Saturday, 28 January 2017

Learning from Leave

In Scotland it’s important that Pro UK people move beyond our disagreements.  Keeping up the pressure on the SNP requires us not to squabble among ourselves.  Whichever way we voted in the EU referendum it’s crucial that we learn the lessons of that campaign. Obviously Remain had good arguments that can be adapted to persuade Scots of the benefits of remaining in the UK, but what may be less obvious is that so did the Leave campaign. We must think clearly about past campaigns and focus on what works.  In this way we will be able to develop arguments that may prevent a repeat of the Scottish independence referendum, or alternatively if the worst happens, to win it.

I have made clear on a number of occasions that I don’t think the SNP have a right to break up our country. The issue has been settled. But I am one voice and others such as Ruth Davidson disagree with me. Nicola Sturgeon may ask and she may get. In that case we would have a fight on our hands. Never underestimate your opponent.  History is littered with the example of complacent generals who lost.

Campaigns are won with simple messages that are believed. Not everyone follows politics as closely as you do. Not everyone understands every detail. I’m certainly hazy about certain aspects of Scottish devolution, international law and how the EU works. But a Nobel Prize winner in economics gets one vote just the same as the rest of us.

During the EU campaign the Leave team realised that detailed discussion of the Single Market baffled most voters. Even most MPs were unclear about the various distinctions between the European Economic Area (EEA), the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and the EU Single Market. A campaign that got itself bogged down in a debate about the benefits of these various options would be followed only those who already knew about the issues and who had probably decided how to vote already.  What matters in any campaign is to target the message at those who are undecided and who are persuadable. These are people who usually don’t follow politics closely.

It was for this reason that the Leave campaign had relatively simple messages:

Leaving the EU would mean that we would take back control. Parliament once more would decide everything rather than Brussels.

Leaving the EU would save us money. We would no longer have to pay the subscription fee. This was said to be £350 million a week (the gross figure before any rebates and before anything we got back). This looks like a lot of money to most people.

Leaving the EU would mean that we could control the level of immigration rather than leave it uncontrolled.

These issues were the ones that decided the EU referendum. They were simple and for the most part they were believed. That is why Leave won.

Crucially these three issues work for Pro UK people in Scotland. It is, of course, the case that Scotland voted to Remain in the EU. But this has more to do with the political circumstances of Scotland rather than genuinely different attitudes about the fundamental issues. It’s hard to think of a mainstream Scottish Politician living and working in Scotland who voted Leave. Scotland has a far smaller population that England does. Imagine if three new towns were planned in Scotland to take some of the strain from England. Imagine if tax breaks were given to encourage English people to move to these towns. How would the SNP react? Half a million new Scots with English accents might well change the electoral arithmetic. No doubt Nicola Sturgeon would be most welcoming.

But what is more important is how these three key messages could work in the context of independence.

Leaving the EU is going to bring back to the UK control over a number of issues including fisheries, agriculture and all the rules and regulations that currently govern our membership. People in the UK are going to control these issues. Many of these people are going to be in Scotland.  While at present issues that the Scottish Parliament controls can be overruled by Brussels, soon Scottish politicians will have the freedom to do as they please. This automatically will make these politicians more powerful and more able to control how they run Scotland.  Voting for Scottish independence will on the other hand mean losing control over whole areas of Scottish life, because it will first be necessary to check what Brussels thinks. After we leave the EU someone in the Scottish Government will end up deciding how we fish in the waters around Scotland and how we farm our land. Massive areas of ordinary life that are now controlled by the EU will instead be controlled in Scotland. This is real power and real control.  If on the other hand, Scotland were to leave the UK and join the EU we would, of course, lose control.

Scottish nationalists might argue that by leaving the UK Scotland may gain control over some issues that are now controlled by the UK such as macroeconomics and international relations, but ultimately the Scottish Parliament having become “independent” would have to vote to make EU law supreme. So how much control would independence bring you? We know how little control small EU countries like Ireland and Greece have ended up with. Scotland has a bigger deficit than either of these so what would prevent the Troika of the European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank running Scotland instead of the SNP? Independence then could well involve a loss of control.  

The UK will save some money by not having to pay the EU membership fee. A proportion of this money will go to Scotland.  Scottish independence would mean losing this saving and losing the money that Scotland at present gets from the Barnett formula. It would also involve paying money to the EU. Scotland would be expected to pay proportionally more than the UK does at present. There is going to be a bit of a hole in the EU’s budget now that the UK has decided to leave completely. Someone has to fill the gap.

