Don’t mention the….

I’ve been trying not to write anything for a week or so in case I become obsessed with referendums.

It’s a condition all us separatists suffer, unlike sensible people from Unionist parties who never mention the subject.

It does get a bit repetitive, though, doesn’t it? I do think a lot of the public resistance to the idea of indyref2 is just an expression of ennui rather than opposition to independence itself. People just don’t want another any time soon and would probably prefer if nobody talked about it at all to give them a break.

The first one didn’t resolve anything – not for long. And the EU version has brought the worst cataclysm on the country since the financial crash – and will have longer lasting consequences.

Whichever way a second indyref goes, the fall-out is going to be spectacular. Either we enter a prolonged period of readjustment to statehood with attendant dilemmas over debt, currency, EU membership and extrication from England or we go down as an emasculated province of isolationist, cut-price Britain. You can hear the public inquiring: Are there any other choices?

And the answer I’m afraid is No. That is the stark choice, the unavoidable reality that looms. No wonder so many recoil at the thought. You’ll need a full stomach when the time comes because, whatever your preference, the vote is only the beginning. Best to treat the intervening months as a really long downie day.

Perhaps that’s why there is mounting talk of ditching the referendum idea and going back to the original basis of the democratic case – the election of a majority of MPs. Wouldn’t that be sweet? We’d be there already – with a stonking majority. With the MPs returned, the SNP government declares the country independent. For those of us frustrated and not a little humiliated by lectures from sub-Trump pipsqueaks who give every impression of despising the country they serve, the prospect of a quick dash to freedom is tempting. It has an ideological basis that is hard to dispute (putting aside pro and anti preferences). Among its flaws though are that there was no specific claim made by the SNP prior to the 2015 election. Sturgeon said: A vote for the SNP is not a vote for another referendum. It is a vote to have Scotland’s voice heard at Westminster.

I’m not sure withdrawal of MPs would constitute our voice being heard. The supposition behind an SNP vote of course is always going to independence but you’d still need to declare in advance that withdrawal was possible depending on circumstance – many non-indy Scots vote SNP and deserve to be represented.

But beyond all these nuanced issues there is one overarching matter that can’t be willed away. An independent state only really exists insofar as it is recognised as such by other nations.

If governments elsewhere don’t accept your mandate to be a sovereign state, it doesn’t matter how loud you shout or how many flags you fly. Throughout the modern independence claim period the world community – including Spain – has made clear that if the existing state –the UK – acknowledges the existence of Scotland as a separate state (presumably after an agreed democratic formula) then they too would follow suit. Other countries look to the existing state and government – the British government in London – for their lead. Unless London makes clear that part of the UK territory has gone through a proper process to turn itself into an autonomous entity, it is most unlikely any partner nations would recognise the new status. A breakaway province unilaterally asserting nationhood would be a bastard creature which many would see as symbolizing a threat to the world order. The first thing Washington, for example, would do, is phone London for clarification. Without getting the nod, the US would sit on its hands. Most of the rest of world opinion would follow that lead. Only in extremis, such as London breaking with international norms of state behavior, would the international community look more favourably – in other words, after a recognized democratic process such as a referendum, when London refused to accept a Yes majority.

This scenario would hardly be helped by street protests by Unionists provoked to action and refusing to accept the decision.

All of which adds to the sense of being caught in a trap while the doors to escape are nailed down. I have yet to hear a coherent explanation of what the Unionists expect to happen to Scotland after Brexit. In their scenario, we are fixed in a straightjacket with London and, never mind how we voted, heading out into the depths of space, destination uncertain. Are we to believe that, whatever the London Brexiteers decide, there is no Scottish solution. We must trust the Tories and accept whatever they bring back and lump it? Our destiny is forever in their hands and, if the universal view of the forecasters is correct, accept reduced circumstances, curtailed travel and isolation – the end of our shared European social democracy as we are ripped out of union with our partners to become a free-booting, low tax entrepot?

The first referendum was for many Can we afford to be independent? The second will be Can we afford not to? In the first we were told we had too much to lose, the future was uncertain. It was safer with sensible Westminster in charge wrapped within the comfort blanket of the EU. Look at us now. This isn’t just a threat to the idea of Scotland the nation which so many are happy to dismiss. It is a direct attack on jobs and prospects, living standards, university education, public services sustained by immigrants, the environment, food safety – even air safety. The very things that middle class Scots held more dearly than their country in 2014 are now at risk, according, not to Nationalists, but the New York Times, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Resolution Foundation, the European Commission and every recognized commentator outside the loony Leavers.

This is where voting No has got us. Repeating the mistake would be an act of economic suicide for ourselves and our children.

