Friday, 31 March 2017

The Underminers Strike

One of the more depressing features of the devolution era has been the willingness and frequency with which the British nationalist parties have sought to undermine the Scottish Parliament.

This has manifested itself in a host of ways - from the Conservatives campaigning against the very existence of devolution to Scottish Labour working to undermine public confidence in the institution by refusing to send its best minds to Holyrood (for Scottish Labour, of course, thinking is a matter reserved to Westminster), and instead filling the chamber with a combination of the comically stupid and the terminally bitter. 

In the early days of devolution the Liberals, to be fair, did try and make it work. Albeit with no other real option, they sent the best they had to Holyrood. They developed some progressive and innovative legislation in the short period of Unionist rule within the confines set by their Scottish Labour partners that Scotland must never be tangibly different from Britain.

But even the Liberals have given up on devolution. With Scottish Labour turfed out of office, the Liberals made the awful mistake of appointing Nicol Stephen - a Unionist so hardline and bitter he made Ian Paisley look like a Shinner - as their leader. A hardline and bitter leader led to a hardline and bitter party, which would obstruct the governance of Scotland at every turn. The party has never recovered, and has become more obdurately Unionist over the years, even as they saw their number of constituencies collapse from 16 when the SNP took power, to three, to one. 

But recently the Unionists have been ramping up the idea that devolution itself is illegitimate. 

In the last parliament, Scottish Labour had for part of it a leader who actively campaigned against devolution. Their erstwhile deputy leader denounced the devolved institutions as "not democratic". Their Conservative partners contain in their ranks today not a few MSPs who would gladly abolish devolution tomorrow if it was possible, and the rest would accept any unilateral British abolition of devolution as a sign of being a Good Unionist. 

But it's only in the wake of fundamental disagreement between the Scottish and UK parliaments that the extent to which the Unionists will undermine the devolved institutions. Devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people, expressed in an overwhelming referendum victory 20 years ago, and reaffirmed in the now-discredited referendum of 2014.

That devolution settlement, promised by the British during the 2014 campaign, promised a powerhouse Scottish parliament in a near-Federal UK. However, the British government reneged on their promise to enshrine the Scottish parliament within the constitution within months of getting their No vote. 

And now, with Brexit, it's becoming clear that the Unionists are actively trying to delegitimise the Scottish parliament. The cross-party vote in Holyrood for Scotland to stay in the single market was denounced by the Unionists the moment the British regime announced -without consultation - that they were taking Scotland out of the single market.

It's taken 20 years, but we've finally come to the first major constitutional crisis between Westminster and Holyrood. And in that very first constitutional crisis - between the elected Scottish parliament and a Tory prime minister with no mandate from her party, much less the country - the Unionists have leapt to the defence of the Union Jack immediately. 

They have abandoned any remaining pretence of supporting a "strong Scottish parliament" in favour of a parliament entirely subordinate to the whims of the British government of the day. 

It is a dangerous precedent to set. But it's the one they have: the Scottish parliament is allowed to make decisions and take positions only insamuch as they do not come into conflict with the British government - and, where they do, the will of the British government must always prevail. 

I wonder how long it will be before the British government offers them their reward: the noise will soon start that it is democratically unacceptable for a party to govern Scotland for 14 years or more on less than 50% of the vote - and that powersharing between the pro-independence parties and the Unionist parties will be implemented, Stormont-style. 


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Nedelex

Among the chaos that is British politics at the moment - a BBC journalist observed after yesterday's announcement that if he woke up in two years and found that a cat had become prime minister he wouldn't be remotely surprised - tomorrow's knife-edge elections in the Netherlands have rather passed the media by. 

This is a) because the British erroneously view the Dutch as nice Germans with funny accents whose politics are of no importance to the wider European Union; and b) they are utterly consumed with their selfish, mad Brexit.

It's an overlooking that couldn't be more wrong, as these are utterly vital elections not only for the Netherlands, but for Europe as a whole - and which themselves have Brexit implications. 

The current government (a grand coalition of the Labour party Partij van de Arbeid and the centre-right Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie) is the first Dutch government this century to complete its mandate. A grand coalition is not particularly unusual in the Netherlands (a previous coalition between the VVD and PvdA was led by a chap named, improbably, Mr. Kok). 

