Category Archives: Politics

Notes on the Scottish Outcome

I’d be interested in comments on these thoughts about the electoral situation in Scotland now after the referendum results. They are in no particular order and I am but an outsider, so corrections welcome!

1. Polling surveys can be better than exit polls. Postal votes accounted for the majority of the gap between “Yes” and “No”. Roughly 3.6 million votes were cast, nearly a fifth of these were by post (as postal “turnout” exceeded regular turnout, as it always does); it is possible as many as 70% of those 700,000 were for “No”, but even if that is an exaggeration the chances are that the gap within those 700,000 was at least 200,000 – more than half the final 400,000 gap. This was the fundamental peril of an exit poll, and it actually why YouGov’s final “survey” (which included postal voters) was more accurate than an exit poll would have been.

2. Scotland is now split four ways in terms of political identity. Around a quarter of the population are vehemently Scottish Nationalist, telling pollsters that this was about “freedom” and getting away from the “yoke” or even “slavery” of England; around a quarter favour Scottish independence but with no particular nationalist fervour, they merely believe it is time for Scotland to “stand on its own feet” or for Scottish decisions to be “made in Scotland”; another quarter feel Scottish predominantly or solely but are relatively content to be in a Union with other countries if it is deemed to be in their economic or social interests; a final quarter are British (though they see no clash between this and Scottish of course) and would have sense a profound loss of identity in the event of independence. The battle of course was fought in these middle two quarters; the skill of the “Yes” campaign was utterly to detach the notion of “Scottish Nationalism” on one hand from the notion of “Scottish independence” on the other, but they didn’t quite do enough in the end to ease uncertainty among those who feel Scottish and are open to independence but also have no real objection to being in a Union.

3. The SNP will be unharmed by the defeat. On the contrary, 45% is something of a victory in context. The challenge for the SNP is to keep united under new leadership (something which did not happen post-1995 in Quebec, to use that risky parallel). This will be challenging, not least because there are obvious personality clashes (as there were the last time Mr Salmond stood down) and the SNP has to meet the aspirations now both of Scottish Nationalists and of what we may now call Scottish sovereigntists (see above, i.e. those who want an independent Scotland for the sake of standing in the world as it is now or simply breaking away from a British elite, but who have no interest in Wallace or such). However, the prize for unity is a good result in 2015 for a start. Despite not doing so well in the “heartlands” at this referendum, there is no reason the SNP should expect to lose UK Parliament seats; on the other hand, the good performance in Glasgow and other urban areas means they may reasonably expect to gain seats there (especially if they can appeal to “sovereigntists”).

4. The Scottish Conservatives now have most to gain. “No” did markedly well in areas which are (or were recently) SNP/Conservative marginals and, even more relevantly, the Scottish Conservatives are now offering more powers to Scotland than anyone else except the SNP itself among the four traditionally main parties. It is a big ‘if’, but if the Conservatives can get the balance right between meeting the interests of “English votes on English issues” with “fiscal autonomy for Scotland” and lead the delivery of both, they will reinvent themselves as a distinctly Scottish party with a track record of delivery there. It is a big opportunity.

5. Gordon Brown had nothing to do with it. The fairly boring story of the polls in this referendum is that the polls were right, except that as ever they missed the 3-5 point swing to the status quo at the very end (hence my own prediction on Facebook on the morning of voting that the result would be “around 55% no”). There was no late swing in the final 24 hours beyond that which was predictable weeks beforehand. Gordon Brown’s speech was an absolute barnstormer, but it was too late and made no difference. (“The Vow” had very little to do with it either – it was a foolish, cack-handed and mischievous response to what was, frankly, one dodgy poll by a company which proved overall to be among the least accurate.)

6. The “Yes” campaign was predominantly civic and not political, and thus so must the response be. A Constitutional Convention is a good idea, both within Scotland and across the UK.

Scotland should vote for compromise and Currency Union – and thus vote “no”

Well this has been fascinating. The Scottish referendum has been lost by politicians, and won by democratic dialogue in the bars, allotments and social clubs of Scotland. It has taken twists and turns which no one – certainly not I – predicted.

