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Scotland

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A Short Generation in Scotland

Maybe they reach sexual maturity very young in Scotland. What else could explain the fact that they are going to have another referendum on Scottish independence only three years after the last one?

The Scottish referendum on independence in 2014 was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation event. That was the one thing that then-British Prime Minister David Cameron and then-Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond agreed on: even a one-vote majority would settle the matter for a generation.

In fact, the majority to stay in the United Kingdom was close to half a million. It couldn’t have been a clearer outcome. There was none of the obfuscation for which Quebec’s referendums on independence from Canada were famous (like the 106-word question in the 1980 referendum that did not even mention the word “independence”).

The referendum in Scotland simply asked: “Should Scotland be an independent country” – and the Scots said No by a 55%-45% majority. But only thirty months later, the next generation of Scots must already have arrived.

Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond’s successor as leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of the Scottish government, announced on Monday that there will be a second referendum on Scottish independence in late 2018 or early 2019. She didn’t even have the grace to say best two out of three.

It’s Sturgeon’s job to promote the idea of independence, of course, but she needed a plausible pretext to demand a re-run of Scotland’s own referendum so soon. The English nationalists who committed the entire United Kingdom to leaving the European Union in last June’s referendum gave her that pretext: 53 percent of the English voted to leave the EU, but 62 percent of Scots voted to stay.

Why such a difference? Because the “Little Englanders” who voted to leave were seduced by the neo-Elizabethan fantasy of a swash-buckling, free-trading England that would stay rich by living on its wits. (Unlike the real Elizabethan England of 400 years ago, whose major foreign source of income was piracy.)

Scotland was never a great power, and it views the European Union as an economic and political safe haven. A large majority of Scots have no desire to leave the EU – especially if they are being dragged out of it by the gravely deluded English.

So Nicola Sturgeon can reasonably say that there has been a “material change of circumstances” since the first Scottish referendum, and claim that this change justifies another one. However, her claim is seriously undermined by the fact that Scots are opposed to another referendum, even under current circumstances, by a three-to-two majority. The whole referendum process is just too painful and divisive.

Moreover, there has been another “material change of circumstances” that hurts the case for Scottish independence. Low oil prices and the gradual depletion of the North Sea oil fields have cut the Scottish government’s tax take from North Sea oil revenue from $14.2 billion in 2008-09 to only $2.2 billion in 2015 and a mere $73 million this year. The oil income that subsidised Scotland’s high social spending is finished.

Then there is the fact that the European Union is made up of sovereign states, and that such states instinctively cooperate to discourage and punish separatism in any of their members. Brussels has plainly stated that an independent Scotland would not automatically retain EU membership.

This is the “Barroso doctrine” – that if any part of an existing EU country becomes an independent state it has to apply for membership – and the European Commission has just reconfirmed that Scotland would be subject to this rule. The application process for new members normally takes many years.

So an independent Scotland could find itself outside the EU single market because of Brexit, and outside the British single market as well because of its secession from the United Kingdom. Scotland exports four times as much to the ROUK (Rest of the United Kingdom) as it does to the EU, so this could spell economic disaster.

At the same time Scotland would also find itself outside NATO, the main Western alliance. As Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato Secretary General, told Sky News: “By leaving the UK, (Scotland) would also leave Nato. Of course it is absolutely possible to apply for membership and then the allies will decide.” But that would certainly take years.

The future looks distinctly unpromising for an independent Scotland that breaks away from the United Kingdom just as the UK pulls out of Europe. (It hardly looks golden for England either.) The Scots didn’t vote yes for independence even when there was no Brexit in the offing. Why would they do it now?

One reason would simply be anger at the arrogance and stupidity of the Little Englanders who have presented them with this unpalatable choice. But there is little enthusiasm in Scotland for independence on these terms. Most Scots just wish the whole question would go away.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 14. (“In fact…independence”; and “At the same…years”)

Brexit – and Maybe Then Frexit, Nexit, Swexit, Plexit…?

