Money, money, money

moneydecision

The constant refrain from opponents of independence is – How can Scotland become independent when you don’t even know what money you’re going to use? Eh? Eh? There is an underlying current of belief among such people that Scotland, uniquely among the nations of the world, would be incapable of having any sort of currency at all. And if Scotland does manage to find a currency, then it doesn’t matter what that currency is, it’s going to be a disaster.

Of course this unremitting negativity isn’t a reflection on Scotland’s currency options, it’s really a reflection of the mindset of diehard opponents of independence. If they are telling you that a resource rich, highly developed, economically advanced northern European country can’t have any currency at all that works for it, what they’re really saying is that they have an emotional objection to Scottish independence and they’re desperately trying to scare people away from the idea.

It is a fundamentally dishonest position to take, yet this was precisely the stance adopted by Alistair Darling (remember him?) the leader of the Better Together campaign in 2014. Despite repeated questioning during a debate, Alistair was unable or unwilling to answer a question about what form of currency was possible for an independent Scotland. If a person is setting themselves up as an expert on currency issues, it’s very revealing that they’re unable to say what form of currency is a good solution for a country like Scotland. Not so long ago there were South Sea islands with a neolithic culture which successfully used large stones with holes in them or exotic feathers as currency, but according to opponents of independence, Scotland is incapable of achieving something that can be managed by societies that hadn’t even invented the wheel.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out here is that there is no country in the world where independence has been predicated on the question of what currency it’s going to use. That was the very last thing on the minds of the Irish when they became independent from the UK in 1922. It didn’t trouble the Maltese when they became independent from the UK in 1964. It wasn’t a concern when Slovakia and the Czech Republic dissolved the former Czechoslovakia. All these nations quickly found a solution that worked for them. Scotland will do the same.

The only reason that the currency is an issue in the Scottish independence debate is because during the first independence referendum campaign, the then Scottish Government stated that its preference was to enter into a currency union with the rest of the UK following independence. In effect, what the independence campaign of 2014 was saying was, “We want to be independent Westminster, but we want you to cooperate with us on the currency question for the mutual benefit of both of us.” This was in effect asking for Westminster’s help for Scotland to become independent, and it has since been recognised as a major tactical error on the part of the independence movement.

Naturally opponents of independence said “No”, and they said no with considerable glee. Westminster politicians queued up to say that they’d refuse to sign up to a formal currency union with an independent Scotland, and they have continued to press the issue ever since because it allowed them to make the spurious argument that given Westminster’s refusal to agree to a currency union, independence supporters didn’t even know what currency they were going to use.

The important thing to take from this episode is that the arguments about currency are not primarily economic, they are political. We are no longer in 2014, and the Scottish Government and the independence movement are no longer asking for the cooperation of Westminster on the currency issue, or indeed anything else.

So back in the real world, there are essentially three options for a currency in an independent Scotland. These are continuing to use the pound, using a new Scottish currency, or adopting the euro. Any one of them would work for Scotland, the choice between them is really a political question. However the key thing to note here is that in an independent Scotland, it would be for a government elected by and answerable to the people of Scotland to choose, and that government would choose the one that works best for Scotland at the time.

According to current opinion polls, continuing to use the pound sterling remains the favoured option amongst people in Scotland. This is also the position of the Scottish Government, although the SNP has committed to moving to a new Scottish currency when the time is right. Despite what certain opponents of independence may tell you, there is absolutely no reason why Scotland cannot unilaterally continue to use sterling after independence, and to do so without a formal currency union with the rest of the UK. Scotland does not require the UK’s permission to continue to use the pound. Sterling is a freely tradeable currency.  Westminster can’t stop Scotland from using it.

This is what Ireland did when it became independent. The Irish Free State of the 1920s continued to use the pound sterling for several years after Irish independence, until introducing an Irish currency, the punt, in 1928. When the punt was introduced and for many decades afterwards, it was kept at parity with sterling. Punts and pounds sterling continued to circulate freely throughout the entire island of Ireland. Like the UK at the time, Ireland continued to use pounds, shillings and pence. Irish coins were the same size and weight as their sterling equivalents. Ireland even switched to a decimal currency on the same day as the UK and the new decimalised Irish coinage remained the same dimensions and weight as the UK equivalent.

The advantage of continuing to use sterling unilaterally is that it makes for a smooth transition to independence. It would also help to protect the economy of the rest of the UK after it loses the revenue from Scottish oil and gas. Since the rest of the UK is a key trading partner of Scotland, it’s in our interests to ensure economic stability in the rest of the UK – all the more so since following Brexit the British economy is set to take a serious hit. This will help to protect jobs in Scotland. The disadvantage is that it leaves the Scottish economy too closely aligned to that of the rest of the UK and restricts the freedom of an independent Scottish government to make its own financial and economic decisions.

However it’s important to remember that an independent Scotland which continues to use sterling unilaterally is still an independent country. Montenegro uses the euro unilaterally, but no one can seriously claim that it’s not really an independent country as a result. Some opponents of independence claim that an independent Scotland unilaterally using sterling would have less independence than Scotland does as part of the UK. This is, frankly, just stupid. As part of the UK Scotland doesn’t currently have any say in determining the UK’s monetary policy or the interest rates of the Bank of England.  Meanwhile it is subject to Westminster’s decisions on things like corporation tax, or austerity, or VAT rates.

The second option is to introduce a Scottish currency, which would probably continue to be called the pound. The new Scottish pound, like the punt, would most likely be kept at a 1:1 exchange rate with sterling, at least for several years. Other than seeing some new designs of coins, which would be the same size and weight as existing coinage, it’s unlikely that the average punter in Scotland would really notice much difference. After all, we already have distinctively Scottish banknotes. Moving to a Scottish currency on a par with sterling would merely formalise this arrangement.