It is not at all automatic that an independent Scotland would even get into the EU. Catalonia is once more trying to break away from Spain. It only needs one EU member to say “No” and Nicola Sturgeon would be sent homewards to think again. It’s hard to imagine then that the EU would vote to allow Scotland a rebate on EU membership fees.

It will be difficult therefore for the SNP to convincingly argue that leaving the UK will save us money. This is not least because we do far more trade with other parts of the UK than with the EU. Depending on how UK/EU negotiations go, Scotland could end up having to pay tariffs on our trade with England. In five years’ time England, Wales and Northern Ireland might have trade deals with India, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. We might be able to live and work in some nice warm places that speak English. Scotland though in voting to leave the UK wouldn’t have a share in these deals. We would quite literally be left in the cold.

Immigration is a controversial issue. No-one should be nasty to anyone who has chosen to live in the UK. But the argument was never about that. It is perfectly possible to be in favour of immigration, but want to limit it. After all there are billions of people in the world. They can’t all have the right to live here.

Again the choice for Scotland will be to be in a UK that can limit immigration or an independent Scotland that can’t. When the UK leaves the EU we will be able to choose who from the EU and elsewhere can come to live here. Perhaps we will have a points system or develop some other method. But it will be Parliament that decides. Those who wish to increase immigration can vote for a party that argues for that. Those who wish to limit immigration can make that argument. But it will be the UK electorate who decides, because the UK electorate will now be in control.

Alternatively we can choose to live in an independent Scotland that will have to be a member of Schengen. It is a condition for joining the EU. This means that there will not even be passport controls between Scotland and the other parts of the EU.

Unlimited immigration into Scotland however would logically mean that England would have to set up border controls between Scotland and England. How else could they control who came over the border. A passport has to be shown somewhere or else the UK will not be able to limit immigration.

The Republic of Ireland is not a precedent here for Scotland as Ireland has an opt out from Schengen. Even then there is likely to be some sort of border checks at the Northern Irish border as the UK will not be in the EU’s customs union while Ireland will be.

Who knows which countries will be able to join the EU in the coming decades? Perhaps Albania will be able to join, perhaps Serbia, perhaps Turkey. We just don’t know. The choice for Scotland will be between limited migration if it remains in the UK or unlimited if it leaves to join the EU.

Of course Scotland could decide to leave the UK and not join the EU. But this would make Nicola Sturgeon’s grievance rather empty.  You can’t very well vote to leave the UK because it left the EU and then decide not to join yourself. That looks like hypocrisy. What’s more you would then have to negotiate from scratch a trade deal both with what remained of the UK, with the EU and in fact the whole of the world. It’s hard to imagine that leaving Scotland more prosperous.

The key lesson in the weeks and months ahead is to think about the new situation that Brexit has given us. We can turn it to our advantage by developing arguments that show how leaving the EU makes Scottish independence harder. This is how we will keep the UK united and see off the threat from the SNP.  

Friday, 27 January 2017

Boats against the current,

I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper. Perhaps it was when I went on a long train journey. But when was that? Trains have become so expensive that it is nearly always cheaper to fly. I have a picture of myself at various points in time reading print newspapers and getting ink on my fingers. I remember how newspapers were enormous and how there was a knack to folding them so as to make reading manageable. But it isn’t as if I have stopped reading newspapers. I have a series of bookmarks on my browser. Each morning there are a few sites I go to. But when did I last pay to read anything?

There was a time a few years ago when nearly every newspaper online was free. It all happened rather quickly. Suddenly something we all used to buy without much thought was free. Perhaps we didn’t buy a newspaper every day, but we did sometimes. But why pay for something that is free? It must have been at this point that I ceased to read newspapers made of actual paper.

But this is our problem really, because nothing is free. Neither baby boxes nor newspapers are free. Someone has to pay.

Newspapers are companies that pay staff to write. The people who write are called journalists. This is a job just like any other job. People may write for a living because they like writing, but they need to live just like everyone else. Would you do your job for nothing? Perhaps you would. But could you? How would you pay your bills?