Voters will go to the polls to elect 150 members of the tweede kamer. Deputies will be elected by means of proportional representation, with the Netherlands being treated as one single, giant constituency. 

The incumbent VVD minister-president, one Mark Rutte, is seeking re-election. Aside from the PvdA, led by Lodewijk Asscher, the other main parties are Emile Roemer's Socialistische Partij, the small Christian-liberal CDA, D66, which believes in government by referendum, the Christian Union (basically Protestant ISIS), and the Green-Left party. We're then into wacky territory with the Reformed Party (Dutch Wee Frees), the Party for the Animals, and then there's a few mad parties that nobody will ever vote for (a pensioners' party, a party for Turks, and a party that wants to base the constitution on the Bible).


The PvdA, in common with all mainstream European centre-left parties, has collapsed in the opinion polls. Like PA.SO.K, like Scottish Labour and like Labour in Ireland, like the PS in France, they are in a state of crisis. 

Some opinion polls have them finishing as low as seventh place, with voters furious at their apparent relish at implementing austerity politics. And like in England and Wales, the voters who're fleeing from the PvdA in disgust at their apparent out-of-touch aloofness aren't going to a centrist party or a more purified socialist part, they're going to the far right. 

They're going, specifically, to the Freedom Party, PVV.

And like in Scotland with Scottish Labour, the PvdA isn't reacting to this haemmorhaging of electors by ditching its commitment to capitalist and austerity economics and returning to its socialist roots, but by borrowing the language of the far-Right. Asscher, shamefully, has started calling for intra-EU immigration to be curbed. 

In common with the slow death of other centre-left parties in the EU, however, it isn't working. Voters won't vote for a pint of skimmed milk when they can vote for a full-fat version. They won't vote for Maggie Curran screeching about foreigners when they can have Nigel Farage instead. 

And so, despite the shift in language, they're switching from the PvdA of Lodewijk Asscher to the PVV of Geert Wilders.

Geert Wilders is the most controversial politician in the Netherlands - possibly their most controversial ever, and I say that advisedly of a country which produced the late Pim Fortuyn - by some considerable distance. 

He is an orthodox populist bigot who espouses all the views one expects from the new breed of alt-Right (for "alt", read "neo", and for "Right", read "Nazi") politician in Europe and the United States. He's anti-Islam, wants to ban mosque construction, he's pro-Israel, and he works with parties such as the Front Nationale, FPÖ, Lega Nord, and the Vlaams Belang. He wants to ban women wearing the burqa, and supported a Muslim Ban before Donald Trump had ever heard of it.

The most-threatened politician in the Netherlands, Wilders has used his position as a Deputy in the tweede kamer to launch nationalist ideals into Dutch public life. His denunciation of foreigners (particularly Turks and Moroccans) makes Nigel Farage look like Patrick Harvie. 

Oh, and he's probably going to win the election. 

In a country long held up as an exemplary liberal and tolerant one, a Nazi is about to win the general election. He's exceptionally unlikely to be minister-president afterwards, as the other parties have pledged to build a cordon sanitaire around the PVV. But pledges aren't laws. And party leaders don't last forever. 

Now, winning a Dutch election is different from winning a British election. The winner tomorrow is likely to have fewer than 25 seats in the 150-member parliament. 

There was some glimmer of hope in the last couple of days that the PVV was falling behind the VVD in the opinion polls, which it had led for some time. 

But the astonishing behaviour of the Turkish regime in the last 48 hours, and the tantrum of its dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, towards the Netherlands, coupled with a series of Turkish riots against Dutch security forces in the aftermath of the EU-Turkey diplomatic crisis will only benefit one party - and it won't be the VVD. 

There's likely to be a short-lived, four/five-party coalition - probably the current government with the CDA, D66 and maybe the CU or GL propping it up if necessary. 

But the far-Right have been knocking at the door in Europe for a while. Emboldened by the success of Donald Trump in the United States and of Brexit in the United Kingdom, the far-Right has come close to success before. In Austria, they came within 350.000 votes of winning the (ceremonial) presidency. 