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New Referendum Plans

I hear the government’s war planning for indyref2 has come up with some new ideas.

Voting will take place during the Glasgow Fairs fortnight on a Sunday between 7 and 7.30 am.

Voters will be required to provide a current income tax statement. Higher-rate payers will qualify for two votes.

All those in receipt of state benefits will be permitted to mark a ballot paper with a cross and must hand it to the to the polling staff to have it torn up in front of them and dropped into a basket.

Jimmy Shand records will played while voters wait their turn. Any sign of foot tapping will lead to disqualification.

Anyone admitting they voted Yes last time will be told their original vote still counts in the new referendum.

The question will be tweaked to read: Do you want to rip Scotland out of civilisation to become a broken down, mendicant nonentity and eat seaweed until rising sea levels drown you in oil-polluted waters?

Answer A: I would rather wash Murdo Fraser’s underpants. Count me out. Twice.

Answer B: As I’m suffering from a mental illness I have given it a nanosecond of thought but still decided against.

The Electoral Commission will insist that all organisations registering to campaign must attend a mandatory sherry evening with Jill Stephenson, Archie MacPherson and Tom Gallagher.

Polling stations will be policed by the Gallowgate Loyal Bears to ensure good order with Orange Order customer care consultants on hand with advice.

As this is a significant constitutional issue a voting threshold will be deemed appropriate. The government believes the case of Eritrea is relevant. It voted to become independent of Ethiopia in 1993 with 99.8 per cent of the vote. This should be the model followed.

Although the ballot itself will be secret, papers will be given ultra violet scans and the names and addresses of Yes voters published in the Daily Record who will put posters of Jim Murphy through their door.

There will be nightly broadcasts of Gordon Brown in place of Reporting Scotland throughout the campaign.

Confident of success, the government is planning a national celebration including a new Mount Rushmore-style monument to famous Scots – those selected so far John Barrowman, Neil Oliver and Susan Calman – whose profiles will be carved into Salisbury Crags.

(That enough for now. I’ve just realised some of this might come true)

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Bateman on the Box

I was interviewed by Kurdish television about Scottish independence (they’re not exactly disinterested in the subject themselves) and found myself articulating ideas I hadn’t really thought through. No surprise there, then. It’s when you’re confronted by questions, a mic is thrust under your nose and a camera lens is widening to get in your plooks, that you tend to come up with stuff. Idea after idea pops into your head and you try gamely to connect them into a coherent whole. All the time you’re wondering if this makes any sense in Kirkuk.

The crew were happy and I know why, having done the same job myself. I gave them four complete answers they could use without an edit, each no longer than 90 seconds. There’s nothing like getting useable material in the can, even if you don’t believe a single word of it. So I’m going to be big in Erbil, top item on Reporting Kurdistan, I shouldn’t wonder. I picture Jackie Bird in a headscarf.

My argument boiled down to basics – that this was no longer about nationalism struggling for expression through independence. That was kind of the point in indyref1.

Rather it was the failure of London and unionism to adapt to Scottish demands in a changing world. Scotland had expressed itself pretty clearly both in 45 per cent Yes (while losing) and then by electing SNP members to almost all the Westminster seats. A rational and proportionate response to those results would have been an offer of substantial powers to meet the national aspiration. That, I said, would have satisfied many Scots even those who longer term wanted independence. Instead severely limited areas were devolved, notably a single, and politically toxic tax power.

The mandate was ignored while the loss of the SNP’s Holyrood majority was welcomed as a sign of failure and was used to justify retention of real power in London. They will only concede as little as they can get away with it and only after threats. There is no sense of mutual respect or mature politics at play.

Now the very basis on which the original referendum was mostly settled – EU membership and economic stability – has been destroyed. Where once the choice, put simply, had been between a known entity and the unknown, now it was between two unknowns.

Britain’s future, in foreign relations, international influence, security, social protection, environmental safeguards, quality of goods, workers’ rights, European travel and residency, was now uncertain after the EU vote. What is certain, and is still to a degree unquantifiable, is the blow awaiting the economy in lost jobs, future prospects, markets, investment, inward migration and our likely subjugation to more powerful mercantile forces in the US and China. Our national output will fall and as the IFS makes clear today, the national accounts will be hit further on top of Osborne’s still-to-come spending reductions which will heap higher debt on the Exchequer leading to more savage service and benefit cuts.

The union’s broad shoulders are sagging. Its deep pockets have holes in them. Yet the vainglorious message of British superiority trumpets on. The UK – the Ragged Trousered Propagandist.