But how do free newspapers make any money to pay their staff? Well there are adverts. You may notice those things along the top of the page or down the sides. Perhaps you don’t notice, because you’ve got some sort of add blocker installed so that you are not bothered by ads. What a clever idea that is. It’s almost as clever as never watching the advertisements on free television.  Above all we must make sure that we never pay for anything. That way it’s bound to stay free forever.

Have you noticed how fewer and fewer online newspapers are free now? The Times hasn’t been free for quite a while. I can only read the odd free article, before they start asking me to pay. Fair enough. But do I pay? No I just don’t read the Times anymore. The Telegraph now has a subscription model too. I can read quite a bit on the site, but most of the comment section is behind a paywall. It’s a pity. I rather miss reading some of my favourite journalists, but do I pay? No. It wouldn’t really be sensible for me to pay, because I can find more than enough alternatives.  

Just occasionally I have a look at the Guardian. They don’t have a subscription yet, but they have a begging message at the bottom of each page. No doubt if that doesn’t work they will either go out of business or find some other way of getting readers to pay.

The problem is that unless it is absolutely vital to me to read a certain newspaper or commentator I can always find more than enough alternatives. The BBC will always give me the basic news, dull and worthy, but more or less accurate. For comment I can go to sites like The Spectator or Reaction Life. If they started to charge, I could find any number of other sites.

The begging bowl approach seems to work best where readers are committed to a cause. I think it must be for this reason that people sometimes make contributions to Bella Caledonia and Wings over Scotland. What are they paying for? What would happen if readers didn’t pay?

The great thing about writing for the Internet is that it is completely free. Anyone can decide to set up an account for nothing. All they have to do is write. I have not paid one penny for any of my articles to appear online. Of course some people want to have a more special web address and that might cost something. But it isn’t necessary. So what are readers paying for?

The begging bowl approach contains an implicit threat. If you don’t pay, then I will stop writing. But why should this motivate me to pay. If the best journalist in Britain told me that if I didn’t pay he would stop writing, I still wouldn’t pay. I’d just read someone else. Are Wings and Bella really the best journalists in Britain?

What if there were no-one else who could possibly match the quality of the journalism written by the journalist asking me to pay? Under those circumstances I might think of opening my purse. But while I miss reading, for example, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and consider him to be uniquely talented in his account of economics, I can make do without him. Could it be that Wings and Bella are more unique than him?

I think readers to Wings and Bella are paying because they think it brings their cause closer. They are paying for independence. It’s a sort of instalment plan. Keep paying Wings and Bella and in time the cause will win.

It must be something to do with the way they convert Pro UK people to support independence. Every time I read the intellectual heights that Bella reaches I find myself teetering on the edge of joining the SNP. If only Wings could write more than a paragraph, I would long since have painted my face blue. Just think I too could be soaring over Scottish politics. You only have to pay a small subscription and then there are the endless delights of joining that brave band of winged freedom fighters who bring independence ever nearer by their moral example.

There is a certain objectivity about Wings over Scotland. The main task, of course, is to teach readers to think for themselves and without prejudice. Only in this way are they able to see through the veil of illusion that is spread by those who are conspiring against Scotland. If only there had been Wings at each crucial point in Scotland’s history, just like Blackadder, there would never have been a defeat at Flodden, the Darien scheme would have been a success and above all there would never have been those rogues joining us together with the Auld Enemy. Not that we have anything against this enemy of course. In fact he is our dearest friend and kind neighbour.

Is it any wonder that people are willing to pay to see the truth. No-one else is offering this purity of reality. It’s yours for only a token gift each year. Not only do you get unique wisdom backed with the most prestigious qualifications, you get hope. It’s almost like going to church. There is the sermon and then there is the collection. Everyone leaves with a sense of belonging. Soon we will all reach the Promised Land.

But for how long can all this be kept going? There is some uncertainty at the moment. I would pay quite a lot to know what Nicola Sturgeon really thinks and intends to do, but I doubt I will get that even if I were to read the Daily Record. I would like to know for certain that Theresa May will maintain the firmness of her response to SNP threats. I might even pay for that knowledge if you had an article beyond the paywall. But again like everyone else I will have to await events. Newspapers are no better at predicting the future than anyone else. 

If it becomes clear during the next year or two that there isn’t going to be Scottish independence any time soon, what happens to those to who pay to keep the dream alive? What indeed happens to SNP support in general? Does it depend on the emotion generated in 2014? When you huff and puff into a yellow balloon with a creepy looking thistle on it there is liable to come a point when it goes pop.