Today is decision time. At its best, “Yes” puts forward a highly attractive argument that Scotland should stand on its own two feet; at its worst, it forgets that “independence” is a ridiculous and alarmingly parochial concept in a globalised world dominated by corporations, not states. At its best, “No” puts forward a highly attractive argument for maintaining a historically hugely successful and influential multinational liberal state (with none more influential within it than Scots); at its worst, it has resorted to nonsensical scare tactics which demean the obvious brilliance of the Scottish nation.

As it happens, given the fairly uninspirational nature of its campaign, if I were in Scotland I would be trudging along to vote “no”. Ironically, I would be doing so as it offers the best route to an option which satisfies the aspirations of the large majority of Scots (enhanced powers without the risks), and because of a case made by the “Yes” campaign!

The case is this: for all its talk about becoming Scandinavia or making its own choices, the “Yes” campaign argues nevertheless that it wishes to share the pound sterling, share the Bank of England, and share England’s monetary policy in their entirety because their economies are so inextricably linked. This is their case for a “currency union”. Yet this is also a case for a “political union”!

It is not just an economic point. It is also a political one – for there is something mischievous about essentially suggesting you can be independent and have everything bad change but everything good remain. We have to ask why Scotland wouldn’t have its own currency to be truly “independent” or why it would not join the Eurozone like Ireland? If the answer is that it is far more like the rest of the UK than elsewhere, then why on earth leave? If the answer is that using sterling is temporary, then why not be up front about it? All of this hints at an underlying uncertainty or even deviousness about what people are really being asked to vote for.

It is also divisive. The problem with referendums is that they are “Yes/No” and thus offer no means of compromise. The best compromise – the one the vast majority of Scots could easily tolerate – is enhanced powers without the risks of “independence” in an uncertain world. You don’t get that by voting “yes”; you probably do by voting “no”. It’s all a bit messy and last-minute, but then compromise often is.

In the end, therefore, I come down on the side of those who suggest that Scotland has more in common with the rest of the UK than anywhere else and should therefore share a currency with it. The easiest way to do that is by remaining in the UK! I accept Scotland has already psychologically left the UK but I would urge Scots therefore to vote “no” – and then let 63 million people rebuild a properly federal, progressive UK together.

The challenge of a Federal UK

Tomorrow’s referendum has been presented as a “Yes” vote for the freedom of the Nordic Social Model on one hand; or a “No” vote for the security of the “best of both worlds” and a Federal UK. The former, as noted on this blog, is a fantasy. The problem is, the latter may be too – developing a Federal UK is nothing like as simple a task as its proponents make out. Nevertheless, it so happens that it is my own constitutional preference, and so I have given it some thought – I will share this, for what little it’s worth, on Referendum Eve!

Leaving aside the questions of how precisely to develop localism in England and what to do about London’s dominance of the English/UK economy, there are three main difficulties with developing federalism in addition to the obvious one of “English votes on English issues”.

We need to remember also that the whole point of federalism is that each country would have the precise same “devolved powers”. Quite what these powers are should probably be a matter for a UK Constitutional Convention of some sort. However, for the purposes of this article we assume the maximum devolved powers currently applying anywhere will in future apply everywhere – so Northern Ireland’s unique powers in Employment and Welfare as well as its own Civil Service and tax-varying powers on air duty will be mimicked in Scotland and Wales; Scotland’s unique tax-varying powers on income tax will be mimicked in Northern Ireland and Wales; Wales’ unique borrowing arrangements will be matched in Scotland and Northern Ireland; and so on. This is essential – asymmetrical devolution (the UK currently, Spain, arguably Canada) inevitably creates separatist tensions; symmetrical federalism (Germany, United States) works.

It is obvious, of course, that there should be “English sitting days” at Westminster as proposed by David Davis, and that MPs sitting for English constituencies should be the only ones voting on issues which affect England only – creating a de facto English Parliament. This does create an arguable imbalance, but no more than would be the case if each country were sovereign, and one that can be countered anyway by greater English localism. However, three fundamental problems remain:

  • legislation at Westminster rarely applies only to England (in reality or in theory);
  • departments in Whitehall usually have functions applying only to England and other functions applying to the entire UK; and
  • finance is nearly all raised at UK (“federal”) level even though most decisions are made at devolved (“country”) level.

