US cannot sort out Syria on its own in multi-power world

20 years on from the terrorist ceasefires, Northern Ireland is definitely a safer place. 13 years on from 9/11, however, the world most certainly isn’t. As ever, the problem for the West is politics. Politics requires the perception that we are safe; yet perception is vastly different from reality.

Just over a year ago the UK Parliament stopped proposed military action in Syria. This was a very good thing – intelligence from research I myself was doing for a client in London indicated that the premise used to promote the proposed intervention (that Assad had used chemical weapons) was incorrect, just as in 2003 with the “weapons of mass destruction”. In fact, all the intelligence said that the Syrian opposition had used chemical weapons, not Assad. Is it not now interesting that we have come to view that opposition, not Assad, as the problem?

Last week I reluctantly supported military action. When genocide is ongoing within a democratic state which requests your assistance to stop it and you have the capacity to assist, you assist. However, no one supporting that assistance is suggesting a few RAF bombs will solve the problem; they are but a tiny part of a long-term and complex solution.

We still like to think we live in a binary world of “goodies” and “baddies”, but it’s a lot more complex than that – and actually there are a lot of “baddies” out there. To base intervention on particular atrocities would see intervention on different sides of the same conflict, so that’s useless (which was why I opposed intervention in either Iraq or Syria). To base intervention on which side suits the West only creates further outrage and fundamentalist opposition to the West in the long run. And the “sides” change all the time anyway!

The other issue, which I raised last month, is that the United States is no longer politically (or arguably even financially) in a position to sort these things out alone. Indeed, it never was – it has only been the sole superpower for two decades (while the Cold War looked and felt dangerous at the time, actually two superpowers provide enough coverage and a surprisingly secure sort of equilibrium which we haven’t had since 1991). Those two decades have seen the United States directly attacked, and then become embroiled in conflicts which served no purpose, cost lives, and reduced Allies – many countries involved in the first Gulf War had dropped out of the Western Alliance by the second.

Barack Obama was a horribly inexperienced President right from the outset, but even the greatest Foreign Affairs genius of all time in the White House could not solve the basic problem that is unclear what the United States should do; and it is clear that there are significant practical limitations on what it can do. Europeans now spent woefully little on their military to be of any real use as allies; and the IS surge in Iraq/Syria is in any case tied in all kinds of ways (primarily religious and trade) with conflicts ongoing all the way from the Sahara to the Black Sea.

What we are seeing in the world in 2014 is a shift to multi-powers, with the rise of China and perhaps other BRIC countries (with insecurity enhanced by their own and their neighbours’ jostling for power as others, including religious zealots, fill various new voids left by American inability or unwillingness to act decisively). It does look alarmingly like 1914, when a similar shift from Pax Britannica to the Cold War began and the lamps went out for a generation. It is extraordinarily difficult to see what we should do about it, however – the only thing which is clear is that if we are waiting for the United States to do it all, it will be a forlorn wait.

The English Question

My piece before the Scottish Referendum on the complexities of a Federal UK did not even attempt to answer the “English Question”. The obvious reason for that is that I don’t have an answer to it! A few thoughts, however…

Firstly, in principle, I think there is little doubt that “English-only votes on English-only issues” is now an accepted principle. Labour was foolish initially to seek to deny this, for nakedly partisan reasons. However, as I noted (and others began to note on Referendum Night) this also requires an “English Executive”. It does mean that a UK General Election could see one Government returned at “Federal” level and another at “English” level. Frankly, so be it! (An alternative to this, of course, is that there should be no more UK General Elections – each country should have its own Legislative Elections and then appoint/elect a Federal Senate, perhaps to replace the House of Lords, from there. I don’t think this is a realistic proposition – England just doesn’t do change on that scale, and certainly not just to suit the remaining 15% of the population.)