The current Scottish Government has proposed that it will continue to use sterling unilaterally, and will only move to a Scottish currency when six tests are met. Essentially these tests boil down to proving that there is an appetite amongst the public for a new currency, ensuring that there’s a stable central bank and currency reserves to back it, and making certain that the new currency will suit the needs of the Scottish economy better than sterling. Others within the independence movement seek a quicker move to a new currency. However the key take-away here is that the introduction of a new currency will only take place when the people of Scotland desire it, and when it’s in the interests of the Scottish economy to do so.

There are steps to take to set up a new currency, and these steps can be complex, but the other important point is that introducing a new currency is not, as opponents of independence would have you believe, on a par with finding a solution to the problem of faster than light travel. Introducing a new currency is not some huge leap into the unknown, it does not require radically new and hitherto unknown breakthroughs in science or technology or economics. This is currency, not science fiction. It’s not beyond the capabilities of a modern European nation with a developed economy like Scotland.

Setting up a new currency has been done before many times, and even in countries which have far smaller and weaker economies than Scotland the process has gone quickly and smoothly. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the new Slovakia took just one month to set up its new currency, the Slovak koruna. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Estonia took only ten months to set up the kroon. The advantage of a new currency is that it permits the Scottish government of the day freedom of movement on monetary policy and interest rates. Yet it does need to be noted that at present a majority of people in Scotland would prefer to continue with sterling. This may well change after independence.

The third option is to use the euro. There are probably more myths, misconceptions, and outright lies about this option than about any of the others. It’s very much in the interests of opponents of independence to sow confusion on this topic, as at the moment there is no majority in Scotland for adopting the euro, not even among most people who are already convinced supporters of Scottish independence.

The first to note is that following Scottish independence, Scotland cannot be forced to use the euro. Neither can Scotland transition immediately from using sterling to using the euro. Before Scotland can adopt the euro, it must first have established its own currency and all the requirements that go along with that. That new currency must have been in use for a period of at least several years to ensure that it is properly bedded in, and then once that has been achieved Scotland must sign up to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II), for a period of at least two years. Then, and only then, could Scotland adopt the euro. So even if Scotland had a clear desire to adopt the euro, which isn’t currently the case, it would not be able to introduce the euro as its currency for several years after independence, and probably more than a decade.

Although joining the EU does mean that a new member must “sign up” to the euro, there is no set timetable for doing so, and there are no penalties for not doing so. It would be entirely for the Scottish people and government of the day to decide when or if Scotland was going to adopt its own currency, and then it would be up to the government of the day to decide when or if Scotland was going to join the ERM II. These are entirely voluntary steps, and the EU does not set a schedule for a member state to do so and neither does it impose sanctions of any sort on a member which doesn’t comply.

Sweden and the Czech Republic have both effectively stalled on the euro indefinitely, even though they are theoretically obliged to adopt it. The UK is very proud of its opt out, but in reality a formal opt out is not required, there is an effective opt out in the fact that the decision about when to join the ERM II is entirely up to the member state and there are no punishments or negative consequences from the EU for not doing so.  Neither Sweden nor the Czech Republic have joined the ERM II, and neither have set any date for doing so.

Joining the euro may be a good option for Scotland at some point in the future, but it’s not going to happen any time soon. And when it does happen it will only be because a government with a mandate from the people of Scotland to do so is convinced that it’s in the best interests of Scotland. Scotland within the UK is so used to being powerless and a victim of UK economic decisions which do not benefit this country that opponents of independence are determined to persuade people that following independence Scotland will still be powerless. That is categorically untrue. If Scotland ever does adopt the euro as its currency, it will only happen with the consent of the people of Scotland.

The most likely scenario is that upon independence, Scotland will continue to use sterling unilaterally for at least several years. When a new Scottish currency is finally adopted, it only be when there is a public appetite for it, and that new currency will most likely be kept at a 1:1 exchange rate with sterling. The new Scottish pound and sterling will continue to circulate freely in Scotland. Ordinary people are unlikely to notice much of a difference.

The important thing however, is that in an independent Scotland, the country’s financial and economic decisions will be made by a Scottish government which is answerable to the people of Scotland, and which makes those decisions in the interests of Scotland.  What will not happen is what we have as present, a British government which makes financial and economic decisions in the interests of London and the South East of England. After independence, whatever currency we’re using Scotland will control its own money and make economic decisions in its own interests.  That’s what controlling your finances is really about, not which currency it’s denominated in.

The plan for this article and several others dealing with key points in the independence debate is to collate them and publish them in book form when we have a date for the independence vote. Some of these articles have already been published on this blog and others have yet to be written. The idea is that when we know when Scotland will be voting, I will do a crowd-funder specifically for the purpose of raising money to get the book printed, and then it can be distributed to Yes groups and campaigners and given away for free.

There’s already a Wee Blue Book, let’s have a Wee Ginger Book too. This isn’t meant as competition for the Wee Blue Book – which is a fantastic initiative with proven success – but rather it is to be complementary to it. Different writing styles and different books can appeal to different readerships and different demographics.  The more information we can get out there, the more people we can persuade to Yes. If you have any suggestions for topics for articles to include in this book, let me know and I will write something up – if I haven’t done so already.


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Going to the head of the queue

boxticking
It’s a strange and contradictory life being an opponent of Scottish independence. You have to tell people in Scotland that upon independence we’d have to reapply to join the EU and get to the back of a queue behind Albania, Montenegro, and Turkey, and at the same time insist that we’d have the euro as our currency. Apparently Scotland would be lost in the wilderness outside the EU for years and years while we wait for the Turks, the Albanians, and the Montengrins to go first, all the while being forced by those beastly Germans to pay for pints of beer in euros. Although it wouldn’t be pints anymore, it would be half litres because the EU is hell bent on destroying everything that gives anyone any pleasure at all. It said so in the Express who had it on good authority from a spiritualist who was channelling Princess Di, so it must be true. Oh woe, thrice woe.