On legislation, even laws which look like they apply only to England may apply elsewhere or have obvious consequences elsewhere. For example, most of the provisions of the Child Poverty Act apply only to England, but some aspects place statutory requirements across the UK (and thus on devolved administrations); the policy on tuition fees in England affects devolved budgets through “Barnett Consequentials” (an issue to be resolved under Finance); and so on. Federalism would require the area of application of legislation to be absolutely clear, with no mixing – entire bills at Westminster would either apply to England, or to the whole UK.

In terms of departments, UK Federal Cabinet may look like this. Each Department would now specifically be England-only or UK-wide. Those in the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office and initially the Treasury would be UK-wide (although there is a real case, below, for the latter to move towards being England-only); those in the Home Office would become essentially those of an “English Executive”, run solely for England (on occasions, and again these would specifically be noted, excluding London). The Home Secretary would essentially become England’s “First Minister”; UK functions of the Home Office and other Departments would switch instead to a successor of the current Department of Constitutional Affairs. It is noteworthy also that, UK-wide at least, these Departments/Offices would remain absolutely stable in statute due to their federal nature – they could not just be jumbled around by an incoming UK Government at will, because that may disturb the balance and cause difficulties if later transfer of powers (notably from the Treasury) were sought. There is also some hint already in that “Federal Cabinet” of a recognition of London’s unique role as “Federal Capital” and its consequent relevance to the whole UK, which may in time develop into a fifth “federal unit” on its own alongside the four countries.

(It is worth being clear what this means in terms of Government appointment and staffing after a UK General Election. The Prime Minister would be appointed on ability to command a majority in the UK Parliament and would in turn advise on appointments to “Federal Offices”, but the Home Secretary would now be appointed directly and separately on ability to command a majority on English sitting days and would advise on appointments to English Departments; these would always be two different people, and may well be in two different parties. The position of Minister for the Civil Service transfers to the latter because this would now be England-only; Federal Offices would be staffed separately, perhaps from a separate “Federal Civil Service”.)

Finance is perhaps the most important issue. Federalism surely demands that most revenue is raised at devolved level; that would mean, in effect, the raising of almost every tax separately in England (perhaps also in London), Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and then some handed to the “federal” authorities, not the other way around. Compared to the status quo, that is the most dramatic – and no doubt politically most problematic – change of all. There would be transfer payments to poorer countries to ensure the same basic standard of living (perhaps a nominal “maintenance of the Barnett formula” could be politically justified with this, but the total amount in the pot would be reduced from the current level), but each country would nevertheless be encouraged to develop its own revenue streams, its own exports and its own entrepreneurial/investment-friendly culture – for example, by enabling any growth in VAT receipts to be retained (as reward) for public services entirely within that country. (I should be clear that the level of VAT and some other taxes would likely remain set at “Federal” level to avoid a “race to the bottom”.) In short, the basic principle that finance must be raised at the level at which the decisions are taken must be maintained. This all means that any country which gets embroiled in sectional in-fighting and endless institutional gridlock which create difficulties for the business environment will no longer be bailed out…

There are other issues to consider too:

  • Statute of Autonomy would need to be put in place for each country (including England), removing the automatic Parliamentary Sovereignty from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (whose devolved legislatures would become equally sovereign, similar to the United States) – noting the above requirement that it would be identical in the powers allocated to each (but it may differ, for example, in establishing requirements to leave the UK, or recognising unique citizenship issues in Northern Ireland, and so on);
  • it would be helpful when writing these to establish and maintain the same phraseology – perhaps all devolved legislatures should be Assemblies (versus the UK Parliament); all devolved governments should be Executives (versus the UK Cabinet); all devolved-level elections should be Legislative Elections (versus the UK General Election) and so on;
  • Lords Reform comes back on to the agenda – with a real case for ensuring appointed membership (or any future elected membership) is in line with vote share at both UK General and devolved Legislative elections (and there is a case, at this level, for over-representing the devolved countries to counter some of the effects of “English sitting days”);
  • it may be helpful (particularly for tax purposes) to establish citizenship of each country (again similar to split citizenship as exists in the United States) – establishing in law the concept of British-English; British-Scottish; British-Welsh; British-Northern Irish and Irish-Northern Irish (perhaps also British Islands and British Overseas citizenships too) as well as, perhaps, ensuring equal rights and responsibilities for all these citizenships and Irish citizenship within the current UK, regardless of future constitutional settlements (not unlike the 1998 Belfast Agreement with regard to Northern Ireland).