Just last night in the Commons the voice of Scotland’s MPs was closed down in favour of government mouthpieces in the debate on Article 50. Hardly anyone actually cares what happens in the Great Hall of Westminster Public School for Privileged Boys but it’s another sign, if you need it, of institutional contempt – not to the SNP but to Scotland. And it may be that the announcement of a date for the next referendum will signal the return of the 56. For what is the point of retaining membership of a club that disdains us, one whose snobbery overrides any concept of representative democracy?

We are ignored and must learn to follow where the wise of Westminster will lead. We are being hauled out of our markets despite the European birthright we earned as early travellers long before the creation of a spatchcock United Kingdom. We, along with sparsely-educated UKIP voters and English fundamentalists, now have an international reputation as xenophobes and anti-Europeans. We are incorporated into the British image of intolerant isolationists and buddies of Trump.

The decision now is which uncertain future do we choose? Are we to join Kezia and Ruth’s suicide embrace of Brexit Britain or are we brave enough to believe in ourselves and take the hand of our European partners? A retreat from cooperation and collectivism into Little Britain dominated by global powers? Is that who we are?

Or does this more closely meet your idea of Scotland: This thoroughly modern market economy features high-tech agriculture, up-to-date small-scale and corporate industry, extensive government welfare measures, comfortable living standards, and high dependence on foreign trade. It is a net exporter of food.

That’s the basic info box from Wikipedia if you Google Denmark. The UK the majority voted for last time is fading fast and it’s clear the Tories will take us down with them. They have no interest in our fate and believe, as I do, we handed all the power over us back to them in September 2014. Our last chance is approaching. The choice is no longer independence or status quo, it’s a modern, supported society integrated with our neighbours versus a frontier scramble for work and security in a declining economy.

How the Kurds wish they had our opportunities. Writing in the Independent Gary Kent says: It is evident to me that, after a century of misery and a decade of failed federalism in Iraq, Kurds in Iraq need sovereignty. It is seen as fundamental to their survival in allowing them to borrow on international markets, buy arms, and attract investment to rejuvenate their economy and to turn quantity into quality in everything from education to governance.

The time to fear the future is passing. The really worrying thing is the willful catastrophe that MPs vote for, even those who realize the damage it will do to the national interest. When the talks begin in a few weeks it will quickly become apparent that Scotland has no voice and no interest to be protected as far as the UK is concerned. The question is just how much of this can soft Nos take before they see the game is up?

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Deep Impact

An old contact of mine spent years in local and central government. His mantra was that any single policy you introduced, no matter how clever in itself, always had an unforeseen consequence.

Every action has a counter reaction somewhere down the line. In politics, the rise of the SNP has denuded Labour of support and the unexpected beneficiaries are the Tories. In Glasgow a council move to remunerate lolly pop men for ‘dirty work’ like picking up litter has led to a strike by janitors who don’t get any extra for the same duties.

I suppose that’s my current beef about No voters too. With Tory governments in power, they were voting to retain the same and hand back Scotland’s ability to resist their impact, although, in that case, it was hardly an unforeseen consequence. You really did have to look the other way not to realise how a No result could be exploited. My torrent of Unionist abuse hasn’t contained one explanation or justification for this, just Meh…

Similarly, I’m wondering if any of the 53 per cent of white female voters who went for Trump are reconsidering that decision in the light of events. Did sensible people really watch this man perform, take in his messages and still happily opt for him? Accepting it wasn’t an easy decision to back Hillary – indeed the Democrats made an historic mistake there – would you really have placed them side by side and voted for the nutjob? If you had lost a job in an economic wasteland, I get it. It’s a chance to kick out hard and feel good. But what about those professionals, the career jockeys with something to lose, all those smart American women? What were they thinking?

Now the consequences are rippling through global politics from Iran to Buckingham Palace, the people are on the streets and anger is palpable.

At this point we should remember that across the red Republican states of continental America, Trump folk are celebrating. This is what they wanted. They don’t much care which one of those muslim countries you come from. They may not have heard of some of them. But they know that’s where the bad guys in Homeland come from and there’s only one way to stop them.

But when you check, the evidence is patchy. Of the 15 most deadly attacks in USA history, only one – 9/11 – was directly associated with Islam and the Middle East or the Gulf and not one of the 19 terrorists was from a proscribed country.

In 2016 a Somali muslim student resident in the US did attack Ohio State University injuring passers-by.

In the same year the killer of customers in a Florida gay bar was of Afghan descent but was born the America.

A year earlier the man who shot 14 dead at a Christmas party was of Pakistani descent but was also born in America. His killer wife was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi.