Geert Wilders isn't going to be in government tomorrow or any other time. But if he wins the elections, you'll find a lot of parties moving to adopt some of his policies. Sure, the PvdA isn't going to adopt a burqa ban any time soon. But if Turkey keeps on its present course, mightn't the VVD retaliate with some sort of sanctions on Turkish citizens immigrating to the Netherlands as a way of trying to attract PVV voters back to the mainstream?

And what a Wilders victory tomorrow will do to voters in France next month doesn't bear thinking of. They'll see a far-Right candidate winning the election and feel emboldened to support their own far-Right candidate. And where Jean-Marie le Pen got less than 20% of the votes in the second round of his own presidential runoff, Marine le Pen has a much better chance. 

A slim chance, still, to be sure. But the planets are aligning for her. And if Francois Fillon falls out of the race at this late stage, that benefits her more than any other candidate. 

There are dark days ahead for Europe. Maybe they are already here. 

Monday, 31 October 2016

Scotland in both the Common Market and the UK won't happen

No English-based international business based north of about Birmingham would resist the opportunity to move a few kilometres up the road, have a similarly-skilled workforce, still conduct their business in the English language, but keep their access to the EU's Common Market. 

The pooling and sharing of resources in the United Kingdom is a two-way activity. We pool our oil and our gas and our booming economy, and the British share with us their wars and their debts. 

Anyone who believes for an instant that any British government will ever allow jobs to go from an English city to a Scottish one is deluded. The immediate consequence of allowing jobs to go from Sunderland to Glasgow or from Liverpool to Paisley will be the replacement of the local MP with a Ukip one at the subsequent general election. 

Perhaps if the Scottish Parliament spoke with one voice on the matter, we could pressurise the British into following the Danish example.

But the Opposition are now in favour of a Hard Brexit, including Scotland. And the Dugdale-led Scottish Labour will always support any British government of whichever party to the hilt. Even the "pro-European" Liberal party is lining up to ditch its commitment to Scotland's place in Europe in favour of our place in Little Britain. 

There can be no compromises. The realpolitik is clear. 

It is a choice: Scotland in the United Kingdom, or Scotland in Europe. We won't be allowed both. And even if we were, the problem still remains - the UK parliament is sovereign in all matters and cannot bind its successors. There is nothing stopping a future British government (and the May Regime does not look as though it will last too long) from reneging on any commitments a predecessor made to Scotland. 

And when they do renege, Little Miss Union will be up on her hind legs, standing shoulder to shoulder with her Tory buddies as always.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Union, union, über alles

Scottish Labour types like to imagine themselves as the defenders of European social democracy, standing fast and firm against the Conservatives and nationalists who seek to tear the country apart.

It is, of course, gash. And no more ably has this been demonstrated by the breathtaking speed in which Scottish Labour changed from being a pro-EU party to an anti-EU party in a matter of days - without any input from the remaining members or, seemingly, any consultation even with its little handful of parliamentarians.

Scottish Labour, of course, long since ceased to exist for any practical political purposes. It now serves as a support group for loyalist sewer rat and lonely MP Ian Murray who, as Kezia Dugdale's political hero, positions the party to face whatever way benefits him at any particular moment. 

Nobody joins the Scottish Labour party because they want to fight for socialism. That battle was lost in 1994 when Tony Blair ditched the last remnants of socialism from the party's constitution. 

And nobody joins Scottish Labour to maintain global peace. 

The sight of Margaret Curran shrieking in delight as she voted to incinerate Iraqi babies in their nurseries and cots, with every single Scottish Labour MSP (except John McAllion who subsequently walked out of the party in disgust) voting with the Tories for the illegal, genocidal assault on the children of Iraq put paid to that. 

Why do people join Scottish Labour, then?

From 2003-2016 it was career-seeking Unionists. People like Dugdale who are motivated first, last and always, by maintaining the Union (and not the trade Unions: not a single Thatcher-era anti-trade Union law was changed in 13 years of New Labour rule) flocked to Scottish Labour because the party's talent puddle combined with the then-extant structure sending dozens of party members to councils and various parliaments meant that they were all but guaranteed a job for life sucking at the teat of public cash.

People like this, of course, will now join the Tories. There is no point in joining Scottish Labour because there are no jobs to be had with them. Brylcreemed, besuited young Unionists who seek a political career will switch seamlessly to the other cheek of Better Together.