I’m finding that there is less and less to write about Scottish politics. We are a single issue sort of place dominated by a single issue party. We wait for the electorate to tire of the SNP and become bothered once more with day to day boring issues. It looks as if Bella recently looked down into the begging bowl and found it looked back at her. It must have seemed too to those given the gift of flight that the dream was so close that they could hardly fail to touch it. "Wings believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us." But then so did Icarus. 

I have no special ability to predict the future and so have never expected my palm to be crossed with silver. I am pleased that my job is not journalism. When readers mostly expect to read for free it is unclear to me that such a profession has a future. It is better to have a job that doesn’t depend on generosity, but rather on necessity. It’s more secure to do something that people cannot do without. There will always be new computer games and the necessity for someone to tell the rest of us what they are like. If that doesn’t work out I recommend living in a place where the plumbing is rather old fashioned and the baths so ancient they might have been used by the Romans.

Keep reading for free. That’s what I do. But if you like to read good journalists its worth remembering that someone somewhere has to pay something. I don’t pay to read newspapers. I don’t expect anyone else to. But it might be worth occasionally clicking the adverts. You don’t have to actually buy anything, but without the clicks, eventually all newspapers are either going to end up behind the paywall or else nowhere.  

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The front of the queue

One of the best bits from Tim Shipman’s book “All out War” is when he describes David Cameron’s attempt to negotiate some sort of deal with the other EU leaders. The account feels already like another country as if we could look back on those days from a perspective of centuries. But then “the past is foreign country. They do things differently there.” How transient are the political events of a year ago. I had forgotten many of the things that the papers thought at the time were momentous. But then the papers have forgotten them too. Can it really be less than a year ago that Cameron went to Brussels looking for a deal? He might as well have been wearing the clothes of his great grandfather. That world has gone. It is but a dream remembered.

The problem that David Cameron had is that he wanted something and others had to decide whether to give it to him or not. He carefully toured round all the various EU countries. But none of this actually mattered. At every point he had to ask the Germans.  There is an appearance [schein] about the EU, but there is also a reality [sein]. When you have to ask for something, what matters is whether the lady from Berlin says Ja oder nein [yes or no]. The Germans calculated that Britain would not vote to leave the EU and most importantly David Cameron would accept whatever they gave him. So they gave him more or less nothing.

This is the key lesson for our future relations with the EU. Don’t ask for anything. Luckily it looks as if Theresa May has learned it.

The world is different from how it was a year ago in other ways too. There is a long section in Shipman’s book describing how if Britain dared to leave the EU Mr Obama would put us at the back of the queue. Oddly huge numbers of British citizens cheered him on. Thank you Mr Obama. You are too kind. We want to be at the back of the queue.

No doubt some people at the time realised that Mr Obama himself would be gone by the time the issue arose, but then everyone must have calculated that the president spoke for all future presidents. It was after all long standing US policy to support the EU. Who could have guessed at the time that we would now have a president who likes Britain, who thinks of himself as in part British and Scottish, and who wants to put Britain at the front of the queue? But still some British citizens are complaining and are desperate that we should go to the back. Is this some sort of masochism or is it an inferiority complex? If you suffer from it I suggest you do what you can to get over it.

We all eventually revert to our historical roles. It is for this reason that you should read history. Not to learn from it. No one ever learns from history, but rather to understand where we all are now. Far from being an aberration, Trump is taking the United States back to its natural position. He is reasserting the Monroe Doctrine.

Both Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 and Woodrow Wilson in 1916 promised to keep the USA out of European wars. Wilson even used the slogan “America first”. Of course we all know that it didn’t work out that way. But this just expresses the tension in American history. Do we stick to our own continent or do we get involved? After a long period of interventionism the US is going to go back to its natural position. No doubt it will intervene again, but not yet.

This changes everything. It also provides Britain with an opportunity. Crucially when Theresa May goes to get her deal with the EU she is willing to walk away. We don’t particularly need anything from the EU. Imagine if we were asking for something. We’d then be in the same position as Mr Cameron. Oh please Angela let us stay in the Single Market. Oh please Angela we just won’t be able to get along without your help. Up against 27 other EU states, all of whom would want their pound of flesh, but most of all up against the Kaiserin [empress] or is that Kanzlerin [chancellor], we would once more get nothing. The price of leaving the EU under those circumstances would be to remain in the EU. This of course is what the opponents of Brexit have been hoping for. They wanted it to appear as if the UK left the EU, otherwise the peasants might revolt, but in reality we were to remain.