The Chattanooga navy recruitment shootings were carried out by a naturalised American citizen born in Kuwait.

And so it goes on…the more you look, the more the selection of countries look arbitrary. Some are questioning why countries where Trump does business are excluded – which takes us back to his business connections impacting on decision-making.

Yet the real threat to American lives comes not from outside the country at all but from within – often from the very heartland bases of Trump support. One estimate is that 30 per cent of all worldwide mass shootings occur in America with only five per cent of the population. Analysis identified 110 mass shootings in which at least four people were murdered with a firearm between January 2009 and July 2014 – at least 57% were related to domestic violence, not terrorism. On average, 93 Americans are killed by other Americans with firearms every day. Seven children or teenagers are shot dead every day.

If it’s safety and security Trump is after, he should be deporting Americans.

On which point, the boomerang effect of May’s desperate wooing of Trump is straight out of The Thick of It. No sooner does she promise him the full State Visit Hoo Hah than the Queen tells her to bugger off. At least that’s my interpretation of her former private secretary going public in the Times and on the BBC to say it should be stopped. Be in no doubt this is an intervention on behalf of the monarch who sees more clearly than her Prime Minister the pitfalls waiting to ambush her dignity.

Trump should be kept at arm’s length until his term in office settles down into something approaching normality. We need time to forget the horrors of his early days in power before something as triumphant as a State Visit is attempted. The Palace knows full well that the mass demonstrations that will accompany Trump will lasso her as well. (There is another issue here because the old gal is 90 and, republican that I am, I think she should be cocooned from controversy for her own wellbeing.)

The affair has also coincided with the meeting of the devolved administrations and the Prime Minister over their Brexit demands and unfortunately knocked it off top spot on the news. For us this is serious business although it seems for too many it hasn’t dawned yet. I think in her aloof way Theresa May is blundering from error to crisis having landed herself with a massive international and royal mess to clear up on the one hand and a rebellious celtic fringe on the other. Couldn’t she muster even a performance to demonstrate some warmth towards the other nations that make up three quarters of the United Kingdom? She must be inoculated against the impending consequences of her (in)actions if she think there will not be repercussions, unforeseen or otherwise.

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Degrees of Death

As regular readers I know, I got a few O levels and didn’t make it to university – it was much tougher in those days. So I don’t have a degree, not even an honorary one like that Jackie Bird. But I do know lots of academics and have come to value not just their intellectual contribution but the economic of impact of learning. It is ably described here in this worrying analysis on the implications of Brexit under this mad government by Colin Talbot, Professor of Government at Manchester Uni. It doesn’t mention Scotland specifically but I’m told this is a UK-wide phenomenon applicable here too. It first appeared in the LSE Brexit Blog and I’ve purloined it from Social Europe website. My thanks to them. Read and weep.


“The UK’s university sector is one of our most valuable national assets,” Prof Brian Cox, the University of Manchester academic and TV presenter, told me last week. He argued that UK higher education “is a genuinely global industry generating billions of pounds in export earnings, one of the necessary foundations of our innovation-led economy and perhaps our strongest soft power asset; political and industrial leaders from all over the world were educated here in the UK.”

Which makes it all the more strange that the government should be – whether accidentally or deliberately – undermining them. Most of the Brexit commentary about UK universities has concentrated on issues of funding, research cooperation and students. Much less attention has been paid to what keeps universities running – academic staff – and what Brexit will mean for the 30,000-plus EU academics in the UK.

I arrived at a meeting a couple of weeks ago and noticed one of my academic colleagues was visibly distressed.

When I asked what was wrong, they said they’d just had a very alarming letter from the Home Office. Having lived and worked here for more than two decades (they’re a national of another EU country) they decided to play it safe after the Brexit vote and apply for leave to remain. Big mistake.

They received a threatening letter from the Home Office saying they had no right to be here and they should “now make arrangements to leave”. The letter was obviously wrong – they had every right to be here under existing UK law – but that didn’t lessen the emotional impact for my colleague, whose whole future was suddenly thrown into uncertainty.

I had read similar stories in the press, and wondered how many other academics might be affected, so I turned to Twitter to ask for any similar experiences. The tweet I posted asking for examples was retweeted – mostly by concerned academics – over 1,000 times. People started writing to me with cases and I began digging into the issue.

The first thing that struck me was the level of fear, anger and disgust – and in some cases resignation. I have disguised individual cases – that’s because few people are willing to speak openly, such is the degree of fear about what might happen after Brexit.