Secondly, the obvious way to deal with the “English Question” is a set of Regional Assemblies. However, this has been tried. The eight English regions outside London did have Regional Assemblies for some time – by appointment (not unlike a Civic Forum). However, when the North East was offered the chance to elect its, it rejected it by 7 to 2. England just doesn’t really do regions – standing alone, it is the most densely populated country in Europe and, generally, it therefore looks to its cities for identity and attachment rather than regions (which the English often find a suspect “European” thing). This does not totally rule out a return to English regional devolution, but it does mean it would be in the face of the electorate’ own preference – it is not likely, therefore.

Thirdly, there is also the “London Question”. Should London (i.e. Greater London) become more like a “fifth federal unit” of the UK? In my own proposals, I left the option open. My instinct is to avoid that initially (see below).

Fourthly, there is no reason that “Greater City Regions” shouldn’t take on the precise same roles as the Mayor of London and Greater London Assembly in exactly the same way. All law-making powers for England would remain at Westminster; however, significant delegated policy-making authority, particularly in transport and planning (as well as health and welfare budgets), could be delegated to “City Region Authorities” (with areas falling outside those City Regions having their policies made by a specific Department for English Rural Affairs in Whitehall, or perhaps via conglomerations of rural/metropolitan councils). This could be tested in Greater Manchester, and then be put in place at the very least for Tyne & Wear (Newcastle-Sunderland), West Yorkshire (Leeds-Bradford), South Yorkshire (Sheffield-Rotherham-Doncaster), Humberside (Hull-Grimsby), Merseyside (Liverpool-Wirral), West Midlands (Birmingham and surrounding area), East Midlands Urban Area (Leicester-Nottingham-Derby), Avon (Bristol and surrounding area), Urban Hampshire (Southampton-Portsmouth) and perhaps West Sussex (around Brighton and Hove). Most of these already co-operate at local authority level, and could continue to do so. They would have the precise same powers as Greater London – this commonality would be important.

Fifthly, as a final point, there is the absolute potential for such City Regions to raise their own income taxes to pay for infrastructure, or to have borrowing powers.

In other words, some are focusing on English legislative and governance arrangements while others are focusing on devolving powers to English regions or cities. In fact, I think it is obvious both should be done.

A quick fix to Stormont’s broken system

Straight and to the point from my online sparring partner Andrew G. – as noted here last week, it is not so much the system which is broken as our willingness to share the burden, and often unpopularity, of government.

I have written many times before that the problem in Northern Ireland remains that each side is being sold a vision of outright victory, where the “other side” will just go away. For Unionists, Northern Ireland is “British” (whatever that now means), and thus “British” people should have precedence. For Nationalists, Northern Ireland is “Irish” and thus “Irish” people should have precedence. Anyone else is a “guest” – oh yes very welcome of course, but on the home side’s own terms only…

Whatever system you come up with, we still therefore live in a society where people elect parties to deliver outright victory. Since outright victory is impossible, this means eternal gridlock. Each side of that gridlock demands elections and so on, which will only deliver further gridlock. However, we need to remember something: it is not the politicians delivering gridlock. The politicians are only there because we put them (or allowed them to be put) there. We are responsible for the gridlock!

Therefore it doesn’t much matter what “system” you have in place, until we elect parties who are honest enough to recognise compromise isn’t a dirty word, and that in an inevitably multi-party government it will be absolutely necessary, there is no chance of progress. Frankly, we need to stop being selfish and demanding it all our own way or no way. (I have written before how “Progressives” are as guilty of this as anyone else.)

In short, the issue isn’t that we don’t have an opposition, it is that we don’t have a government! It is not that the government isn’t held to account – it is that it is, to the extent that it is even held to account by its own members, rendering effective governance impossible. (That is not to say that a large minority cross-community ‘opposition’ wouldn’t help, by the way – it is just that the problem needs defined properly and we need to be realistic about the prospects of delivering this.)

