The Sun Has got His Hat On

What a day I’m having…I had my belly laugh at Johann presenting herself as stateswoman of the year (she’s been watching Borgen) and then Alistair Carmichael entered my territory by reminding us that the real choice is not between independence and devolution but between Scotland and Britain – which is your country?

And then one of my contributors, Grahamski, the Impaler of Nationalists, does the same thing by stating: “I put Scotland first and believe it is in our best interests to maintain political union with the rest of the UK.”

Exactly. And what does that union mean in practice? That Britain not Scotland runs our affairs from deciding our budget through the votes of an overwhelming majority of English MPs, telling us when we can go to war, representing us on the world stage and taking command of our natural resources. They can still remove our parliament whenever they choose and they’re now dictating to us which currency we can/can’t use. They’re threatening to take away our defence contracts if we don’t do as they say and make (more) shipworkers unemployed. We now have 4 per cent representation in the Palace of Westminster. We’ve even had to fight for control over airguns.

Britain retains all the power over us and is the nation state while Scotland is an administrative region within that state. If you vote for that continuing then, whether you care to spell it out or not, Britain is your country, Scotland your second choice. Only a country standing shoulder to shoulder as an equal with every other country on earth can truly be called a nation. That is the definition applied by every other country in the UN. Voting to keep your homeland a region of another in a straight choice is never putting your country first, it is acknowledging that you are second best and either unworthy or ill-equipped for full statehood. You can of course engage in self-justifying comfort statements about being better together but there is no escaping the reality – and that which will be seen by every other country after a No vote – that the Scots didn’t think their country was worth its own independence. They didn’t put Scotland first. They put their membership of the UK ahead of their own independence.

(This is quite a different question from Would Scotland be better off or Is it in our best interests.) But we’re not being asked those questions – important as they are. We are being asked for the first time in 300 years  if we want to be independent and run our own affairs or do we prefer to play a subsidiary role in Britain. Yes is for Scotland. No is for Britain. No amount of sophistry and bluster can hide the hard truth confronting every Scot in the voting booth.

(I got a great deal on my wine at Tesco Maryhill and now the sun’s come out…Happy New Year to you all)

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From My Parallel Universe

Thank you, Johann for the biggest laugh on the last day of the year. Reading the end-of-year bromides from our political leaders, I was absent-mindedly sipping my tea when I came across this.

Johann Lamont urged Scots to conduct the debate respectfully, especially as the eyes of the world would be upon them. “Will they see a healthy and invigorating debate about how we best cooperate and engage with our neighbours and exercise power to make a difference?”

My eyes widened in amazement. “Or will they see a bad-tempered debate, mired in bitterness and grievance? Will they see a divided country that has turned in on itself?” Now I was spraying English Breakfast across the IKEA kitchen tops. Johann accusing others of grievance and negativity…just picture in your mind that glowering face at FMQs, those sidling eyes, the pointing finger and hear that doom-laden, threatening voice.

Did she really say that? Has she seriously looked back at her leadership  and thought it could be characterised as anything other than sour, negative and at times, insulting?

Oct 2012 Approves Salmond being called “barefaced liar” by Paul Martin.

April She refers to First Minister in chamber as “Wee Eck”.

Oct Labour leader Johann Lamont was twice asked to withdraw claims that the SNP Government was “dishonest”

Nov  “It would seem we have a fool here who has no plan B on the currency.”

More than half her questions have been about independence yet she says that is Salmond’s obsession. Remember her stunt of having elderly patients with a grievance in the chamber and blaming the First Minister personally for their treatment, not the highly paid hospital managers. Talk about cheap and manipulative.

Add in Johann’s notorious description of nationalism as a virus and the Soviet-style expunging of her “something-for-nothing” speech and…oh, you get the point. Perhaps most disturbing is the way she mirrors the very characteristic she accuses Salmond of…self-delusion and a failure to acknowledge wrongs. I can’t help thinking there is more to Johann than we ever see and if only she could adopt on a day-to-day basis the tone she strikes in her New Year message, we could have a thoughtful debate to be proud of. But how long will it last? Until the first FMQs of 2014 is my bet.

I didn’t think Salmond himself had much to say except a theme that will recur…that this is the chance for change, don’t miss it. Don’t wake up the day after and regret it.