There is no queue for joining the EU. Not even a metaphorical one. Countries do not join the EU in the order in which they made their applications. There are five countries which are currently active candidates for EU membership. Four of them are Balkan states: Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro. The fifth is Turkey.  In addition Iceland applied for membership in 2009 in the wake of the financial crash but following the Icelandic election of 2013 when pro-EU parties suffered a heavy defeat, the new Icelandic government decided to freeze the country’s application for membership indefinitely.

Turkey made its formal application to join the predecessor to the EU, the EEC, in 1987, North Macedonia made its application in 2004, Montenegro in November 2005, Serbia in 2007, while Albania made its application in June 2014. Iceland made its application in 2009. However had Iceland not decided to freeze its application, it would certainly have joined the EU long before Turkey and the other applicants. The Balkan applicants are also likely to join the EU before Turkey.

The reason that there is no queue as such is because joining the EU does not depend on how long a country has been kept waiting, it depends on how long it takes the applicant country to get into compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria. The Copenhagen Criteria are a set of conditions and standards which the EU demands that member states adhere to. These conditions relate amongst other things to the strength of a country’s democratic institutions, freedom of the press, protections for national and ethnic minorities, respect for human rights, and having a functioning market economy. Finally, although this is technically outwith the Copenhagen Criteria, the applicant country must also be in legislative alignment with the body of EU law which has been built up over the decades, known as the acquis communitaire.

None of this is an issue for Scotland. As a rule of thumb you can say that how long it takes an applicant country to go from making its application to becoming a full member of the EU depends on where that country started off from, and Scotland would be starting off from a far better place than post-communist states like Albania with historically weak democratic institutions and rampant corruption. Such countries are going to have more difficulties meeting the entry criteria than a state like Scotland, which is already strongly aligned with the EU and already fully in compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria and the acquis communitaire.

States with internal ethnic tensions, like Turkey with its large Kurdish minority, will also face obstacles to EU membership until these tensions are resolved and the linguistic and cultural rights of minorities are fully respected. Likewise there are deep concerns about the independence of the Turkish judiciary, and that country’s respect for human rights. This is not an issue that the EU has with Scotland.

Of course, upon independence Scotland will have to apply for EU membership in its own right. However this certainly doesn’t mean that Scotland will be out in the cold for decades. There is no queue to get to the back of. In addition, Scotland enjoys a number of advantages which will facilitate a smooth, easy, and quick accession to full EU membership.

As a part of the UK Scotland has been a member of the EU, and a member of its predecessor the EEC. Scotland is currently fully in compliance with all the requirements of EU membership. Scotland’s democratic institutions are strong, the country enjoys freedom of speech and of the press, minorities are fully protected in law. Indeed, in some respects Scotland’s legislation for the protection of minorities is exemplary. All of this will smooth Scotland’s path to quick and easy accession to the EU.

Although Scotland cannot make a formal application for EU membership in its own right until it becomes independent, there are steps that can be taken after a Yes vote in an independence referendum but before the actual date of Scottish independence. Simultaneously with independence negotiations with Westminster, the Scottish Government will be able to negotiate with the EU and EFTA to ensure that upon independence Scotland becomes a member of the EU’s single market and customs area. It can also ensure that following a Yes vote for independence that any measures in the UK which remove post Brexit Britain from compliance with EU laws and regulations will not apply to the territory of Scotland.

Indeed, upon independence Scotland will be in the unique position of being the only applicant state for EU membership which was previously a member of the EU. Since post-Brexit UK will be desperate to ensure that it continues to enjoy trade with the EU, it will not diverge too quickly from EU standards and regulations, that means that when Scotland does become independent, it will still be overwhelmingly in compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria and the acquis communitaire. This will facilitate the quick and smooth accession of Scotland to the EU as a member in its own right.

There is no queue. The process of application for EU membership is a box ticking exercise, and an applicant state becomes a member once all the boxes are ticked. An independent Scotland would be in the uniquely privileged position of starting its application with all the boxes already ticked.

Other opponents of independence claim that Scotland can’t join the EU because of the deficit. Of course the only deficit that Scotland has just now is the UK’s deficit, but that’s by the by. The true financial position of Scotland will not become clear until after independence. People who make this claim that the deficit is a reason why Scotland can’t join the EU are confusing – in some cases wilfully because they really ought to know better – the criteria for EU membership with the criteria for membership of the Eurozone.

Although new EU members are obliged to sign up to eventual membership of the Eurozone and the adoption of the euro as their currency, there is no timetable for this in the EU adhesion process itself. However, before Scotland could join the euro, it would first have to adopt its own currency, ensure that the new currency was stable for a number of years, then join the ERMII, and only then after a couple of years of membership of the ERMII could it adopt the euro as currency. It’s this process which demands fiscal constraints on a country’s deficit, not EU membership itself. And although a country is theoretically obliged to sign up to the euro, the necessary prior steps – which in Scotland’s case consist of introducing its own currency and then joining the ERMII – are entirely at the discretion of individual EU member states. The EU neither imposes a timetable nor penalises any member state for not taking these steps. Scotland will only take them when it’s in Scotland’s interests to do so, and the EU won’t have an issue with that.

The other scare story is the Schengen Area. This is the area of passport free movement which most EU states, and some non-EU states, belong to. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are outside the EU, but do belong to the Schengen Area. Ireland and Cyprus, as well the UK, are within the EU, but outside the Schengen Area. Opponents of independence claim that Scotland would be forced to join the Schengen Area meaning that there would be passport checks along the Scottish-English border. This is scaremongering of the very worst kind.