As can be seen, this is perhaps a much more complex thing to be developed as a knee-jerk reaction to a few opinion polls in one part of the UK (“The Vow” certainly does not do justice to these complexities and will only frustrate those who wish to see greater democratic influence and participation in England). However it is, at least, possible if we really want it.

Obsession with “private” involvement in Health is hypocritical nonsense

The equipment used by the Health Service is privately produced. The medicines are privately provided. The hospitals are privately built.

That alone – in addition to the fact school materials are privately published, roads are privately constructed, key public sector recruitment is privately delivered – should tell us what an absolute nonsense our politicians’ obsession with ‘privatisation’ of our Health Service is.

Politicians, particularly in Northern Ireland (but also notably in Scotland and Sweden currently), are experts at trying to pull the wool over our eyes by taking a stand on something they can’t deliver or focusing on something they know to be irrelevant to draw our attention away from the issues they could affect but aren’t competent enough to deal with. Yet again we see them failing completely to capture the key issues around Health (and indeed Welfare) Reform, while at the same time frothing at the mouth about “privatisation” in health care.

This would indeed be a scandal if it turned out that contracted private provision were actually costing more than public provision would. Self-evidently, however, it is costing less – otherwise it wouldn’t be contracted. The public sector doesn’t produce health equipment, or provide (and research) medicines, or build hospitals (or for that matter schools or roads etc) precisely because it would be more expensive and less efficient (generally – there are exceptions, particularly the dreadful PFIs). The reason is that the private sector can research and thus deliver specific, advanced, innovative expertise well beyond that provided by the public sector because the private sector can take risks while developing and researching this expertise that the public sector can’t. There is no particular reason that health care provision would be any different. That is why many countries have it – including right-wing hotbeds like Sweden and Denmark (where even the ambulances are private).

It is noteworthy also that the concern in this “debate” is not the patient (for not once has anyone suggested patients are receiving inferior care or placed in greater danger by private provision) and far less the taxpayer (who is receiving greater value). Oh no, we hear nonsense about “the private sector is only in it for the profit” – ignoring of course the point that public sector workers receive higher salaries and pensions, one of the likely reasons that private sector provision is better value and more efficient for the taxpayer. (One correspondent even condemned the notion of trying to provide services “on the cheap” – as if that’s a bad thing!)

What is happening here is a nonsensical and hypocritical “sector wars” approach which attempts to pull the wool over our eyes to protect a system which is bureaucratic, inefficient and expensive. Laughably, this is presented as “protecting the NHS”!

In fact, to “protect the NHS” (i.e. a Health and Social Care Service free at point of access which provides quality provision without an unbearable burden on the taxpayer) it will become increasingly important to shift to less bureaucratic, more efficient, more cost-effective means of service delivery. Unlike politicians who are actually endangering the Service with their hypocritical bluster, I don’t care which sector provides that as long as it is ultimately accountable – and, if you really care about the principles of the NHS, nor should you.

Fetishisation of spending the root of all our ills

This is, perhaps, the single greatest article I’ve ever read about sport, or perhaps even anything!

Nominally, the article notes that “Transfer Deadline Day” has become a huge footballing event in its own right (rivalling Cup Finals and such like), even though actually all it is is the day which determines how much money various teams have spent. Supporters watch events unfold as if merely buying a player whose wages would pay for 140 nurses is the cure of all their ills. It is ludicrous. In fact it’s a moral crime, and not a victimless crime at that.