What we want from the EU is no more than we give. If you give us free trade we will give it back. We will let some of your citizens live and work here if you do the same. This is a prize worth having. But it is not worth being ruled by the Kaiserin.

The UK pays more into the EU than we take out, much more. But more than this, we pay more into the EU than we would pay even if we were to pay tariffs on everything we sell to them. It is this which makes our hand so strong as compared to the hand that most EU countries have. Even if, for example, Poland wanted to leave the EU it couldn’t afford to because it gets a subsidy from the EU.  

The same of course goes for Scotland. Even those Scots who dislike the UK have to calculate that leaving would mean giving up the subsidy that the UK gives to Scotland. It is this above all that makes Nicola Sturgeon’s hand so weak. Moreover, if the SNP ever won independence, which would destroy the UK, an SNP leader would still expect to go to London asking for this and that. Please let us keep the pound. Please keep the border open. Please let us have a social union and by the way we want to be best friends. How would you react to someone destroying your country? By contrast the UK doesn’t want to destroy the EU.  We are more than willing to help them achieve whatever goal they seek so long as it doesn’t involve us.

Even in a worst case scenario where the UK walks away from negotiations with the EU and gets nothing, we’d be absolutely fine. We would be no worse off than we are now with regard to our trade with Australia, New Zealand and the USA. We still buy Anchor butter and have done for years. It would be better if we had a trade deal with the EU than not, but then again it would be better if we had a trade deal with New Zealand. This is the prize that we can now get. We can get free trade both with the EU and with those countries that we at present can’t trade freely with because the EU won’t let us.

Why would the EU give us a trade deal? They may not. If they don’t it’s their loss. This again is crucial to the negotiations. Some of them want to punish Britain for leaving the EU. Good luck with that? The British people didn’t react terribly favourably to Mr Obama telling us we’d go to the back of the queue. We likewise have a long tradition of telling Europeans that we still have our two fingers.

Unfortunately for the EU, if they really tried to punish Britain they would end up punishing themselves. Many EU economies are not doing so well at the moment. Do they really want to sell less to Britain than they do at present? But it is beyond trade where the EU may find that it is in their self-interest to keep Britain as a friend.

Mr Trump is retreating into American isolationism. It’s not clear how much money he is willing to spend on European security. How many serious armed forces are there in Europe? I count three. The French, the British and the Russian. This was ably demonstrated during the war in Yugoslavia. Given the task of defending the population of Srebrenica the Dutch army preferred to surrender without firing a shot. This is not serious. My guess is that a regiment of French legionnaires or British paratroops would have done rather better. By making a stand they might have prevented a massacre occurring at all. 

The UK also has the best intelligence service in Europe and we have nuclear weapons. No-one else apart from the French has them. EU security looks like it depends rather crucially on Britain. Implicitly we bring this to the table of negotiations. Why would we be interested in the security of those who do not treat us as friends?

It is perfectly possible to imagine that within a few years we will have more or less free trade with the EU and with countries like Australia and New Zealand. Imagine if we could come up with a trade deal with Australia that meant we could live and work in each other’s countries. My guess is that quite a number of Brits would be attracted to this prospect.

It is this positive story about Britain that we have to tell in order to see off Scottish nationalism. But there is something else as well. Tim Shipman tells a story of a UK Government department getting various edicts from the EU. One of the ministers objects to what he is reading and wants to reject what he thinks is a bad idea. He is firmly told that he can’t. In the end his only task and his only choice is to just sign it. 

But what goes for a department in Westminster equally goes for a department in Holyrood. Scottish ministers will find that in areas that are devolved they will have much more power than they did before. No-one in Westminster will tell them what they can or can’t do with regard to any devolved issue, but no-one in Brussels will be able to tell them either. The Scottish Parliament will be more independent than it was before. Also it will be more powerful than it would be if it left the UK and chose to join the EU. Nicola Sturgeon is blind to this. She only wants to complain and threaten. But the prize that awaits Scotland if we all embrace leaving the EU is not only improved trade with the rest of the world, but also more power over our own affairs. It is perhaps for this reason that so many SNP supporters voted for Brexit.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Sturgeon just revealed her hand

If you’ve ever played a card game that involves bluffing, you will no doubt be aware that it crucially depends on the players not being able to see each other’s cards. I can pretend that I have four aces only if my cards are hidden. This makes it possible for me to bluff. It also makes it possible for me to win even if I have a very poor hand. Indeed my hand may be worse than yours. It all depends on what I am willing to risk.