The Schengen Treaty was designed to promote freedom of movement within the EU. It aimed to remove passport checks and controls on the movement of people. It would be a gross perversion of the spirit of that treaty to use it to impose passport checks on a border where none currently exist. Scotland is currently a member of the Common Travel Area of the British Isles, along with the rest of the UK, the Irish Republic, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Scotland has no land borders with any EU state. The only way to get directly from Scotland to another EU state other than Ireland is by flying, or by making an international ferry crossing. These modes of travel already demand photographic proof of ID such as a passport. No EU state’s interests are going to be prejudiced if following independence Scotland remains, like Ireland, a member of the existing Common Travel Area allowing passport free travel throughout the British Isles. There will be no passport checks on the Scottish-English border and it is arrant nonsense to suggest otherwise.

There is another way in which states which are applying for EU membership find that their application becomes stalled. This is when the applicant country encounters strong opposition from an existing member state. North Macedonia’s application was delayed due to that country’s naming dispute with Greece, a dispute which has now been resolved. This means that North Macedonia’s application for EU membership can now progress. Cyprus has stated that it will block Turkey’s application until the Turkish occupation of North Cyprus and the division of the island is resolved. Although Kosovo has not yet applied for membership, its application would most likely be vetoed by Spain until such time as Kosovo reaches a settlement on its dispute with Serbia.

Scotland is unlikely to encounter any such opposition. The much vaunted Spanish veto is a myth which the Spanish government itself has said is untrue. Spain would not veto the membership application of Scotland to the EU as long as Scotland attains its independence constitutionally, legally, and after negotiations with Westminster. This has always been envisaged by the Scottish Government and just about everyone else as the only route to Scottish independence. Spain’s likely veto of Kosovo is because that country declared independence unilaterally from Serbia, which ran counter to the Serbian constitution. Kosovo was at the time, and is still, considered by Serbia to be an integral part of Serbia. However Spain has never threatened a veto on Montenegro’s application, since that country’s independence from its former union with Serbia was in line with the then existing constitution. There is no constitutional bar in the UK on Scottish independence, so Spain has no grounds to block a Scottish application, and despite what you may hear from some anti-independence campaigners, it would not do so.

Since Brexit, the mood music coming from Brussels about the prospect of Scottish independence has been extremely positive. The EU no longer has any interest in protecting and defending the UK from Scottish independence since the UK is in the process of leaving. The real EU queue is the queue of MEPs from many different EU member states lining up to say how much they look forward to Scottish membership of the EU.

The EU would welcome Scotland as a pro-European state, a country with a strong democratic tradition, an abundance of natural resources, and a willingness and desire to cooperate with European partners. Moreover, Scotland will be seen by the EU states as a country which sought independence precisely because it was unhappy with the UK’s self-imposed estrangement from Europe. That fact all by itself will guarantee an eagerness from other EU member states to smooth Scotland’s transition to full EU membership in its own right.

When Scotland does make its application to become a member of the EU in its own right, that application will be one of the quickest and smoothest that the EU has ever seen. Joining the EU is a box ticking exercise, and Scotland has already ticked all the boxes. If there was a queue, Scotland would be at the head of it.


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Comparing like with unlike

cagedlion
On Saturday night, I had the misfortune to watch the press review on Sky News. One of the guests was a Brexit supporting writer, a woman whose name escapes me, which is a pity because it means that it will be harder to avoid her nonsense in future. It was the usual ill informed guff about Scotland. She averred, with the arrogant certainty that her ignorance is a virtue which only a British nationalist possesses, that support for independence in Scotland has stalled. And then she waffled on about how she didn’t understand why Scotland wanted to swap its place in the UK for membership of the EU, because to her mind that’s not really independence.

The truth is, if you don’t understand the difference between Scotland as a part of the UK and an independent Scotland that’s a member of the EU, then you really should refrain from commenting on either. Because all you’re doing is exposing your ignorance. But confident ignorance is the British nationalist’s stock in trade, and we’re going to hear a lot more of it as Scotland moves towards independence.

The first important difference is that Scotland is not a member of the UK. It is a part of the UK. The Brexit process has exposed the truth, there are no constitutional safeguards or provisions within the UK to protect Scotland from the malign effects of English nationalism. That’s why we’re getting Brexit, even though Scotland has voted against it by a very large margin. We’re not just getting Brexit, we’re getting a more hardline version of it than even Jacob Rees Mogg thought possible just three years ago. Scotland’s sole official representation within the British Government is the Scotland Office, yet ever since devolution, and indeed before it, the role of the Scotland Office has not been to represent Scotland within the British Government, it has been to represent the British Government in Scotland.

The EU has member states. Each of those member states takes a turn at the European presidency. Each of those member states sends its head of government to important EU summits. Each of those member states has a veto on certain aspects of EU policy. There is a formal mechanism of representation for each member state at the very highest levels of the EU.

You can see the distinction between being a member of the EU and being a part of the UK by contrasting the way in which the EU responded to the concerns of Ireland during the Brexit negotiations, and the way in which the UK responded to the concerns of Scotland during those same negotiations. The EU hasn’t only accommodated the Irish position, they have reinforced it and made it very clear that other member states stand in solidarity with Ireland. The British Government has at every turn ignored, sidelined, and treated with contempt any suggestions from the Scottish Government. Theresa May didn’t even bother to respond to the Scottish Parliament’s proposals for a compromise Brexit that met with some of Scotland’s most important concerns. Brexit has proven that there is one country in the British isles which is an equal and valued partner in a family of nations, and that nation is Ireland within the EU.