The article nailed my discomfort at “Transfer Deadline Day” perfectly. It was a discomfort I had never previously been able to nail (and thus never previously been able to put into writing). Yet I cannot help but feel it is the same discomfort I feel at Christmas.

For, when you think about it, Christmas is an awful lot like “Transfer Deadline Day”. Ultimately the objective is for people, predominantly children, to compare notes on how much their parents have spent, not unlike supporters comparing notes on how much their clubs have spent. Crudely, it is as if by buying loads of “stuff” we can deliver stability, love and affection; the same way that buying a £50 million player is supposed to guarantee trophies. In the same way managers don’t want to let supporters down by buying no one (even if there’s no one worth buying really), parents don’t like to let children down by not spending hundreds of pounds on a raft of Christmas presents (even if the child already has every X-box, iPhone and lego set going). The very term used in the article, the “fetishisation of spending”, sums it all up. It’s morally corrupt and it is the fundamental cause of all our economic (and arguably social) ills.

Again, the article on “Transfer Deadline Day” makes the point that clubs are recklessly spending our money – the money we spend at the turnstiles, on the shirts, or on the TV subscriptions (at least I have abandoned the latter in disgust, though not yet the first two I confess); and the money we lavish on the advertisers who keep it all going (not least at Christmas). Likewise at Christmas, the billions spent are mostly wasted – a huge proportion on “stuff” children never needed and never subsequently touch – when they could be put to far better use in our health service, in our schools or in assisting job creation. But let’s be clear: we choose this madness!

It is a madness which is grossly unfair too, of course. Clubs such as Leeds have gone bust trying to keep up with Manchester United despite lacking its resources; much more seriously, thousands of families across the British Isles go bust every year buying “stuff” for Christmas trying to keep up with people who earn considerably more than they do. Yet again, those at the poorer end of the spectrum suffer most.

It would be interesting to set up a movement, as happens in one edition of Family Guy of all things, to buy just one Christmas present per person. This would have the benefit of limiting peer pressure and ensuring people could remain within their means without feeling that they are somehow letting their children down. Who knows, it may even lead us recognise that there is more to Christmas, and indeed life, than “getting stuff”!

What we do about football is where I have no ideas – but it is a somewhat lesser concern, and we could start by remembering that too!

Guide to watching Scottish referendum

Coverage of the Scottish referendum on Thursday evening/Friday morning will be widespread of course, so a quick note on what we are looking for through the night (all times UK):

2200: Polls close (although those still queuing may still vote). The broadcast networks are not conducting an Exit Poll, so in fact we will know little at this stage.

Votes will be counted by each of the 32 local authorities

Votes will be counted by each of the 32 local authorities

0200: Key declaration: North Lanarkshire.

With over 6% of the electorate, it is important for “Yes” to win North Lanarkshire (albeit it will likely be fairly narrowly) if it is to win overall. Smaller declarations (in descending order of likely yes” vote) will also come over the hour from Clackmannanshire, Perth/Kinross and Moray with a likely majority for “Yes”; and East Lothian, Inverclyde and Orkney for “No”.

0300: Key declarations: South Lanarkshire and Aberdeenshire.

Similar to the above, South Lanarkshire should be a win (perhaps a more comfortable one) for “Yes” it is to win overall. The same applies to the slightly smaller Aberdeenshire, although watch also for regional discrepancies. Smaller declarations over this hour likely from Angus, Dundee, Falkirk, Stirling and East Ayrshire for “Yes”; Renfrewshire which is a toss-up if it’s close; and East Renfrewshire for “No”.

0330: Another raft of smaller declarations from Midlothian and West Lothian for “Yes”; and Argyll/Bute, South Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire and Shetland for “No”.

0400: Key declaration: Fife.

Fife at over 7% of the electorate is really a toss-up – “No” could do with winning it if it’s close. Highland is also a large declaration at this time for “No”, and North Ayrshire should follow soon after as a toss-up (really “Yes” would want to win it if it’s close).

“Yes” should be ahead at this stage if it is to win.

0500: Key declarations: Glasgow and Edinburgh.