Of course, Scottish Labour did have an opportunity to demonstrate that it wasn't all about the Union; that the first thing they thought of when they woke in the morning, and the last thing they thought of at night, wasn't the Union and how best they could continue to be ruled by Theresa May. 

And with the deft political touch that Dugdale is famed for, she...er, made an arse of it. 

The discrepancy in the Scottish and British votes in the European Union referendum gave Scottish Labour a final chance to try and survive as a credible political party. They could have taken the position that the Scottish vote to Remain was so overwhelming that them mandate had to be respected as quite distinct from the UK vote to Leave. 

They could have argued for special status for Scotland along Danish lines - of the three constituent countries of the Kingdom of Denmark, two are non-EU states and one is an EU member. 

It is unlikely that the May regime would have entertained such a call. But it would have demonstrated that Scottish Labour was a party trying its best to marry together Scotland's No and Remain votes in the best interests of Scotland. 

However, such a plan would necessitate Home Rule for Scotland, along the same lines as the Faroe Islands and Greenland already enjoy, and Scottish Labour's milquetoast leader would never be able to get such a plan through her ultra-Unionist party leadership. 

Scottish Labour promised Scots if we voted No, we'd have Home Rule in a federal United Kingdom within the European Union. They have betrayed that promise. And they don't get to demand that we Yessers lie back and accept the result of the independence referendum as long as the Unionists and the British regime are betraying the promises they made to achieve it. Until Home Rule within the European Union is granted, the independence referendum result ought to be considered provisional. 

The speed of Scottish Labour's u-turn on Europe - one week touring the country campaigning for a Remain vote, the next, demanding with almost hysterical panic that Scotland leaves the EU despite voting to Remain - shows that Scotland's place in Europe was never a principle for them; merely a tactic.

There is palpable panic in the rather less than serried ranks of Scottish Labour footsoldiers. They know that they have been comprehensively outmanoeuvred by the Yes campaign, and stabbed in the back by their erstwhile partners in Better Together. 

It is beyond doubt that Scotland has scored a democratic mandate to Remain in the European Union, and all the evidence is that chancelleries across Europe are keen for us to stay. 

When the next referendum campaign starts - and I expect the vote to come next summer - the British regime is not going to be able to issue threats to Scotland as openly as in the previous campaign: for if they did, and they lost, they would find that instead of a friendly neighbour, they had an implacable enemy - and one which would have a veto in the European Council on any positive deal for the British. 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Only two things have changed since Indyref1

1. Everything we said has turned out to be true.

2. Everything the Unionists promised turned out to be a lie, and everything they didn't lie about, they were betrayed by the British anyway. 

The British and their familiars promised us that by now, we'd have the most powerful Home Rule parliament in the history of mankind - in a federal United Kingdom of four equal nations - within the European Union. 

They lied. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Brexit: the consequences for Scotland

It's now quite clear that the British prime minister is now determined to push on with a hard Brexit, entirely regardless of the lack of a mandate to do so, and equally heedless of the protestations of the Scottish government, which rules a constituent nation that voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. 

The extent of the contempt in which Scotland is held in Whitehall, and the speed with which the lie that we are a valued, equal partner in the Union unraveled is breathtaking. It's almost as breathtaking as the brazen-ness of Kezia Dugdale's u-turn on the importance of Scotland's place in Europe. Two years ago, Dugdale was touring the country, earnestly telling anyone who'd listen that Scotland's place in the EU was too important to be put at risk by leaving the United Kingdom. Today, her position is that Scotland's place in the EU is of little importance, and that Scots don't in any case have the right to decide whether or not we remain. 

The British regime's policy shift from "leaving the EU" to "hard Brexit" has gone almost unremarked. But here's what it means. It means that the guaranteed right of Europeans to live and work in the United Kingdom will vanish. It will be replaced with a policy by the present British regime which extends to them the permission to live and work in the UK, but which can be ended at the stroke of a pen by a subsequent British regime. It is not hard to imagine - not too far in the future - a British general election campaign in which parties try to out-racist each other, with immigration restrictions being the inevitable outcome. 

This will not go unreciprocated by the remaining member states of the EU. Any and all restrictions on the rights of EU citizens to settle, study and work in the UK will be mirrored in restrictions on the rights of Scots. 