But Alistair Carmichael was best of all. He said to take care to think this through and check all the facts before you vote and not to act on a hunch but to use your head. Hear, hear. He said there was confusion over EU membership – you’re in the Cabinet Alistair, get them to write to Barroso for formal legal advice. Also, can you tell us if we will still be members after a UK referendum on the EU? He said there was doubt about the currency. Give us a definitive statement, Alistair. Is Osborne saying No or is he saying Maybe? Please clarify. He also says there are doubts about the costs of independence. That is true but he could clarify the costs of Union? The Institute for Fiscal Studies – much respected – says there will be tax rises after the next British election. There are more cuts of £47 billion planned which cannot be sustained without rises. Can you tell us how much those rises will be?

Lastly Alistair has confirmed my thesis outlined in Generation X – that this is not just about independence and that voting No is a positive vote for the UK as your country of preference over Scotland. He says: “A No vote to remain part of the UK should not merely be viewed as a rejection of independence. It should be seen as a positive and historic endorsement of the UK that generations of Scots have helped to build and improve.” There it is…the definitive statement. Vote for the UK because it takes precedence over Scotland. Vote No and effectively declare that Scotland is the second of your choices. You put Britain first and Scotland second. You are a proud Scot whose allegiance is to Britain. Now we’re getting somewhere. (I knew Alistair would be good for the debate).

By this time next year, the phoney war will be over and the first steps to a new Scotland under way…what a Hogmanay it will be.

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Et Une Autre Chose…

The intervention into British domestic politics by the President of the Council, Herman von Rompuy, to endorse Barroso the Commission President, in what is now the official stated view of the EU on Scottish membership, was a little surprising…not because Herman is anything other than a right wing centralist with no interest in democratising the institutions – he is against directly electing EU leaders – but because the Council had previously been publicly agnostic. It is after all the Council which is ultimately responsible for membership, and it is the Council legal advisers who will formulate the approach to be taken to Scotland and the rUK after a Yes vote.

So why would he join Barroso in the now infamous assertion – still without any legal foundation or description of the mechanics to be used – that ‘a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union and the treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply anymore on its territory’?

Could it be relevant that the member of his cabinet who advises on institutional matters is one Richard Corbett? If he sounds vaguely familiar to any of you Euro nerds, it’s because he is an active professional politician in the British Labour Party and was an MEP from 96 to 09. So he’s hardly a disinterested observer although, to be fair, a man can give up one career and transform himself into an independently-minded professional in another. However, in Corbett’s case it seems he is only stopping over in the Council offices until he gets back into active party politics. He’s been selected as second on the Yorkshire and Humberside Labour list for next year’s European elections so is more than likely to get elected. Since part of his job is liaising with national governments, including the UK, how likely do you think it is that he would resist the temptation to do a bit of behind-the-scenes campaigning on the UK’s behalf by suggesting that Herman speak out on the sticky business of  Scotland?

Combined with the private talks between the Spanish right wing and the Tories to agree a common front on Scotland and Catalonia, we now appear to have a British Labour politician inside the system helping to dictate European policy towards the same end.

I know, I know, conspiracies exist only in the minds of the gullible. But sometimes, if you smell a rat, it’s because there are rodents nearby. Or should that be rongeurs?

Incidentally, on my aside about David Martin referring, strictly accurately, to Scotland as a region…my point is that our country, Britain, was created by two separate nations who retain that identity and, even if Brussels finds it inconvenient, we regard ourselves as such, or we should. David clearly disagrees and follows the Brussels diktat. But can you imagine an English MEP standing up to declare that he represents “the region of England”? I doubt it. He’d have the Daily Mail on his case straight away. We should call ourselves what we like and let them interpret to suit themselves. I don’t think many eurocrats wouldn’t know what was meant by Scotland or England. To me, it’s about pride, something some politicians seem to have mislaid. 

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Open Letter

David Martin MEP and Catherine Stihler MEP (both Lab)

Dear David and Catherine

Season’s greetings to you both and to your families. I do miss my trips to Europe paid for by the taxpayer. They may come round again for me when I’m appointed Scotland’s Ambassador to the EU in a couple of year’s time. (I have been told I’m ahead of both Alyn and Ian in the queue so it may be worth keeping in with me).