With nearly 12% and 9% of the electorate respectively, Scotland’s two largest cities and their margins could be critical if it is still close. For “No” to win, it will need to win Edinburgh relatively comfortably. For obvious reasons, both sides need to be at least close in Glasgow. Scottish Borders should also declare for “No” around this time.

0600: Key declaration: Aberdeen.

Aberdeen with over 4% of the population could decide it right at the end if it is a cliffhanger! It should narrowly favour “No” all other things being equal – but remember the rules are very simple, all that matters is the overall score across Scotland, so if it is close “No” may need to win by a particular margin.

Frustratingly, I have work meetings the next morning…

Thanks to BBC Scotland and Credit Suisse for estimates.

“Scandinavian” Scotland is total fantasy

I have seen much to admire about the case being made by “Yes Scotland” for standing on your own feet; but I have been equally frustrated by some of the notions it puts forward which are, frankly, utter fantasy. Most obvious among those is that Scotland, with its geographic location and oil, could turn itself magically into a wealthy Nordic country like Norway.

There are two prime reasons. First, as I have written many times before on this blog, the “left” has funny ideas about Scandinavia, with its huge private-sector public service provision (even the ambulances are privatised in Denmark), negotiated wage settlements (with no minimum wage) and utterly different housing system (often more cramped in practice).

Second, Scotland just isn’t Nordic – culturally, politically or financially. It doesn’t have the basic Lutheran ethos which underpins the Nordic social settlement; it doesn’t have the consensus politics; and it has vastly lower taxes and thus lower public spending.

The last of these is the most relevant. For three years if not seven, the SNP has had the ability to put up income tax by three points, at least to nudge in closer to Norway’s taxation levels (currently close to double Scotland’s). Has it done so? On the contrary, it intends to reduce taxes after independence – a tax race to the bottom much more American than Scandinavian!

In fact, an “independent” Scotland dominated by the Finance and Oil Sectors with its monetary policy set in London would inevitably shift away from the Nordic Model.

This is another example of the stark lack of honesty in the debate (not that that dishonesty is all one-sided to be clear). Somehow, Scotland is to reduce taxes to become more like countries with vastly higher taxes? It’s a fantasy, pure and simple.

Miliband’s ignorant tactlessness sums it all up

Reports Miliband's crazed warningI’m not prone to taking serious note of anything written in the Mail, but the above is an exception worth publicising. It sums up all that is wrong with UK politics.

Ed Miliband is a millionaire with no real-life experience. He has no ideas of his own. He offers no serious solutions to inequality, educational under-achievement or dealing with a strained Health Service. He has no apparent notion of how to play the UK’s hand in the EU, or in NATO, or in anything really. There is no evidence of original thoughts on anything from global insecurity to local immigration. How have we possibly reached the stage that someone like this is the Leader of the Labour Party and a likely Prime Minister?

This is not meant as a partisan point, but is Ed Miliband seriously the best the British Left could come up with? Someone with no notion of reform, who turns up at Trade Union rallies and looks like a schoolboy, and who buys into Conservative spending and welfare plans seemingly because he can’t be bothered to work out anything different?

Worst of all, who the heck is advising him? Perhaps I am being harsh, but someone who has just come straight out of University – even if (arguably especially if) it is Oxbridge – lacks fundamentally the life experience to advise even a potential Junior Minister, never mind a potential Prime Minister. Once you have run a business/charity/agency; once you have managed a home with the chaos of children and elderly relatives; once you have seen a bit of the world – then, maybe, you can begin advising people how to govern and lead in an in-touch, meaningful, beneficial way. But of course, once you have lived you probably won’t want anything to do with out-of-touch schoolboys like Ed Miliband.

Then of course there is the hypocrisy of a millionaire whose only idea is to condemn the current cabinet for being elite even when his own Shadow Cabinet consists of 33% Oxbridge graduates and almost no one who has ever lived on less than double the average worker’s wage. He is out-of-touch and knows no one who can even explain this to him.