In 2014, Scottish Labour stole our right to live and to work; to love and to learn in the rest of Europe. They stole those rights from Scots, and sold them for the opportunity to be ruled by Theresa May. 

May's decision to trigger Article 50 in March means that the French presidential (April) and parliamentary (June) elections, the German federal election (likely September), and parliamentary elections in Czechia (before October) and the Netherlands (March) will become contests between the parties offering the most punitive sanctions against the British (and therefore Scotland), with anti-British governments likely to be in position in Paris, Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam. 

Romania goes to the polls in Parliamentary elections in December this year, and it may be considered unlikely that a party offering to accept a ban on Romanian immigration to the UK whilst simultaneously offering the UK a sweetheart deal would be tremendously successful. 

And remember - any single member state has the right to veto a "good Brexit" for the UK if it feels its own interests are not properly served. 

My own view is that the British have far too high an opinion of their own importance and far too complacent a view of their position. The British ministries responsible for Brexit are full of bellicose rhetoric. They talk of withdrawing from the single market with no concomitant sanctions. 

The British see themselves as a global power, and the powerhouse of Europe. They are not. They are a third-rate power which can't even fire their weapons without the say-so of the United States (it is noteworthy that the hard-Right campaigners which led the campaign to leave the EU don't similarly wish to "take back control" from NATO). They are a country with few natural resources other than oil and gas from Scotland. Their financial services industry - the backbone of their entire economy - is entirely dependent on the goodwill of European financial houses and regulators. A euro-free UK financial services industry was tolerated. An EU-free one will not be. Hands will be being rubbed with gleeful anticipation in Dublin and Valletta - euro-using EU states with highly-educated, English-speaking populations.

Their export industry, such as it is, is utterly reliant on major non-British manufacturers (for there are no major British manufacturers any longer) taking advantage of the country's tariff-free regime, coupled with its absurdly low wages. If the EU slaps tariffs on British car, say, exports, Nissan and BMW will simply up sticks and go to Poland or Slovakia. Assembling a vehicle is no more difficult in Siauliai or Szeged than it is in Sunderland. 

The British simply have zero bargaining position other than the position of EU nationals coming to live and work in the UK. And a country with more of its citizens resident in other EU states than any other member state does not exactly have its opponents over a barrel in that regard. 

So what will happen with a hard Brexit is that it will be an acrimonious Brexit. From Bucharest and Warsaw to Riga and Budapest, governments and peoples will feel insulted and slighted that their presence is not welcome in the UK, and will seek to react accordingly. In Bonn and in Paris, and in Brussels and in Vienna, men and women will meet in chancelleries to do their damndest to ensure that the British experience of abandoning the EU is so miserable that no other country will contemplate experiencing it for themselves. 

To keep the European Union intact, it is necessary pour encourager les autres that the United Kingdom and her people do not experience an upturn in their fortunes after abandoning the Common Market. There is nothing whatsoever to be gained for the EU27 in offering a soft landing for the British. They do not, regardless of what myopic, 1950s-nostalgic Conservatives, "need us more than we need them". 

Scotland now has two options and one timeframe. 

The timeframe is this: By April Fools' Day 2019 the United Kingdom will have left the European Union. It may have done so on punitive World Trade Organisation terms. Its students will no longer be being accepted to EU universities. Its pensioners in Spain (now no longer entitled to public medical care) will be returning, putting increasing pressure on its creaking public services. Its banks and financial services industries will likely have fled in anticipation of the fiscal holocaust to come. The value of the Pound Sterling will have fallen through the floor (and the traditional upside of a stronger export industry will not materialise as foreign manufacturers will have closed their businesses and fled, putting tens of thousands on the dole) and capital controls will likely have to be imposed. 

And the options are these: Scotland - which voted to stay in the EU - can sit back, wrap ourselves in the Union Jack and be collateral damage in the financial blitz which is about to be unleashed on our neighbours.

Or we could use the two years to achieve independence (whether from a referendum, or a new government being elected on a manifesto commitment of independence). There is no doubt whatsoever that the Yes side would win a second referendum. Only five points from victory last time before the Unionists and the British betrayed and reneged on every single commitment they made to Scotland during the campaign, a majority of Scots voted Yes. The No vote was swung by two main groups: EU nationals concerned that an independent Scotland would not remain in the EU and would, therefore, be an existential threat to their right to live and work there, and British people who had moved to Scotland and wished for their country to continue to possess it. 