It so happens, to force some progress, I would establish an external “Independent Standards Commission” on a similar basis to the previously existing “Independent Monitoring Commission”. This would have a remit to do two things:

  • assess the validity of Petitions of Concern, with the power to instruct the Speaker to render them invalid if: a) they do not have signatures from more than one “designation”, and b) it is not clearly indicated how the issue would negatively impact in a discriminatory way on a specific group; and
  • hold judicial authority to remove/bar a Minister found guilty of breaching the Ministerial Code.

This would mean that Petitions could only in future be used as they were intended in the Agreement (i.e. as a genuine protection); and that the Ministerial Code (which was central, we should recall, to the DUP’s “victory” at St Andrews) would be enforced.

This would have an important practical outcome as it would no longer be necessary for both the DUP and Sinn Fein to agree on things for them to pass: either the DUP or Sinn Fein would be free to seek an alternative majority (in practice requiring at least two designations) from among other parties to get things through. This would have the effect at least of limiting gridlock. It would also re-establish the primacy of the Rule of Law and consensus – Ministers would no longer be able to attack the police or the judiciary, nor would they be able to go on “solo runs” on big issues only to find them subsequently overturned in Court.

However, this would still only be a sticking plaster until such time as the electorate realises that if it wants progress for all of Northern Ireland, it has to vote for parties who represent progress for all of Northern Ireland. It’s that simple.

If you’re going to be a pedant…

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt corrected Alliance leader David Ford in the Assembly this week – when the latter used the word “referendums“, the former couldn’t get in quickly enough to interject with “referenda!

Well indeed, every Oxbridge-educated scholar would know that the plural of neuter second declension nouns in Latin is -a.

Except, ahem, referendum is not a second-declension noun. It is a gerund, and thus has no plural as such.

It is true that gerunds have plural forms. However, because it is a gerund, referendum in Latin means “referring thing” or perhaps more idiomatically “referred matter”; thus the plural form referenda would mean “referred matters”.

However, only one matter was referred to the people of Scotland last week – thus it was a referendum. The clear context of Mr Ford’s remarks was to refer to similar instances of a single matter being referred – in which case the productive plural formation is quite correctly referendums.

If you’re going to be a pedant, it pays to know your stuff. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Did SNP strategy blow independence this decade?

It was certainly a respectable, if not remarkable, “Yes” vote in Scotland last week. Credit for that goes partly to the general political and social trends of this decade inside and outside Scotland, as well as to an astonishingly well run “Yes” ground campaign.

Yet I cannot help but wonder if an alternative SNP strategy would have secured a “Yes” vote – and possibly even a sizeable majority.

If, instead of producing a 700-page document of its version of an Independent Scotland, the SNP had instead said that a “Yes” vote would be considered a mandate to negotiate a sovereignty deal to be put back to the people in March 2016, would there in fact have been support for that? In this alternative world the SNP would have said “We will consider a ‘Yes’ vote a mandate to negotiate a Currency Union with England and Wales, and accelerated member state status within the EU; then we will come back to you with the outcome of those negotiations with two options – support the outcome, or reject the outcome and declare independence unilaterally.”

It is almost certain that the outcome in those circumstances, in September 2014, would have been a majority for the concept at least of “Scotland being an independent country”, as the uncertainties that “No” was able to play on would have been removed (at least for the time being). A referendum outcome like that would have been a huge mandate that would have left London’s negotiating hand a lot weaker than it would have been even if “Yes” had won last week.

In the event, the outcome of the negotiations may well have been “here’s a mega-devo-max” offer from London and a “Look, you’re going to have to join the Euro” from Brussels. In which case those two options could have been put to the Scottish people with absolute certainty as to the practical outworkings of each. Of course, they may well have opted for the former, rendering the answer to my question in the headline of this piece “No”. But they may not…

I quite admired the SNP’s determination to go for it straight. It worked a lot better than I and many others reckoned it would. However, it also left a lot of uncertainty – which remains, even after. I just wonder if there was another route.

Borrowing key, not Corporation Tax

This piece on a “Federal UK” requires some more thought on the fiscal issues. Frankly, I am no expert on these!