That’s only the beginning of the differences. If Brexiters had been told that the UK required the permission of the EU before it was allowed to hold a referendum, Jacob would perhaps have been justified in his claims that the UK was a vassal state. Yet that’s precisely what the British Government is imposing on Scotland. More than that, one of the Tory leadership contenders has stated that under no circumstances would he permit another independence referendum. Jeremy Hunt doesn’t believe in Scottish democracy. Can you imagine the outcry from the Brexit supporting press and British nationalists if a senior figure in the EU had stated that under no circumstances would the EU permit the UK a referendum on its EU membership? But that’s a constraint that the UK is happy to put on Scotland.

The EU doesn’t insist that one of its members states host nuclear weapons so that another can enjoy a seat on the UN Security Council and pretend to itself that it’s still a global power. The EU doesn’t make us go to war. The EU doesn’t decide the entire foreign policy for all of its members. The UK does all of that and more. Opponents of independence like to imagine that being a part of the UK allows Scotland to punch above its weight – for some reason they like their metaphors violent – the reality is that as a part of the UK Scotland is invisible abroad. People in Spanish speaking countries talk about Inglaterra and inglés as synonyms for the UK.

The EU doesn’t set the vast majority of our taxes and determine the level of social security. The UK does, and the UK is hell bent on reducing taxes for the wealthy and for big businesses and making the poor and the low paid carry the can for the financial irresponsibility of the banks. Poverty in the UK is a consequence of the decisions of British governments, not the EU.

The EU doesn’t ensure that our old age pensions are amongst the lowest in the developed world. The UK does that, and then it tries to frighten pensioners by lying to them that in the event of independence they won’t get a pension at all.

The EU doesn’t concentrate development and infrastructure in the UK on London and the South East of England. It’s British governments which do that. The ignoring of the parts of the UK outwith London and the South East by successive British governments have led to the UK having some of the poorest regions in northern Europe. The EU on the other hand, provides funding to marginalised and impoverished regions. That funding will be lost when the UK leaves the EU.

Brexit is driven by the fantasy that Britain is still an empire, that it is still a global player on the world stage on a par with a superpower in a world where only a superpower can truly be independent of other countries. It’s a delusion. It’s a cruel delusion because it’s the poor, the low paid, and the disabled in the UK who will pay the price of it, not the wealthy backers of Brexit like Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson.

The reality is that in the modern world all countries must cooperate with others and share aspects of their sovereignty. However for Scotland the difference between the UK and the EU is the difference between an animal being trapped in a small cage with no freedom of movement, and roaming in a national park. The UK is a cage, the EU is a vast park. Claiming that Scotland has less freedom of movement and freedom of choice within the EU than it does as a part of the UK is an idiotic nonsense that should be rejected with the contempt that it deserves.


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Shout loudly and wave a fleg

torytourism
You can smell the fear. An opinion poll over the weekend gives Boris Johnson the support of over three quarters of members of the Conservative party. Unless something utterly unforeseen occurs, he’s going to become the next leader of the Tories and the next Prime Minister of the UK. Given that Boris Johnson is about as popular in Scotland as a bad case of piles combined with a high chili diet, and given that he’s determined to pursue a Brexit that Scotland has consistently rejected, the Scottish Conservatives are getting their panic in early. Better Together’s project fear has eaten itself and Ruth I’ll Speak Up For Scotland Within the Union Davidson is nowhere to be seen.

On Sunday, the Scotland Secretary David Mundell, who hasn’t resigned yet, penned an article for the Observer which was a not so thinly veiled warning to Johnson to be mindful of the consequences of a bad Brexit on the unity of the UK and to walk a careful line. Asking Boris Johnson to be mindful of the negative consequences of his actions and to walk a careful line is rather like expecting a seismic fault line to be mindful of the damage caused by earthquakes. Causing earthquakes is what it does as a natural consequence of the tectonic forces pressing against it. Likewise the chaos in the wake of Boris Johnson is a natural consequence of the tectonic force of his almighty ego.

Unusually for an piece that was published in the opinion section of the newspaper, the Observer wasn’t allowing comments on the Fluffmeister’s article so the Scottish (and wider UK) public were prevented from telling the mouthpiece of the British Government in Scotland what they think of his party. And that in microcosm is precisely what the problem is here. The Conservatives have created this problem for themselves precisely because they are determined to prevent the Scottish public from voicing their opinions on the Conservatives.

It’s quite likely that David Mundell, have I mentioned that he hasn’t resigned yet, feels that he needs to speak up now because Ross Thomson has his eye on the Secretary of State job as soon as the object of Ross’s fanboy stanning gets the Prime Ministerial gig. He might not be Secretary of State for Scotland for very much longer, and it won’t be because he’s displayed anything approaching a moral fibre and followed through on his threats to resign. If you wanted some moral fibre you’d be better off with a tin of baked beans. Admittedly the beans produce flatulence, but then that’s very difficult to distinguish from the pronouncements of the Scotland Secretary.

In any case, he who has not resigned yet is not going to solve anything with a passive aggressive article in the Observer that refuses to acknowledge that the blame for the current constitutional crisis lies very firmly with the Conservative party itself. According to David Mundell, the entire responsibility for the impending end of the UK is all down to that dastardly SNP. Essentially his argument, such as it was, boiled down to saying that if only the SNP didn’t exist then there wouldn’t be a problem.

If the Conservatives were serious about prioritising the unity of the UK then perhaps, just perhaps, they might have thought about that when Theresa May decided that the only people who needed to be consulted about the form that Brexit took were the European Research Group and the DUP. Now, having brought about an unsustainable situation where the cracks in the UK are wider and contain more seismic energy even than Boris Johnson’s ego, the likes of David Mundell are desperately trying to prevent the coming Scottish earthquake with a papering of articles in the press and an unhealthy denial of democracy.