Nicola Sturgeon has continually been telling everyone for some time that she is not bluffing. But which card player would admit to bluffing? While piling my poker chips ever higher I may suggest that I am not bluffing, but it doesn’t mean that I actually have four aces. The confidence of a poker player may be in inverse proportion to the strength of this hand. The bluff only works because of the apparent confidence.

The difficulty with politics as opposed to cards however, is that we can all see each other’s cards. Every little detail is debated endlessly in the papers. During interviews politicians are asked about their intentions. Eventually a pretty clear picture emerges of the cards that are held.

Nicola Sturgeon gave the game away last week. Since last June she has been making threats on a daily basis. At one point apparently she contemplated calling an immediate second independence referendum in response to Brexit. But she didn’t. She waited for the polls to show an increase in support for independence. But they didn’t.

At first Sturgeon demanded that Scotland must be allowed to both stay in the UK and the EU or else she would demand another independence referendum. Now she demands that Scotland must somehow remain in the EU Single Market even if the UK leaves. But it is becoming ever more apparent that Scotland will not get a special deal and that the UK will not remain in the Single Market. In response to this Sturgeon tells us that there will not be an independence referendum in 2017.

I don’t think there should be another independence referendum ever. I don’t believe that the UK Government has an obligation to give in to SNP threats. They certainly don’t have to do so at the moment. The SNP do not have a mandate, not least because independence was barely mentioned during the last Scottish Parliament election. What’s more the SNP did not win an overall majority. But anyway constitutional matters are outwith the remit of the Scottish Parliament. You cannot have a mandate to do something that is outside of your control. Neither Scottish independence nor EU membership are devolved issues. They are therefore quite literally not the business of the Scottish Parliament, nor are they properly speaking the business of the SNP.

For reasons that are unclear to me in Britain we allow some people to threaten to destroy our country while spending vast amounts of money on armed forces to protect ourselves against others who want to do likewise.

I think Nicola Sturgeon has poor cards. My guess is that she thinks this too. But don’t let’s be overconfident. Her chance of winning is about 50/50. Support for independence rose from 25% to 45% last time. It could certainly rise from 45% to 50.01% if there were a next time. Let us do all in our power to prevent their being a next time. The future of our country cannot amount to a coin toss where we continually must get a head, but if it ever comes down tails we lose forever. No country in the world would accept these odds, nor should we. It is vital that Pro UK people work to change the assumptions that underpin Scottish politics. We must not play the game according to SNP rules.

Rationally the case for Scottish independence is continually getting worse. Nicola Sturgeon’s latest announcement makes it worse still. It is likely that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March and the process of leaving the EU will take two years. But this means that Sturgeon has missed her window of opportunity. The SNP optimistically thought that leaving the UK could be achieved in the space between September 2014 and March 2016. But this means that even if an independence referendum were held in 2018, an independent Scotland would begin life both outside the UK and outside the EU. What this means is that we would neither be part of the UK’s single market nor a part of the EU’s single market. If the SNP had been granted an independence referendum last summer they might just have beaten the clock and been able to leave the UK while remaining in the EU. But that moment has passed. Now in order to join the EU an independent Scotland would have to apply in the same way as any other applicant such as Albania or Moldova or Ukraine. How long would that take?

As I have argued for some time, Brexit makes the case for Scottish independence much harder to make. It is vital that we use this opportunity to make this point ever clearer. If the UK leaves the EU Single Market then whatever trade deal the UK has with the EU and with anyone else in the world for that matter will depend on being a part of the UK. This means that if we have a deal with Australia or the United States, then Scotland would cease to benefit from this deal if we decided to leave the UK. The more Scotland depends on UK trade deals the better. This is the opportunity that Brexit gives us.