However, I am increasingly of the view that the only two taxes really in play for devolution are duties (on drinks or flights or whatever) and income tax. 

Listening to interviews with the key decision makers on this issue, the relevant point here is that corporation tax is always assumed to be remaining UK-wide (except, naturally, by Northern Ireland’s First Minister in the Assembly yesterday). There is an understandable wariness to devolve this (at least in totality), partly because it is complex (for example, you have to stop Tesco, BP or HSBC just moving its office of registration) but mainly because it would simply encourage a “race to the bottom”.

There is just about the possibility now that Corporation Tax powers could be devolved to Northern Ireland alone as part of a “scatter gun approach”. This would be an error – the fundamental lesson must be that each of the four countries should have the same powers exactly (whether they choose to use them is up to them). However, the strong probability is that Corporation Tax powers will in fact be taken off the table – possibly replaced by income tax powers.

With regard to VAT, I should emphasise that, despite the First Minister’s positivity, I never saw it as a candidate for devolution either (again, just too complex). However, I do see scope to enable any growth in VAT receipts in a particular region to be retained b the region delivering the growth – potentially that even includes City Regions, not just devolved countries.

Note that the likeliest thing is that income tax will be set at 10 percentage points below the current rate, with each country then entitled to raise the remainder as it sees fit.

For all that, the very biggest fiscal requirement for me is one which is never mentioned – borrowing powers. There are two aspects to this:

  • each devolved country should be able to retain any under-spend at the end of each financial year to put into its own pot the following year (currently, except where specifically negotiated, any money left over is returned to the Treasury; the result of this is the mad February/March spending sprees we see to get the money spent, which means it is often spent in a very short-termist and ineffective way – on programmes which don’t help or pavements which don’t need repaired);
  • each devolved country should be able to borrow money, probably from the Treasury (which would need a contingency of its own), or to bid jointly for money from a “Federal Programme Fund” (say for cross-border roads, ferry subsidies or whatever).

It is these borrowing powers, combined with a non-requirement to return under-spends, which would probably make the biggest practical difference – boringly technocratic though they sound!

A Federal UK – from 2010

March 2010:

The expiry of the UK and English Parliament sees the announcement of the main Officers for the three main parties ahead of May’s General Election. Incumbent Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown announces Alistair Darling as prospective Chancellor, David Miliband as prospective First Secretary of State; and Yvette Cooper as ‘Lead Candidate’ – i.e. prospective Home Secretary and First Minister for England. The Conservatives’ David Cameron puts forward George Osborne, William Hague and Theresa May for the roles, much to the frustration of Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling. The Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg has Menzies Campbell, Danny Alexander and Vince Cable – a surprise move which sees Chris Huhne sidelined, something which he would come to be grateful for.

April 2010:

“Lib-mania” breaks out as Nick Clegg’s dominant performance in the UK-wide Prime Ministerial debate is followed by another win for Vince Cable in the Lead Candidates’ debate, shown only in England. The Liberal Democrats briefly lead the polls.

May 2010:

The outcome of the election is a Conservative overall majority of 40 in England; but they are short by 19 UK-wide – a “semi-cohabitation”. Gordon Brown refuses to resign, saying he may be able to lead at federal level. David Cameron says it is clear his party has won in England, and that he will make a comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats to back him on issues of confidence and supply across the UK. Nick Clegg names his price – income tax allowance to be progressively raised to £10,000, a referendum on the electoral system with fixed parliamentary terms, and Lords Reform. The Conservatives are not for messing around, however – Theresa May is invited to Buckingham Palace and invited to form an English Executive; four days later, having compromised on the first two of Mr Clegg’s demands but rejected the third, David Cameron enters Number 10.

2011:

An AV referendum is called, but heavily defeated. The Conservatives proceed to re-draw England’s electoral boundaries, easily able to do so with their majority there.