“The EU is dying. I hope we’ve knocked the first brick out of the wall,” exulted Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party. He proposed that June 23rd, when the British narrowly voted (51.8 percent of the votes) to leave the European Union, should be a new national holiday called Independence Day.

But author J.K. Rowling, who wanted Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom and the UK to remain in the EU, tweeted sadly: “Scotland will seek independence now. Cameron’s legacy will be breaking up two unions. Neither needed to happen.”

Soon-to-be-former Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership has assured the dismantling of the United Kingdom. 58 percent of the English voted “Leave”, while 62 percent of Scots voted “Remain”. It is “democratically unacceptable” for Scotland to be dragged out of the EU by the English, said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and a second independence referendum in Scotland is “highly likely”.

It remains to be seen whether Cameron’s historic blunder will also trigger the disintegration of the EU itself, but there are plenty of right-wing nationalists in other EU countries who hope there will be a domino effect.

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Front National, called the UK referendum “a key moment in European history” and said “I hope the French also have a similar exercise.” And “Frexit”is just the start.

Geert Wilders, whose anti-Muslim, anti-immigration Freedom Party is predicted to win 46 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament in next year’s election, promised that if he were elected, the Netherlands will hold its own “Nexit” referendum. Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League and the populist 5-Star Movement both called for a referendum on Italian membership of the EU.

Kristian Thulesen Dahls, the leader of the Danish People’s Party, said that Denmark should follow Britain’s lead. Nationalist leaders in Eastern Europe like Poland’s Jarosław Kaczynski and Hungary’s Viktor Orban indulge in harsh anti-EU rhetoric all the time. And so on.

But most of the people who might vote for thes nationalist leaders are not seeking the destruction of the EU, just big changes in the way it works – in particular the reform or abolition of the euro and much stricter controls on immigration. Unlike the “Little Englanders” who voted for Brexit, they see the European Union as an essential bulwark against a return to the old Europe of beggar-my-neighbour trade policies and savage wars.

The EU’s leaders will have to take a very tough line in the negotiations about the European Union’s post-Brexit relations with the rump of the UK. A horrible example will be required to show the nationalists and populists in other members that leaving is hard and painful. And to preserve the EU they will have to abolish or drastically restructure the euro currency (but that had become necessary anyway).

The odds are, however, that the EU will survive. Its biggest problem will not be the loss of Britain, its second-biggest economy, but rather the fact that post-Brexit Germany will dominate the Union even more than it does already.

As for the English, they have made their bed and they will have to lie in it. The pound sterling has already lost much value and will probably lose much more. The last of the three major global ratings agencies, Standard and Poor’s, will downgrade the UK’s AAA credit rating. Foreign investment will dry up, in recognition of the fact that the country will probably lose duty-free access to the EU’s “single market”.

Further down the road more pain will follow, as jobs disappear abroad, the English economy goes into recession, and the City of London starts to lose its status as a global financial centre rivalled only by New York. That will make domestic politics nasty enough, but the anti-immigrant fervour and outright racism that disfigured the “Leave” campaign are unlikely to dwindle in the ugly aftermath.

Scotland will vote to secede from the UK, but it will face major legal and political barriers in its campaign to remain a member of the EU in its own right. Spain in particular will give it a hard time, as Madrid does not want it to provide a precedent for Catalonia seceding from Spain and painlessly re-emerging as an independent EU member.

Northern Ireland will face an even harder time, as the Republic of Ireland will continue to be a EU member and so it will have to re-establish border controls. One alternative,of course, would be for Northern Ireland (which voted strongly in favour of EU membership) to unite with the Republic – but Northern Irish Protestants would still fiercely resist such a proposal, and in that context a revival of armed conflict in the province is not unthinkable.

The triumph of Brexit is a most regrettable outcome for everybody involved and possibly even for the world economy. But perhaps it isn’t really all that shocking: Charles De Gaulle vetoed British entry to the Common Market, the EU’s ancestor, for five years on the grounds that it didn’t really have a “European vocation”. Turns out he was right.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 13 and 14. (Scotland…unthinkable”)

Brexit: What If?