His incompetence knowing no bounds, Mr Miliband then comes up with the cunning plan to tell the Mail – of all papers – that the biggest issue facing Scots at the forthcoming referendum is a potential border patrol. Firstly, communicatively, it is the worst possible form of intervention – an Englishman appearing to make threats to bully Scots and just the moment the Scots have demonstrated (and quite rightly) that this is their decision and they are in no mood to be bullied by a poncy English millionaire. Secondly, it is stupid because it shows no sense that the trend towards “Yes” is a coral movement not a political one – it is not as much about Scotland’s relationship with its neighbours about the type of society Scots want to live in (and it is not one where they want to listen to nonsense from outside the jurisdiction). Thirdly, it is just plain wrong – there is no reason to believe the Common Travel Area would be affected (meaning the border would be open and flights would be treated as domestic – just as within/between the UK and Ireland currently). Of course, to cap it all, Mr Miliband had obviously forgotten the UK already has a land border – it is one thing to be out-of-touch, but to be plain ignorant takes the biscuit.

My point is not about Scotland (though it explains much of the momentum towards “Yes”), nor even about Mr Miliband – who was, after all, elected both by his party and his constituents. It is about how ludicrous British politics has becomes – headed across all parties by out-of-touch incompetents surrounded by inexperienced “advisers”. It is something of a death spiral too – elderly statesmen like Ken Clarke are leaving the game, while already nine of the Conservatives’ 2010 intake have announced an intention to stand down. The ‘most highly talented Parliamentary intake for a generation’ has come, seen, and decided politics isn’t for them.

This is a structural problem. More and more, politics in the UK has just descended into soap opera. From the battle of the Brothers on one side to the battle of the Bullingdon Club on the other, it’s all vaguely entertaining but none of it is vaguely relevant to the person on the street. A “Yes” vote won’t solve it, sadly, but it’s almost what the whole daft charade deserves. And it is not just David Cameron who should consider his position afterwards.

Out-of-touch Whitehall sends Scots scurrying for the lifeboats

I turned on the news the other day (which I don’t often) and instantly, had I lived in Scotland, would have been back considering a “yes” vote.

Yet Scotland was scarcely covered at all. What I saw was a main headline about the Prime Minister’s cunning plan to stop thousands of people being butchered and beheaded by, er, removing a few passports. At some stage. If it’s legal.

Here is a man – supposedly the Prime Minister of my country – whose concerns are utterly and bizarrely different from mine, and who is not even competent at addressing those concerns. That is not to say I am unconcerned about “Islamic State” and such like, but it is instantly obvious that it will take rather more to tackle these crazed merciless bigots than taking away the passports of the few who happen to originate in the UK. It is also instantly obvious that the Prime Minister is (or at least thinks he is) responding to a political challenge from UKIP, rather than to the real social challenge of a deeply segregated society which leads people in England to grow up full of destructive bigotry and resentment.

Of course, it has not occurred to the Prime Minister that the real issue – the segregation issue – is also the one which enabled the unleashing of a horrendous conflict in Northern Ireland within the past half-century. After all, David Cameron has no concept of Northern Ireland really. I would imagine, despite his heritage, that most Scots would take him to have no concept of Scotland either. It’s not just David Cameron either – would anyone seriously argue millionaire Ed Miliband is a true “man of the people”?!

Put simply, it looks like the leading politicians of my country have more interest in the theoretical consequences of the Clacton by-election than the practical consequences of the Scottish referendum. It’s bizarre.

That is the point. The news was not only not about Northern Ireland or Scotland, but it was utterly distant and frankly odd. Were I presented with a ballot paper asking if I wished to remain related to something so distant and odd, I would at least have to think about it. That is the scale of the challenge ahead, even if the Scots just about vote “no” as (still just about) expected.

It was the first time I had turned on the news for a while because the previous time had involved me looking on in disbelief as the main headline (despite all that is going on in the world) focused on Boris Johnson’s decision to stand for a Westminster seat. I just don’t care! The Boris-Dave thing is a bizarre soap opera of interest only to a narrow English elite. For those of us in Northern Ireland, no doubt Scotland, and probably frankly the north of England, it’s meaningless and irrelevant. Indeed, it’s almost foreign…

Myths about Scottish independence

There are some unbelievable myths being peddled about “Scottish independence”. It is worth nailing a few of them – if only so that those repeating them can be placed on the list of “those too lazy to do their own research who should probably never be paid as commentators”…

1. England would always elect Conservative governments.

The Labour Party “would die” according to one Sky News commentator. Utter codswallop! In England alone (even excluding Wales), Tony Blair would have headed a Labour-led administration for each of the three elections from 1997 just as he did; just as David Cameron would be Prime Minister now. Yes, Mr Blair would have needed a coalition in 2005 (though including Wales even then he had a majority) and David Cameron would not need one now, but it would still have been the same party’s Prime Minister in Number 10. Some “death”!