Lots of SNP supporters voted to leave the EU. If we can make a success of Brexit, then these people are more likely to support the continuance of the UK rather than Scottish independence which brings with it future EU membership. By being continually negative about the prospects of the UK Pro UK Remain supporters are liable to play into the hands of the SNP. If the UK can come out of the negotiations with the EU in a way that is both advantageous for the UK and for the EU we will have a good argument to make against Scottish nationalism. Future UK economic prosperity is our best argument against the SNP. Anyone who hopes that the UK gets a poor deal from the EU or that leaving the EU damages us economically should frankly join the SNP.

Leaving the EU gives us the chance to make the argument that in order for Scotland to become independent there would need to be a hard border between Scotland and England. If Scotland as a new EU member state had to sign up to Schengen, the Euro and free movement of people it is hard to see how we could avoid having a manned border. What would prevent anyone arriving in Scotland just getting on a bus to London? How moreover would it be possible to add customs duties to goods that were traded from Scotland to England if anyone could simply drive a lorry across the border? For this reason it is vital for the UK negotiating team to not give away anything with regard to the Northern Ireland border that might set a precedent with regard to Scotland. The Republic of Ireland may amount to a special case because it is not a member of Schengen, and this may allow a degree of leeway, but it is important that the UK does not lose the opportunity to show Scots voters that one of the things that independence gives you is an international border and international borders are not merely lines on the map. Better by far to man the Irish border than give the SNP an argument that they can use to break up Britain. This would also be in Northern Ireland’s long term interest as it is hard to imagine its present status continuing when Scottish independence would mean the UK ceased to exist.

At present the EU funds many things in Scotland. What this really means is that the UK gives the EU money and some of that money is given back to us. After Brexit it will be the UK Government that takes over the funding role. Well every time at present there is an EU flag, let that after Brexit be a Union flag. Make it clear to everyone who gets money for their farm or for their research grant or for anything whatsoever that the money comes from the UK. Those that can’t stand the UK’s flag, may decide that they don’t wish to receive the money.

The argument is going our way. Brexit is making the argument for Scottish independence harder to make. It is partly for this reason that support for independence has not increased and why Nicola Sturgeon is scared to play out the hand and show the cards she actually holds. The only card she really holds is nationalism. In a Scottish context nationalism is almost identical with victimhood and grievance. Those nasty English people voted differently from us nice Scots again. How dare they? With variants this is Sturgeon’s only argument. Unfortunately it is very persuasive to many Scots. 

We must be careful not to add to the grievance. You will have to wait Nicola, is better than "No", but it can amount to the same thing.  It is even more important to continually emphasise that most of the things that we like about living in Scotland depend on our being an integral part of the UK. The window of opportunity may have closed for the SNP. If we remain vigilant and if we accept the opportunities that Brexit gives us we may well secure the future of our country forever.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

A new Act of Union

Every now and again someone in Scottish politics pops up and mentions the word federalism. This has become even more frequent since the EU referendum. Apparently the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU, while England and Wales voted to Leave has caused a problem that is so enormous that we need to have a new Act of Union, still more powers for Scotland and the other parts of the UK and we need to call this new arrangement federalism.

Various models of federalism have been proposed. Some imagine that England ends up with its own parliament others that England is divided into various regions. It strikes me that if England can be split up into regions, then so too could Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  While Scotland has received a great deal of devolution from the UK in the past decades it has also seen a great deal of centralisation within Scotland. I would much prefer to be ruled by a local assembly based somewhere in Aberdeenshire. If it is correct to devolve power to Scotland, why not devolve it to the town level within Scotland?  

But it is entirely unclear to me how any of this addresses the issue of the EU. The threat to the UK comes from the SNP. As Scotland voted differently to the UK as a whole, the SNP think this justifies them threatening to leave. Would federalism alleviate this threat?

Ever since we began the process of devolution in Scotland we have been promised that giving more power to Scotland will eliminate Scottish nationalism. In fact quite the opposite has occurred. Scottish independence has gained in popularity the more power has been devolved to Scotland. A generation ago we had a constitutional convention that Labour and the Lib Dems promised would solve the problem. It didn’t solve the problem, but rather created it and then made it worse. Next Gordon Brown in response to higher than expected support for Scottish independence vowed to give the Scottish parliament still more powers. He no doubt expected that this too would see off Scottish nationalism. Now Kezia Dugdale promises a new constitutional convention giving Scotland still more powers. This too she, no doubt, hopes will diminish SNP support in Scotland and transfer it to her.