I see you have both been busy over the holiday period in keeping with your reputation as among the hardest working MEPs.

In particular, your ringing public endorsement of Jose Manuel Barroso’s assertions about the position of our nation after a Yes vote have been striking and in tone at least leave you open to the charge of relishing the idea of your country being excluded from membership in its own right, an oddly masochistic reaction I put down to confusing two different things – your desire to remain part of the British state by winning the referendum on the one hand and your constituents’ national interests on the other. As we are about to vote this year on our independence and, since continued EU membership is very much the desired outcome for many of us, can you address a few questions for clarity. In this I’m following the well-worn precedent of European Unionists in demanding answers of the Scottish government before we vote, not to mention the greater precedent of access to truthful information for all citizens in advance of a democratic vote. Here are my questions.

Can you point to the section in the treaties which can be applied to Scotland voting for independence and then subsequently, against its wishes, being expelled?

If you are seeking legal clarity on Scotland’s position, will you formally ask the British government to request it from the Commission who have promised to clarify officially but only to the Member State (UK)?

Do you agree with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that a “precise scenario” for clarification only applies after the referendum vote? (Letter to me from FCO 13/12/13. The ‘precise scenario’ referred to by the Commission can only be presented following negotiations on the terms of Scottish independence from the UK, which can themselves only follow a ‘yes’ vote in next year’s referendum as there is currently no democratic mandate for undertaking such negotiations.

Will you vote for Scotland’s membership of the EU irrespective of how it eventually comes about? 

I appreciate it is in your political interest to have your constituents frightened into believing they will become stateless people – the Palestinians of Europe – stripped of their existing rights against their wishes after exercising their democratic right of freedom of expression but surely we are entering uncharted territory now in which the destiny of the Scots is at stake, not just another five years in or out of office. Therefore the ritual dance of claim and counter claim from our politicians – on all sides – should stop.

So, again, where in the treaties governing the European Union does it allow for existing EU citizens to have their country removed from membership, their citizenship revoked, their right to free movement withheld, their financial contribution retained, their subsidies stopped (retrospectively?), their visiting students repatriated before qualifying, their border re-introduced and closed to the single market, hundreds of EU-funded developments halted, and you as MEPs ejected from your elected position?

It seems that Barroso and Van Rompuy – and yourselves – are relying on Article 49 of the TEU which relates to new member states. Scotland won’t be a new state until the negotiations are completed and she will then be endorsed by London so are you saying Brussels will have no involvement of any kind in 18 months minimum of talks between London and Edinburgh and will immediately turn its back on the deal although it’s ratified by the rUK as a Member State?

Even if we adopt that viewpoint, although Article 49  manifestly envisages third countries applying to accede rather than existing ones splitting, my question is: How does Scotland get there? By what process based on which section of the treaties does Scotland cease to be a member? Who decides? Who votes? Is it your argument that the Commission members simply assert that Scotland is outside from a given date and do you as democrats – and as Scots – accept that without challenge? If so, what happened to your commitment to the rule of law and rights of the citizen and all those demands over the years for the institutions to be made more democratic and subject to the parliament? Or do we end up in the Court of Justice possibly under an Action for Annulment, thus:

If any EU country, the Council, the Commission or (under certain conditions) Parliament believes that a particular EU law is illegal, it may ask the Court to annul it. ‘Actions for annulment’ can also be used by private individuals who want the Court to cancel a particular law because it directly and adversely affects them as individuals. If the Court finds the law in question was not correctly adopted or is not correctly based on the Treaties, it may declare the law null and void.

I assure you, I will be the first individual raising such an action, should it ever be needed.

And, if it comes to this apparently unlawful exclusion, will you support it, even if the Scots, whom you both represent, have expressed their desire for independence and will you declare that your obligation is then to fall in behind the people who elect you and take up the fight for Scotland’s right to retain membership?

I would have thought that was self-evident but, David, I remember your enthusiasm for Scotland’s exclusion is quite boundless and you wanted to enshrine it in decisions of the parliament by producing an official report…. “Martin planned to write a report arguing that any new state would be automatically outside the European Union and would be forced to reapply for membership…”

Why are you so keen to ensure your own country is made a pariah? The trouble I have with this is that it doesn’t sound like a patriotic Scot bringing to bear his vast experience by using the treaties and historic precedent to warn of the implications of a vote. Rather it has all the marks of a zealot hungry to find any means, lawful or otherwise, of creating difficulty for his own people…not to mention the democratic rights of our fellow European citizens in Catalonia. When did your fealty to the British state overtake your socialist instincts for peoples’ rights, subsidiarity and internationalism?