In any case, Labour would merely move slightly to the right to re-align politics marginally – just as it had to after the “Longest suicide note in history” election of 1983.

2. Scots would be “foreigners”.

This is lovely and emotive and maybe strictly true, but are the Irish “foreigners”? Actually current UK citizenship law views Irish nationals as having the same rights and responsibilities as UK nationals within the UK almost without exception; and it is already the case that any EU national can use consular services of any EU member state. Thus, with the safe assumption that UK citizenship law treats Scots the same way and the fairly safe assumption that Scotland becomes an EU member state, it would be much the same. Unless the Continuing UK is idiotic enough to leave the EU, of course…

This is also not unlike arrangements between the Nordic Countries or between the Czech Republic and Slovakia or Australia and New Zealand. In each case, people from the other state are not really “foreign”, as they possess all the same rights and responsibilities.

3. Scotland would move to a Scandinavian model.

I’ll return to this, but in fact there is no evidence it would. All proponents of a “yes” vote talk of reducing taxes, not increasing them; the SNP in office has centralised power and engaged in middle-class giveaways; and an iScotland would be dominated by oil, finance and drinks sectors none of whom would allow such a dramatic change of economic and social model. If anything, the evidence is an iScotland would be more Liberal in many ways, including economically.

4. Scotland could not use the pound.

Of course Scotland could use the pound. Actually no one with any authority has said otherwise.

What it could not do is retain influence on the pound – including on interest rates, revaluations or whatever. There may also be some difficulty with joining the EU; although this could probably be solved by setting up Scotland’s own currency which happened, initially, to be pegged to the pound.

5. Independence is the only way to save the NHS in Scotland.

On the contrary, independence is the only thing which puts it in any danger.

The difficulty here is that increasing moves towards private care provision are being referred to as “privatisation” by some – an utterly misleading term as that provision is still funded from the public purse.

Thus, the retention of public funding for all aspects of the Health Service means there is and remains exactly the same amount available for Health in Scotland (actually more per person, as Scotland’s public spending per head is higher within the UK). In fact, interestingly, the SNP has chosen to take money away from the NHS for other departments. Health accounts for 22% of public spending in England but just 20% in Scotland – a differential which has opened up under the SNP administration.

With the trend already being towards comparatively lower Health spending by advocates of independence themselves, and uncertainty over future oil revenues (plus inevitable costs of setting up a new military, a new diplomatic service and so on), it is clear objectively that the strain on the NHS would come with independence, not without it.

6. Scotland would remain in the EU.

This isn’t the worst myth but it is not straightforward and we should be clear about that. To be in the EU, you have to be a member state. An independent Scotland would have opted to leave a member state, and thus to leave the EU. It may of course then apply to become a member state and I would hope everyone would see the sense in fast-tracking the process prior to the date of independence – but it may not be possible to conclude this by March 2016.

This is similar to the nonsense that the pound is “also Scotland’s currency”. No it isn’t – it is the currency of the UK governed by the UK’s Central Bank. Scotland would leave the UK and thus no longer have that Central Bank, nor therefore its currency. As noted above, it could peg its own currency to Sterling or try to negotiate a Sterling Zone similar to the Eurozone – but as of March 2016 it would, failing the latter, cease to have the UK currency as its currency for the simple reason that it would have left the UK.

It is somewhat bizarre that those in favour of “independence” are so wary of being clear about what leaving the UK means!

7. Alex Salmond is a Social Democrat.

Just because you don’t like Margaret Thatcher doesn’t make you a Social Democrat!

Which is the crux of the issue, really, isn’t it?!


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