You don’t solve a political problem by claiming that if it wasn’t for the fact that your party has an opposition then you wouldn’t have a problem. You don’t solve a political problem by ignoring your own responsibility for creating it. And you certainly don’t solve a political problem by doubling down on the democratic deficit which has produced that problem in the first place.

But that’s exactly what the Tories are trying to do. Trapped between the Scottish independence movement and Brexit they have no room left for manoeuvre. All that they can offer now is the political equivalent of the monoglot British tourist abroad who wasn’t understood the first time round, and now has decided to try saying the exact same thing ONLY MUCH MORE LOUDLY while waving a Union fleg. The way to solve the issues created by the democratic deficit and the UK government’s unilateral seizing control of devolved powers is for the UK government to seize more of them. It’s for more union flegs. It’s to continue to deny Scotland a say. It’s to undermine the Scottish Parliament.

Coming as it does after commitments from both the Conservative leadership contenders that they will rebuff the demand from the Scottish Parliament for a Section 30 order, this is dangerous ground. The Conservatives are revealing themselves in their true authoritarian and anti-democratic colours. But this is not Spain, and despite the best efforts of the Tories and the Brexit party which is their bastard offspring, this is not yet an authoritarian one party state. Their refusal to countenance the legitimate demand of Scotland to decide for itself what form its relationship with the rest of the UK and with Europe should take is a symptom of the panic within the Conservatives, the growing awareness that the UK is coming to an end and that it’s the Conservatives themselves who have broken it.

We’re not at the end of the Section 30 order road yet. Scotland isn’t the only problem facing Boris Johnson. His far bigger problem is Brexit and the looming deadline of 31 October. That particular problem means that it is unlikely that his government will remain in office for very long. He will take power and enter Downing Street with a majority of just three, and that’s for only as long as he can continue to ensure he has the support of the DUP. Given the vehement opposition from a handful of Conservative MPs to facilitating a no deal Brexit, the chances are extremely high that there will be a UK General Election sooner rather than later.

When that election comes it will be vital that Scotland tells the Conservative party exactly what we think of it. Then we won’t have to wait for David Mundell or whoever succeeds him to resign, because we’ll have voted them out of office. Then we won’t have to listen to them pretend that since the SNP lost seats in 2017 that there is no mandate for a referendum. The SNP will have a mandate that no Westminster government which pretends to be democratic can ignore. A British government which prioritises Brexit might be willing to see the loss of Scotland since that would strengthen the pro-Brexit forces within Westminster. And we already know that Conservative voters in the rest of the UK won’t be too unhappy to see Scotland go.

However if following a snap General Election in which Scotland overwhelmingly rejects the Conservatives and gives its support to the SNP, the British Government still refuses a Section 30 order, then we will be in very different political territory. In that case, the next Scottish elections need to be fought on giving Holyrood a mandate, not to keep asking Westminster for a Section 30 order, but for independence itself. This isn’t Spain with its constitutional bar on independence. This isn’t an authoritarian state.

It is up to us, the people of Scotland, to ensure that we will not allow the Conservatives to silence us or to deny us a say in determining the future of our country. They’re not going to make it easy for us. But in the end, we are the people and we are more. In the 1950s the Tories dominated Scottish politics, now they are estranged in a land that is strange to them. David Mundell and his pals will only have themselves to blame for their downfall.


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Gaslighting Scotland

gaslighting
Yesterday it was the Tory leadership hustings in Scotland, when Jeremy C-word and the Blond Bombsite competed with one another to say how much they love Scotland even though they’ve spent the past three years treating it with contempt when they’re not actively ignoring it. Then they competed to show off which one has more testosterone when it comes to telling Scotland that it can’t have another independence referendum. Ever. And then they competed to see who can put the most blame on the SNP for the constitutional bin fire which now passes for the pretendy precious union between Scotland and England. It’s all because, who knew, the SNP wants independence. In their treatment of Scotland, both Conservative leadership candidates have elevated gaslighting to official policy.

Jeremy really loves Scotland. He’s a democrat and he’s going to refuse to allow another independence referendum even if the SNP win an absolute majority in the next Scottish elections standing on a platform of a mandate for another referendum. Because he’s a democrat. When it was put to him that there’s already a mandate for one, he replied that’s because Holyrood is full of nationalists. It appears to have escaped the notice of a man who fancies himself as the next prime minister that the only reason that Holyrood is full of Scottish nationalists is because people in Scotland voted for them. Perhaps he thought that they were only there as cleaning and catering staff. Given the upper class entitlement that oozes from both Tory leadership contenders, this is entirely possible. Jeremy knows that Scotland doesn’t want another referendum because he has a great aunt in Aberdeen and when he comes to Scotland he talks to Tories. That’s far more important than any of that voting stuff.

As a democratic prime minister, Jeremy is only going to recognise democratic mandates when they happen to agree with what he wants. This is the special Tory definition of democratic. It just so happens to be the same definition of democratic used by North Korea in the official name of that country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but it would be tasteless hyperbole to point that out. However it is intriguing that the only politicians who feel the need to point out that they are democratic are the ones who are behaving in an authoritarian manner.

Not that it really matters what Jeremy thinks. Jeremy himself doesn’t really care what Jeremy thinks, which is why he’s now presenting the Conservative party with the diametrically opposite set of views on Brexit to the ones which he espoused during the EU referendum campaign in 2016. He’s also changed his mind of the circumstances under which he’d allow another independence referendum, as just a couple of weeks ago he agreed with Ruth Davidson that the SNP need to win an majority in Holyrood first. The difference is that he’s now seen opinion polls pointing to an increase in support for independence, and a majority in the event of Brexit, and he knows that the writing is on the wall for his UK. And that writing is not in the form of a North Korean propaganda poster.