It really is time for a period of reflection by Labour. They have frankly done enough damage as it is. They were the first to play the nationalist card when the continually complained about England voting for Thatcher while Scotland voted for Labour. It was this and this alone that gave rise to the modern SNP and the loss of nearly every Labour MP in Scotland. It would be well if Dugdale, Brown and Co. first apologised for the damage that they have done before attempting to do more.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea of federalism. It works well in a number of countries. But it doesn’t really address the issue. Scotland already has a similar amount of power to a state in the United States. Would giving Scotland still more power satisfy Nicola Sturgeon? Scottish nationalists greedily gobble up ever little concession of power from Mr Brown etc., but do they ever make a concession in return? They would react in exactly the same way to federalism as they reacted to devolution and “the Vow”. They would take it, bank it, complain that they hadn’t in fact been given anything and then ask for more.

Devolution and indeed federalism depends on the idea that some issues are devolved while others are decided centrally. Some people seem to forget that while each state in the United States has a great deal of state power and local devolution within each state down to the town level, there is also a strong central government. There are things that each state decides for itself and things that are decided in Washington.  

Even if the UK were a federal state, there would be times when Scotland would be outvoted. This is not a problem with devolution. It is a feature of devolution. Perhaps Miss Dugdale thinks federalism would give Scotland a veto over leaving the EU or the arrangement that results from leaving. But then should London have a veto, or Yorkshire? Why should one grouping of five million people be more equal than others? Perhaps Miss Dugdale or Miss Sturgeon think that a Labour or SNP majority in Scotland should be able to rule over the whole of the UK. But all this shows is that they both have tendencies in the direction of Scottish nationalism.

It is crucial to realise that talk of federalism is to miss the point for even if the UK were a federal state matters to do with foreign relations would still be controlled by Central Government. So how would this arrangement help the present situation? Federalism just makes one more concession to the SNP without changing the fundamentals in any way whatsoever. Scotland and Northern Ireland would still have been outvoted even in a federal UK, because international issues would not and could be devolved. It is Washington that makes trade deals, peace treaties or war. Bismarck North Dakota may find itself outvoted.

It is vital that Scottish politicians cease helping the SNP. They all, including Ruth Davidson, think that it is a problem that Scotland voted one way while the UK voted differently. It is not a problem it is a feature of us all living in a single sovereign nation state called the UK. Devolution and federalism can give the parts of such a country a degree of power, but they cannot make a part always vote the same way as the whole. In no country in the world is there such an arrangement. On certain issues parts are always going to be outvoted.

There is no level of federalism that will satisfy California if it is determined to leave the USA because it doesn’t like President Trump. Federalism does not guarantee that there is not going to be secession. The USSR was a federal state. So was Czechoslovakia. The United States itself was threatened by secession. Its federalism did not save it.  It was instead saved by the United States Army.

The crucial point is that even if the UK were federal the parts would be subordinate to the whole. No amount of devolution will change this. But it is this that Scottish nationalists will not accept. But to grant them what they wish is to grant them independence. There is only one lesson to learn in Scottish politics, but no-one seems to be able to grasp it. You can do nothing to satisfy a Scottish nationalist, so don’t try.  Give them nothing.

Devolution or federalism only works when it does not give rise to nationalism. If the parts of the federation continually think of themselves as independent then they will continually be insubordinate. This is what is happening in Britain at the moment. We do not need to have a constitutional convention. All we need is the acceptance by everyone that devolution involves the fact that certain decisions are taken centrally. It is this after all that we voted for when we voted for a Scottish parliament. When this is not accepted then logically devolution subverts. When this happens it would make more sense to take away the source of the subversion rather than allow it still more power to continue to undermine the unity of the United Kingdom.

There is no need for yet another constitution convention. The issues are already clear. But it might indeed be well to have a new Act of Parliament, call it a new Act of Union if you will. The Act should state that the United Kingdom is permanent, that its parts are subordinate to the whole and that the UK Government will not tolerate attempts to undermine our nation state from within. No power either foreign or domestic may be allowed to do this. The Act should furthermore state that the United Kingdom’s experiment with referendums has now ceased and that all future decisions will be made by Parliament. It doesn’t require federalism to pass such an Act. It only requires a majority of MPs.