After months in which opinion polls showed a 6-10 percent lead for the “Remain” side in the referendum campaign on continued British membership of the European Union, the numbers have suddenly shifted in favour of “Leave”. The latest Guardian/ICM polls revealed that 52 percent of those polled favour Brexit (British exit from the EU), while only 48 percent want to stay in.

These numbers may even understate the probable outcome if the referendum were held today, and not in three weeks’ time (23 June). “Out” voters are typically older, whiter and less urban than the “In” supporters – and much more likely to vote on the day.

One “Remain” campaigner even fantasised about the ideal poster to motivate young pro-EU Brits to take the trouble of actually bothering to register and then vote. It would show an election queue of elderly, well-dressed white voters, all clearly unlikely to be around in 25 years’ time, and the tag-line would say: “Don’t Let These People Decide Your Future.” Needless to say, it will not decorate any actual walls.

So what if Brexit really does win the referendum? Even if the margin of victory is very small, the decision will in practice be irrevocable. And two things will certainly follow almost instantly.

One is the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, whose position will become impossible. It was he who promised a needless referendum three years ago, not in response to overwhelming popular demand but in a blundering attempt to placate the obsessively anti-EU right wing of his own Conservative Party. Then he led the campaign AGAINST Brexit – and lost it.

The other certainty is that Scotland will vote to remain in the EU, no matter how the rest of the United Kingdom votes, and will not let its wishes be overruled by the ROUK (as the rest of the country will doubtless come to be known). The Scottish National Party, fresh from an election victory at home, will call a second referendum on Scottish secession from the United Kingdom, and almost certainly win it.

After that, however, the glass gets darker. The new Conservative leader and prime minister would probably be Boris Johnson, Britain’s answer to Donald Trump. Perhaps no leader could negotiate a divorce settlement with the EU that protected Britain’s vital trade interests, but Johnson, at the head of a party mired in a civil war and with a working majority of only 18 seats in parliament, is least likely of all to achieve it.

Under article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, negotiations for the withdrawal of any EU member must be concluded within two years after the country in question says it intends to leave. The big issues would be continuing British duty-free access to the “single market” made up of the other 27 EU members – almost half of Britain’s exports go to EU countries – and continued free movement of labour across national borders

“It will be imperative to stop the Brexit contagion from gripping other countries,” said one EU official, so European negotiators will want to impose harsh terms on Britain in order to show other potential defectors that leaving is not cost-free. Since only 8 percent of EU exports go to Britain (and only two EU countries run a trade surplus with the UK), nobody will go out on a limb to preserve duty-free British access to the single market.

As for free movement of labour, ending it would require the expulsion of at least a million EU citizens currently working in the United Kingdom. Preserving it, on the other hand, would mean keeping the door open to uncontrolled immigration from other EU countries – but closing that door was a key promise of the Brexit campaign. This will not be a friendly divorce, and Britain’s negotiating position is not good.

Meawhile, Scotland would be having its own difficulties. A second referendum would certainly back independence from the UK, but it would not be easy for Scotland to retain (or rather, regain) its EU membership.

Legally, it would have to re-apply, and other EU members (notably Spain) that want to discourage parts of their own countries from seceding will have every reason to make things hard for the Scots. They could end up waiting outside the door for a long time.

As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Scotland would just be collateral damage, and the Rest of the UK would deserve and get very little sympathy when the divorce negotiations turn nasty. What will worry everybody else is the risk to the unity of the rest of the EU.

It is a bad time for Europe. Economic growth is low, unemployment and debt are high, and refugees are pouring in from the Middle East and Africa. Hard-right populist movements like the Front National in France and Alternative fuer Deutschland in Germany, anti-immigrant and anti-EU, are growing everywhere in Europe, and are already in power in Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland.