Jeremy is allowed to change his mind when circumstances change, because he’s a democrat, but the SNP must forever be preserved in the aspic of statements made by certain SNP politicians during the 2014 independence referendum that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, even though circumstances have radically changed. Because democracy. Or rather 민주주의, which is North Korean for democracy.

Of course, the reason why Alec Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon both expressed the view that the independence referendum of 2014 was “a once in a generation opportunity” was because of the extreme difficulty of any party winning an outright majority in a Scottish electoral system which was designed by the Labour party and the Lib Dems to produce coalition governments. In 2014, no one expected that the anti-independence parties in Scotland would implode, and no one who voted No in that referendum expected the mendacity, contempt, and disdain with which Westminster would treat Scotland in the event of a No vote. They certainly didn’t expect that within a few short years the UK would not only leave the EU, but that it might do so without a deal. The once in a generation opportunity of pro-independence parties winning an outright majority in Holyrood is now the new normal. The Conservatives, along with their 민주주의 enablers in Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems, have only got themselves to blame for that.

Mind you, the real reason that it doesn’t matter what Jeremy Hunt thinks is because Jeremy has no chance of actually winning this leadership contest. A poll of Conservative party members published this weekend gives the Blond Bombsite almost three times as many votes as Jeremy C-word. 74% of Tory party members are so detached from reality that they think that Boris Johnson will make a good Prime Minister. Only 26% back Jeremy. That’s what happens when you get the support of Ruth Davidson. Boris Johnson will take a victory by that huge margin as total vindication of a no deal Brexit. So much for Ruth Davidson’s much vaunted influence.

Ruth has been nowhere to be seen this week. Whenever her party is doing badly, or she might be faced with awkward questions, Ruth retreats from public view to spend some time washing her tank. It’s now so shiny that it’s being considered as a replacement lighthouse for the Bass Rock. That’s the closest Ruth is ever going to get to being a beacon. Her party is dying in those same polls that her bosses only ever cite selectively when they want to pretend that no one wants an independence referendum and the Scottish Tories are looking at near extinction in the next Westminster elections. Mind you, that didn’t stop Sarah Smith on Friday night’s BBC1 10 O’Clock News tell everyone that there had been “something of a resurgence” of Conservative fortunes in Scotland of late. Next week on BBC1, Sarah will present a package about the resurgence in Scotland of sightings of mammoths and the new found popularity of making human sacrifices in wicker men.

The boorish Johnson enjoys the kind of lead in an opinion poll which means that barring a miracle, we’re getting him as the next Prime Minister. Ballots to party members have already been sent out, and it is vanishingly unlikely that there’s anything that the Hunt campaign can do to make up the vast gulf that separates their contender from Boris Johnson. God help us. We live in a universe where Donald Trump is in the White House, Boris Johnson will shortly be in Number 10, and the UK is due to crash out of the EU with no deal at the end of October. The Johnson campaign has received over £800,000 in donations since November, overwhelmingly from rich individuals and companies which will benefit from Boris Johnson’s promise to reduce tax on those with high incomes and on corporation tax.

Boris Johnson is just as dismissive of democracy in Scotland as his competitor for the leadership. The only difference between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson is one of presentation. With Jeremy it’s like sitting through a presentation from a middle manager who is hopelessly out of his depth but who is hell bent on making you watch his power point presentation based on a 1980s management book that was passed on to him by a friend in the Freemasons, whereas with Boris Johnson it’s a free form exercise in question dodging, anecdotes, and haw hummery. Boris Johnson is incapable of getting to the end of a sentence without it containing at least three hums, four ehs, and ending on an entirely different topic from the one it started with. This is what counts as charm to Tories.

The reason that Boris Johnson enjoys such a high level of support amongst Tory members is that only 27% of them believe that Jeremy Hunt would really force through a no deal Brexit, whereas 90% of them think that Boris Johnson would. For all that both candidates waffle on about how much they love the preciousssssssss union, all that matters to their party is the delivery of Brexit. The Conservatives don’t care that Scotland doesn’t want Brexit. They don’t care that Brexit will damage Scotland. They don’t care that a no deal risks catastrophe. 63% of them would be willing to see Scotland become independent if Scotland was to stand in the way of their insane pursuit of lost Great British glory and release from those whom they and Ann Widdecombe regard as the slavemasters of Brussels. They’re no longer the party of the union, they’re the party of Brexit and English nationalism.

Boris Johnson got a rougher ride from Scottish Tories than he has done so far in this campaign, with some questions about his personal life that he refused to answer. Scotland is probably the only part of the UK where he might not enjoy a hugely commanding lead over Jeremy Hunt. The Scottish Tories know that he is their kryptonite. He’s about as popular in Scotland as Vlad the Impaler at a human rights conference. But it doesn’t matter. Scotland won’t decide this election. Scotland’s views don’t matter to the Westminster Tories, and neither do those of the Scottish Conservatives.

It’s not a union when the views of one partner are ignored, sneered at, and dismissed, it’s gaslighting. And that in a nutshell is why Scotland is now on course for independence.


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Wee Ginger Dugcast – 5 July 2019

Welcome to the latest edition of the Wee Ginger Dugcast. This week The National’s editor Callum Baird and I discuss opinion polls and how they work (and why we should regard online “voodoo” polls with a massive sackload of salt), toy dugs, Theresa May’s visit, the Tory leadership hustings in Perth and what questions should be put to the candidates, how Ross Thomson doesn’t reply to The National’s requests for press access to any of Boris Johnson’s events, the success of this blog’s annual crowdfunder, and a whole lot more besides.


