the road ahead unsure what the coming weeks will bring. Since the first debate the UK political landscape has changed: three party politics, for this election at least, has landed and Labour and the Conservatives don’t know what to do.

In the first few days the papers knew exactly how to react, their power over the traditional parties was being challenged and they were on the attack. The Daily Mail didn’t disappoint, accusing Nick Clegg of being “Johnny foreigner”, not fit to be Prime Minister. After the second debate they changed tack, in trying to reassert David Cameron’s front runner status, they asserted that he won the second debate, in spite of what the opinion polls said. David Cameron remains in first place but it did not halt the advance of Nick Clegg.

Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown are all over the place. In turn they are attacking Nick Clegg and trying to imitate him. They don’t know what to do. There is now the very real possibility that there will be a hung parliament with no party gaining an overall majority.

I believe that a hung parliament will be exactly the tonic that is needed after 13 years of a Labour government with a majority so big that parliament has been reduced to a law factory, without the need for proper debate over legislation. In a hung parliament parties are forced to work together, to take on board the strongest arguments, where only the best ideas become law. Yes, it won’t be pretty, there will be arguing and bargaining but it will be politicians fighting for their beliefs: that’s what the people expect of them. We don’t expect them not to argue just for them to be arguing over things that matter to the people of this country.

This can be achieved if the voters reject both Labour and the Conservatives. In my opinion for Scotland this means a vote for the SNP, Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Liberal Democrats in England. But the Green Party must have a voice in Parliament, if we are a modern, forward looking European country, the Greens must be represented, their leader Caroline Lucas  deserves to win Brighton Pavillion.

These parties embody the same basic principles: a strong believe in local democracy; in social justice; rejecting armed conflict and nuclear weapons; tackling climate change and in finding radical solutions to society’s greatest ills. I don’t agree with them all of the times, being on the fringes means their policies are not always necessarily achievable but if they are better represented their views can at least be heard and can carry wait in Parliament. 

23

Apr


#Trident and Failed: Well done @SNPOfficial and @Plaid_Cymru - excellent poster, excellent campaign. Sadly, the issue has only moved up the agenda because of Nick Clegg’s performance in the leaders debate. He made an excellent point though, why throw so much money at something that will probably be obsolete by the time its completed? Surely our experience with the disasterous Eurofighter typhoon project has shown such schemes as folly. Neither should we be swayed by the “jobs” argument. Alex Salmond has pointed out that in an independent Scotland, Faslane would remain the main naval base without nuclear weapons so most, if not all jobs would be maintained. 
Never mind the fact the biggest threats to peace in Scotland and the UK cannot be kept at bay with nuclear submarines. Gordon Brown said that Nick Clegg was a threat to the countries security because we needed nuclear submarines in case Iran gained a nuke. I’m no defence expert but what use are nuclear submarines against Iran? Maybe I’m wrong, please leave a comment if I am. 
The only country I can see the submarines being of use against is China, maybe David Cameron knew something we don’t?

#Trident and Failed: Well done @SNPOfficial and @Plaid_Cymru - excellent poster, excellent campaign. Sadly, the issue has only moved up the agenda because of Nick Clegg’s performance in the leaders debate. He made an excellent point though, why throw so much money at something that will probably be obsolete by the time its completed? Surely our experience with the disasterous Eurofighter typhoon project has shown such schemes as folly. Neither should we be swayed by the “jobs” argument. Alex Salmond has pointed out that in an independent Scotland, Faslane would remain the main naval base without nuclear weapons so most, if not all jobs would be maintained. 

Never mind the fact the biggest threats to peace in Scotland and the UK cannot be kept at bay with nuclear submarines. Gordon Brown said that Nick Clegg was a threat to the countries security because we needed nuclear submarines in case Iran gained a nuke. I’m no defence expert but what use are nuclear submarines against Iran? Maybe I’m wrong, please leave a comment if I am. 

The only country I can see the submarines being of use against is China, maybe David Cameron knew something we don’t?

22

Apr

The Pink Elephant In the Room: Gay Rights, the #leadersdebate and @SNPofficia

Pink Elephant

So finally, in the second debate we got a question on gay rights. But did it really get to the heart of the issue? Was it even answered?

Firstly, I take issue with the question itself, it bundled up gay rights with the Pope’s visit, the child sex abuse scandal, contraception in Africa and the Catholic church’s view on science. Why not ask a substantial question on gay rights? The question gave the leaders the opportunity to make completely uncontroversial statements about child abuse. The moderator, however, prompted them to answer the gay rights part of the question, only David Cameron dodged it this time. It seems David Cameron can only talk about gay rights when he’s talking to Gay Times magazine.

Nick Clegg talks with conviction about the issue and has the policies to back this up – full marriage equality stands out here. Labour have over the last 13 years have delivered on the issue as I’ve said before. The Conservatives, however, talk the talk but I’m not convinced their policies back this up. I don’t think tagging civil partners on to any old style Tory social engineering policy counts. One other example is their “Homophobic bullying” policy, which is actually a recycled “more discipline in schools” Tory policy given a PC slant. That’s not change. Homophobic bullying and policies affecting young gay people are the most important in this area, they must be tackled properly, we need new thinking because the old hasn’t worked. Politicians need to stop worrying about offending the Daily Mail crowd and more time worrying about the children of this country for whom this issue is the only one that matters.  Despite Nick Clegg’s new found fame, he is still talking about these issues, whether it is popular with all voters or not.

In this election, however, I have one big disappointment: the lack of any specific policies to tackle this issue from the SNP. The SNP is a radical party for which equality is at the heart of their policies but sometimes putting Scotland and independence first every time clouds out all other important policies.

I asked the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson,  directly “Does the SNP have a gay rights policy and if not why not?”, he said “We believe in a policy of equality and non-discrimination”.

He couldn’t name a single policy. Why?

22

Apr

Second #leadersdebate Instant Reaction

Going into the second debate Gordon Brown looked strongest, strangely buoyed by polls that, although putting him in third place, should result in him staying in office. Nick Clegg started nervously but grew in strength. I do think David Cameron did look weakest. He dodged questions that he didn’t like – notably on gay rights of which he didn’t mention – and he flapped when challenged. Cameron looked rattled, worse he tried to imitate Clegg and it looked wooden: he did Clegg’s “look at questioner, answer question, look into camera, talk to people” technique and it looked silly.  I don’t get the YouGov/Sun poll but as I said in my post on the last debate, debates will only confirm what people believe. Gordon Brown looked statesman like  - you’d expect that from a Prime Minister though wouldn’t you? Though this hasn’t helped him in the polls so far.

Even Alex Salmond managed a hit tonight in the post debate analysis. Producing an election leaflet from Gordon Brown’s constituency was genius. Whether this, or the debate itself has any impact, we’ll have to wait and see. After all, it’s only David Cameron that can secure the future for the future.