The real fear is that the “Brexit contagion” will spread, and that other EU members will also acquire governments that just want out. That’s actually not a very high probability, but nobody wants the old pre-EU Europe back.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 8. (“One…walls”; and “Under…borders”)

Scotland Stays

A week ago, the “Kurdistan Times” warned that “the British are exercising the old colonialist tongue to control the minds and dampen the aspirations of Scottish people who want to vote Yes (to independence).” And lo! It came to pass just as the Kurdistan Times predicted. The silver-tongued colonialists lured the Scots into voting No, and by a fairly healthy margin, too: 55 percent No, 45 percent Yes.

It is, indeed, a much wider margin for the No than the last time a proposal for secession was voted on in a Western country, in Canada in 1995. In that referendum, just 50.5 percent of Quebecers voted No, compared to 49.5 percent who voted Yes.

It was a near-death experience for Canada, in the sense that Quebec bulks much larger in Canada than Scotland does in the United Kingdom. It has almost a quarter of the Canadian population, whereas Scotland has only 8 percent of the UK population.

At the time, many Canadians thought that the country’s demolition had only been deferred, not averted. It was, after all, the second referendum on Quebec’s independence, and it was a lot closer to a Yes than the first one in 1980 (60 percent No, 40 percent Yes). Third time lucky, muttered the separatists of the Parti Quebecois. And everybody else assumed that they’d just keep holding referendums until they got the right answer.

That was when a Montreal journalist called Josh Freed coined the word “Neverendum” to describe the process, and for more than a decade that was the wheel that everybody in Quebec assumed that they were tied to. But they turned out to be wrong. Almost two decades later there has been no third referendum, nor is there any on the horizon.

Indeed, there was a provincial election in Quebec in April, and the Parti Quebecois looked set to win it – until one of its star candidates started talking about another referendum on independence, and the PQ’s vote suddenly collapsed. A recent poll revealed that 64 percent of Quebecers, and an even higher proportion of young Quebecers, don’t want another referendum.

Could it work out that way in Scotland too? That would be good, because what will probably happen if another referendum remains a possibility is what befell Quebec: a low-level depression that lasted for decades as investors avoided a place whose future was so uncertain, and existing businesses pulled out. It was not even that everybody knew that Quebec’s independence would be an economic disaster; just that nobody could be certain it wouldn’t be.

The result was that Quebec’s share of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product, which was around 25 percent when the separatist Parti Quebecois was first elected in 1976, is now less than 20 percent. That is about 90 billion dollars of lost economic activity in Quebec each year, even though another referendum on independence has been a rapidly receding prospect for at least the past dozen years.

How might Scotland avoid that fate? The only way, really, is for “Devo Max” to work so well, and so thoroughly satisfy Scots’ understandable desire for more control over their own government and economy, that nobody talks about independence any more. That will be more than a little tricky.

“Devo Max” – maximum devolution of power from London to Edinburgh – would leave little else but defence and foreign affairs to the UK parliament in London. Everything else would be decided by Scots, in Scotland, including rates of taxation and the level of spending on health and welfare.

So what’s the problem? Scotland was already more than halfway there before the independence referendum. In the panicky last days before the vote, when it briefly looked like the Yes might squeak through to a narrow victory, all three major British parties promised to deliver the other half as well.

But it will be very hard for them to keep their promises, which include placing what amounts to a proposal for a new British constitution before the Westminster parliament by next March. They are starting with three different versions of Devo Max for Scotland, and getting to a single agreed version (which also satisfies the great majority of Scots) in only six months is a tall order.

Even more difficult is the fact that Scotland cannot all be given all these powers while the other parts of the United Kingdom – Wales, Northern Ireland and even the various regions of England – stay just the same. There must be at least some more devolution for them too, but that debate has barely started.

What the United Kingdom must do in the next six months, in other words, is design and pass its first written constitution. And it will not just codify existing arrangements; it will radically change them. Meanwhile, the disappointed Scottish supporters of the Yes will be looking for opportunities to claim that the “English” (as they will put it) are reneging on their promises.

So what are the odds that Scotland will escape the “planning blight” of a long period during which a second referendum lurks in the shadows, and the economic damage accumulates? Not very good.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3, 6 and 14. (“It was…population”; “Indeed…referendum”; and “What…promises”)