There is little that can be done about the second group (although it is to be hoped that some will move from No to Yes, if only on the basis that people who move to other countries tend by definition to be more outward-looking), but in terms of the first group, not only has the reason for their block vote for No disappeared, it has actually become the opposite: without an independent Scotland, EU nationals will definitely have their rights to live and work here stripped from them. 

We were right to extend the franchise in the first referendum to those EU nationals. Those who choose to live and work amongst us deserve their chance to shape the future of the country every bit as much as someone who happens to have been born there. And although it militated against us, it was the right thing to do. It is also the right thing to do in the new referendum, and we must strongly oppose what will be the inevitable attempts by the Unionists to prevent our friends, colleagues and neighbours from the franchise. 

The constitutional crisis which gives us our excuse to strike will come when the British attempt to railroad their Great Repeal Bill through, legislating for Scotland without the consent of our devolved institutions (it could, ironically, give Scottish Labour a tiny shred of hope of one day recovering if they stand against attempts to legislate for Scotland against our will. Of course, they will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Conservatives against Scotland, and diminish just a little further) and our government. Immediately this occurs, the Government must immediately bring a Referendum Bill before Parliament. And if the British regime attempts to veto it, so much the better: the Government will be able to say with complete justification that they have attempted to work within the devolved framework, been rejected by the British, collapse the Holyrood Parliament, and seek a mandate at the subsequent general election to begin negotiations for independence in Europe. 

The fact that the Unionists' "concern" for our EU place has - as with so many other things - now been exposed as a tactic rather than a principle, will certainly help our chances of winning any referendum too. 


It's coming yet, for a' that.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Lies, damned lies, and autonomy

The streets of Scotland from Hamnavoe to Hawick were full of rejoicing citizens today as news emerged that "Kez" Dugdale had reached an agreement with her bosses to make what remains of Scottish Labour "autonomous", an agreement which will kick in a scant seven years after the crumbling loyalist party last managed to have more than one MP elected to the Westminster parliament. 

(Such autonomy, of course, does not extend to the bankrupt Unionist party funding itself, nor being responsible for its own membership, both of which will still be controlled by the Big Party in London).

It was something of a surprise, however, given that "Kez"'s former boss Jim Murphy claimed last year - and how long ago it seems now - that Scottish Labour was entirely autonomous. 

And, just two weeks ago, "Kez" claimed in one of her typically bleating, self-regarding spam mails to the First Minister that Scottish Labour was entirely autonomous. 


Now, clearly nobody is accusing Jim Murphy of being a liar (he's far too busy spending his life profiting from South Africa's apartheid policy of the 1980s and slaughtering babies in their beds in Iraq), and as "Kez" never tires of telling us, she's as honest as the day as long. 

But it does rather beg the question: if Scottish Labour was entirely autonomous last year, and Scottish Labour was entirely autonomous this month, then how on earth can even the unparalleled (if unappreciated, given her humiliation in this year's General Election in which she was roundly rejected by her constituents and had to cheat her way into Parliament on the List) genius of "Kez" have struck a deal to give her little party what it already had?

A footnote to "Kez" being an awful fibber: the governing NEC of the Big Party is currently finely-balanced between pro- and anti-Jeremy Corbyn delegates. One of the artefacts of Kez's Big Autonomy Agreement is that the "leader" of what's left of Scottish Labour is entitled to nominate her Very Own Delegate to the NEC. That delegate must be a frontbench MSP.

Given the expected victory of Corbyn on Saturday in a Big Party leadership election in which "Kez", bless her, furiously and bitterly (in an extraordinary departure from adverbs normally used to describe her behaviour..) opposed him, one is left wondering whether it will be acceptable to the Big Leadership for the "leader" of Scottish Labour's little group of MSPs to continue to be "Kez". 

"Kez" has made the autonomy of the remnants of Scottish Labour the central plank of her failed stint as "leader". It would be fittingly hilarious if the result of her achieving it was the end of her "leadership" because she can't be trusted to nominate the right person to serve the actual leader.