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The lullaby that puts the UK to sleep forever

Brexitexposed

So just when you thought that Mark Dad’s Army Francois had won the trophy for British political clown of the decade, along comes Ann Widdecombe saying “Haud ma coat”. During her first speech to the European Parliament, Ann compared the EU to slave owners. That’s not hyperbole at all, oh no. That’s just a riddie, that’s just an embarrassment. That’s just an affront to all those millions of people who suffered and died at the hands of the slave trade of the British Empire. It’s an insult to them and an insult to their descendants.

The only thing that Ann Widdecombe is a slave to is her ego and her overweening English nationalist entitlement. When an old Tory who supports austerity, who backs homophobia, who once defended putting women prisoners who were actually in the process of giving birth in chains, claims to speak for the oppressed, satire hasn’t just died. It’s been crushed to its atoms, those atoms split into their subatomic particles, and the resultant plasma blasted into a black hole where it has effectively vanished from this universe.

The gist of her speech was to liken the UK within the EU to a colony rebelling against an undemocratic empire. English nationalists like Ann are incapable of conceptualising any relationship between nations that isn’t one predicated on power and domination. The notion of independent states cooperating as equals is alien to them. They view everything through the prism of the relationship between the nations of the UK. You’re either the ruler or the ruled. A partnership of equals is just a lullaby sung to Scottish Unionists to stop them from crying themselves to sleep at night.

The English nationalism that drives Brexit still hankers for the days when Britannia ruled the waves and waived the rules, when Greater England and its hangers on dominated the world and enforced its wishes with gunboats. Ann thinks that oppression is going to a restaurant and being served a meal by someone from Krakow.

British politics is broken and it can’t be fixed. Scotland may have lost faith in the Labour party a long time ago, but now that loss of faith has been replicated across the rest of the UK. According to an opinion poll from YouGov this week, 24% would vote Tory, 23% would vote for Nigel Farage Ltd. 20% for the Lib Dems, and 9% for the Greens. Just 18% of UK voters say that they’d back the Labour party in a General Election. The Labour party has fallen to fourth place in Westminster voting intentions over the UK as a whole. It is likely that if there’s an early General Election, parties in favour of crashing out of the EU with no deal would take a majority of seats in England and Wales. This Conservative government is the worst in living memory, the most inept, the most venal, the most incompetent. Yet Labour is still behind them in the polls.

Those Labour voters still remaining in Scotland can now be under no illusions that the Labour party of Jeremy Corbyn is going to save them from a Tory Brexit, even in the unlikely event that Magic Grandpa does finally get off the fence and comes out in support of a second EU referendum. Meanwhile in Scotland, the Conservatives remain the second largest party but have fallen to a paltry 15%, and on 44% the SNP enjoy a lead over them of 29%. Ross Thomson isn’t the only Scottish Tory MP who’s going to be known as SNP Gain in the next Westminster General Election in Scotland. Together with the Scottish Greens, who are on 7%, pro independence parties in Scotland now enjoy an absolute majority in the polls.

The picture in Scotland is very different. We are politically a different country which wants different things from the rest of the UK. The UK could only ever function as long as voters in Scotland were on the same political page as the rest of the UK. And for the majority of the 20th century, we were. Voters in Scotland alternated between Labour and the Conservatives, and voters in the rest of the UK alternated between Labour and the Conservatives. Scotland got what it voted for often enough to allow the Scottish Unionists to keep singing their comforting lullaby that Scotland was a partner in a family of nations.

On Thursday, Theresa May came to Scotland to deliver her last speech in this country as Prime Minister. It was billed as her announcement of a review of devolution, but as with all Theresa May’s anticipated speeches, it was content free and not worth the effort of bothering to listen to. Blah. Precious Union. Blah blah. It was all the fault of the SNP. Blah. Blah. Blah. Even Reporting Scotland couldn’t be arsed enough to mention it in its headline stories at the top of the programme.

It wasn’t that the speech was too little too late. It was like trying to revive a long decayed corpse with a dead and corroded AA battery. She was asked about the opinion polls that show that support for independence has increased, she replied that the SNP lost seats in the 2017 election. She’s stuck in a time warp. She said that the SNP should stop obsessing about independence and get on with governing, obsessing about independence is the Tories’ job. But judging from the number of times she dodged answering the question about whether a no deal Brexit spells the end of the UK, it was clear that she thinks it does.

The best that she can offer the people of Scotland is that we should accept Brexit, accept massive damage to our economy, accept estrangement from our European allies, accept becoming a minor and sidelined province of Greater Brexitshire, because we’re best pals. Well best pals don’t treat one another the way that Westminster has treated Scotland. Best pals respect one another. All Scotland gets from Westminster is contempt, arrogance, and a lack of respect. Best pals don’t think that they can dictate and give orders, but that’s how Westminster conceives of its relationship with Scotland.

It’s too late. There’s a stale bucket of urine that would be more welcome. Theresa May’s successor is quite likely to be the last British Conservative Prime Minister dictating to Scotland. Brexit has exposed the reality of the UK’s nature. This isn’t a family of nations. It isn’t a partnership of equals. It’s not a union. It’s Greater England. As long as Scotland remains a part of the UK, it will get what England votes for, and it will not be permitted any influence or say. The Scottish Unionist lullaby has been replaced with a new one, a lullaby that sings the final sleep of the UK:

Hush little Tory don’t say a word, Scotland’s gonna reject the Brexit turd,
and when that turd makes Ruthie boak, Scotland’s gonna see the UK’s a joke,
and when that joke is a laughing stock, Scotland’s gonna look to the EU bloc,
and when that bloc makes Boris plead, Scotland’s gonna vote and it will secede,
and when Scotland secedes and says goodbye, poor little Tory’s gonna cry.


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