2012:

Having unsuccessfully sought a deal to manage a compromise across the UK, the Conservatives proceed to raise tuition fees to £9,000 for English universities – the star of the show, however, is Vince Cable, whose impassioned Commons speech in opposition to tuition fees of any sort (and case for their replacement by a “Graduate Tax”) wins near universal plaudits. The Liberal Democrats continue to dominate the air waves with their anger that full fiscal autonomy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is not proceeding because it needs to be matched by Lords Reform.

2013:

The Conservatives’ plan to bomb Syria is rejected by a vote of the UK Parliament, showing it can continue to act on “federal” matters. Meanwhile, plans to resolve congestion at London’s airports hit gridlock as a meeting between Lord Chancellor Dominic Grieve with the four Transport Ministers arrives at no conclusion other than the desirability of an increase in capacity. Greater Manchester’s Council leaders express anger that they were not included at such a meeting, arguing that the aviation problem is a perfect reason to re-balance England’s regional economic policy towards the North West.

2014:

The year is taken over by the Scottish independence referendum, where polls show a potential majority in favour of independence just 10 days out. However, former PM Gordon Brown intervenes with a draft private member’s bill for greater fiscal autonomy, devolution of welfare and reform of the Lords – leaving it for the media to note that alongside the Liberal Democrats and some regional MPs he has a majority to put it through the UK Parliament even without the Conservatives by March. The polls swing back and independence is rejected 57-43. Greater Manchester’s Council leaders repeat their demand for greater autonomy of their own and, accepting they can do nothing to stop the Brown Plan, the Conservatives set up an English Constitutional Convention.

2015:

Lords Reform dominates the early part of 2015, but bores the electorate. It does mean, however, that the UK General Election is dominated again by the Liberal Democrats, whose effective and experienced front-bench team (Clegg, Teather, Danny Alexander, Cable) and anti-Westminster platform secures 80 seats in England. This means Ed Miliband’s Labour (running Miliband, Douglas Alexander, Balls, Cooper) has a majority across the UK, but falls short in England, hampered by the new boundaries. The Conservatives (Cameron, Hammond, Osborne, May) deny they have lost a mandate to govern in England, and suggest they may seek a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to continue to do so.

Nevertheless Ed Miliband, able to command a majority in the UK Parliament, is appointed Prime Minister and immediately seeks a way of securing a majority among English MPs too, in order to form an English Executive under Yvette Cooper before the Conservatives, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats can cobble anything together.

“You know my price,” says Mr Cable when Mr Miliband calls him about it, “I want tuition fees reduced back to where they were and a vow that sees graduate tax devolved”.

“No problem there,” says Mr Miliband, “Tell you what, if you form a coalition I have no doubt Yvette will look kindly upon pointing you Deputy First Minister and Secretary of State for Skills in England to make sure”.

“Well, I’m afraid I can’t accept that particular offer,” says Mr Cable, “You see, I’m about to announce my candidacy for another top job, part of which would involve sorting the airport issue”.

“I see. Well, between ourselves, looking at the polls, it looks like we’ll be getting to know each other rather well then”, says the new Prime Minister to the next London Mayor…

US must win Ryder Cup

Europe is getting just a bit cocky about its favourites tag for this week’s Ryder Cup. Here’s why a bet on the Americans may not be a bad thing.

Firstly, the “Miracle at Medinah” was something of a fluke. In fact, in 2012, the Americans won 17 more holes than the Europeans. Excluding the 18th, they actually won 25 more – nearly one per match. American wins were all 5&4, 4&2 and such like – whereas the Europeans won not a single match before the 17th. The Americans played the better golf but crumbled right at the end if it came to it.

Secondly, the Ryder Cup needs an American win. If Europe wins, that’ll be 6 of the last 7 and 8 of the last 10 (and five in a row at home). That is no longer competitive – it is almost a return to the days of the Americans beating the British Isles all the time.

2014 was the first ever year that Europeans won 3 out of the 4 majors. It would be good for golf, however, if the late honours in the year went back across the Atlantic.

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.

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