The Impact On Individuals

Some EU academics (along with others) who have been living and working legally in the UK for years decided, after June 23, that they should try to cement their position by applying for one or other of the various routes to permanent residency. The procedures are daunting and of Kafkaesque complexity – one form runs to 85 pages and requires forms of proof that make acquiring Catholic sainthood look simple. As a result many applications are failing – but it is the form of the rejection that is causing much concern. A typical letter from the Home Office says (in part):

As you appear to have no alternative basis of stay in the United Kingdom you should now make arrangements to leave. If you fail to make a voluntary departure a separate decision may be made at a later date to enforce your removal…

This appears to be a fairly typical ‘prepare to leave’ letter, variations on which have been sent to “failed” applicants – even though they are currently here perfectly legally.

Even more worryingly, the decision on whether to accept or reject these applications is based on the “Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and Regulation 26 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006”, to quote the letter again. The latter will be repealed in the Great Repeal Bill planned by the government, which could rescind any ‘right to remain’ granted under existing law and regulations.

Brian Cox sums up the situation very well when he told me:

We have spent decades – centuries arguably – building a welcoming and open atmosphere in our universities and, crucially, presenting that image to an increasingly competitive world. We’ve been spectacularly successful; many of the worlds finest researchers and teachers have made the UK their home, in good faith. A few careless words have already damaged our carefully cultivated international reputation, however. I know of few, if any, international academics, from within or outside the EU, who are more comfortable in our country now than they were pre-referendum. This is a recipe for disaster.

Another academic colleague said: “As an academic I’m embarrassed and ashamed of [the] UK governments’ stance on EU citizens.”

One academic told me: “the Home Office is hedging its bets because we non-UK [academics] are now effectively hostages …”. A neuroscientist from the EU at a top UK university reacted with defiance: “For what is worth, I refuse to apply for a piece of paper [leave to remain] that I don’t need and won’t be valid after Brexit – when current law says I don’t need it. It’s just a certificate. They can stick their 85-page form up their arses.”

The level of anxiety is obvious: “I’m about to submit my permanent residency application. Any pointers from the rejections you’ve seen so far? Scary times ahead…”. Another said: “as an Irish citizen I am assuming the Ireland Act will continue to provide my right to be here. But… “

A policy specialist from Oxford said “people have been turned down for administrative reasons alone. The Home Office looks for any reason to say ‘no’ at the moment.” Or as another, retired, academic puts it, this is just “inhuman bureaucracy” at work.

How representative is all this? A recent survey of academics conducted by YouGov for the University and College Union (UCU) found that an overwhelming majority (90%) said Brexit will have a negative impact on UK higher education. Three-quarters (76%) of non-UK EU academics said they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education. A third (29%) said they already know of academics leaving the UK, and over two-fifths (44%) said they know of academics who have lost access to research funding as a direct result of Brexit.

The Impact On Universities

UK universities are heavily dependent on academics from the EU. To cater for our global audience we need to attract the brightest and best and Europe is, unsurprisingly, a major source for such talent. Over 31,000 UK university academics come from the EU – sixteen percent of the total (all figures calculated from the Higher Education Statistics Agency data for 2014/15).

But this national figure underestimates just how important EU academics are to our top-rated universities. The London School of Economics has 38% EU academic staff. Other prominent London colleges – Imperial, King’s, University College London – have between a quarter and nearly a third. Oxford has 24% and Cambridge 22%. My own university, Manchester has 18% and most of the Russell Group of ‘research universities’ are in the top ranks of EU academic staff employers.

EU academics are equally important in the core subject areas that are vital to our long-term economic health. So areas like physics (26%), chemical engineering (25%), biosciences (22%), chemistry (21%) and IT (20%) are all heavily reliant on European talent.

So What?

Our global status isn’t, of course, just dependent on EU academics – UK experts are our bedrock (70%) – but the other 30% that come from the EU and the rest of the world are an important part of our global status.

Losing this talent – whether through demoralisation or deliberate design – would have catastrophic effects. As Brian Cox puts it: “Ministers must consider our global reputation before uttering platitudinous sound-bites for domestic consumption, and think much more carefully about how to ensure that the UK remains the best place in the world to educate and to be educated. [UK Universities] are everything the government claims it wants our country to become; a model for a global future.”

“The current rhetoric is the absolute opposite of what is required. The UK appears, from outside, to be increasingly unwelcoming and backward looking”.” They should be even more careful about the policies they enact and the way they are implemented.

The Home Office’s at best clumsy and at worse malicious handling of residency claims is causing huge distress and damage to our reputation. I am already hearing cases of EU nationals leaving, or planning to leave, because of the uncertain and unwelcoming future they now face. One academic lawyer acquaintance has already moved. We don’t know how many EU academics we’ll lose now, or in the future as a result.”

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