How is it that you can champion over many years the rights of Palestinians to their own homeland run by themselves even when it brings you into direct opposition with the Israelis, yet you campaign from other side when your own people aspire to the ultimate expression of nationhood – independence? In principle, I don’t think the two are so very different and at the very least, Scots and Palestinians are entitled to hear the truth about their position from those who represent them rather than find those same representatives are in effect running a campaign against them. (How else do explain your position of insisting – and working to demonstrate – that Scotland will be outside the EU? And why have the Labour MEPs done nothing to seek an alternative view, a more creative approach which is already being preached by voices in other member states and briefed by the EU’s own lawyers?)

I notice too that in working to get the institutions to oppose Scotland’s membership, it is your custom to refer to the nation of Scotland as a “region of the EU”. I suppose that is the reality of our place in the UK but I know of no Scot, Unionist or Nationalist, who talks on an international stage of his or her country as a region. Does this provide us with a clear insight into your own personal view of the Scottish nation as less than other countries and unworthy of statehood?

I fear the politicking in this debate is obscuring the reality which is the inclusive impulse of the EU since inception, a principle I know you subscribe to which makes your insistence that the Scots must be denied an odd one.

The risks for those of you promulgating this stance is two-fold. One, the anger at the embarrassment this obstructionism to Scotland – and Catalonia – is causing to the reputation of the EU as a democratic alliance spills over and other countries openly challenge the institutional orthodoxy or, even more likely, an insider leaks the outline legal viewpoint which contradicts it. Second, the Yes campaign wins and the truth is revealed in real time as negotiations begin. In neither case do the Barroso adherents win, or deserve, anything but the contempt of the international community and, more pertinently, the scorn of the Scots. Not much of a legacy, is it?

Happy New Year


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The Real Britain

What differentiates each side in the referendum debate is attitude towards Britain rather than Scotland. We say pretty similar things about Scotland and express the same feelings whether unionist or nationalist. It’s when we think about the meaning of Britain that we find the deepest divergence of opinion.

Most people seem to have a fairly benign attitude towards the concept of Britishness whatever petty grievances they harbour. I do not. I keep my deepest resentment for the British state, that nexus of institutions, people and mentality that entrenches inequality, salutes the class system, conspires in war and protects its own. It doesn’t seem to matter very much who is in power, the overall results are similar – politicians with a conventional, compliant, establishment-minded viewpoint who see themselves as the guardians of all knowledge and authority, something the population dispensed with sometime in the 1980’s.

When we needed a left-leaning government we got a repeat of two years of Tory spending policy, two international wars, complicity in torture, the harshest crackdown on civil rights in the post-war era and abuse of executive power. When Blair needed support to save face in the aftermath of Iraq war and the Gilligan affair he found it in a former Diplock judge in a classic establishment stitch-up. Perhaps the biggest lie in politics is the claim of Labour to be a radical party of the left. Their record in office – which contains notable advances on early learning, tax credits, minimum wage and devolution – shows them in reality to be wet Tories in awe of corporate muscle, American foreign policy and reckless capitalist economics while pushing away the unions and chasing the establishment rewards of titles and lobbyists’ hard cash.

We are in the process of uncovering some of the darker secrets of the Blair and Brown years, things we guessed at or speculated but have been unable to confirm but, as ever, it seems the establishment is working diligently to delay and diffuse on behalf of their Labour cohorts.

The Gibson Report is one such meek and self-serving operation which started out as an attempt to uncover the grisly truth about British involvement in torture and rendition and which will now be handled by the compliant Intelligence and Security Committee which spoon-fed the security chiefs ahead of their public appearance by informing them of the questions in advance.

Within weeks of the election David Cameron announced the inquiry to be led by Gibson. He repeatedly rejected suggestions at that time that the ISC should conduct the investigation, telling MPs: “I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work. For public confidence, and for independence from parliament, party and government, it is right to have a judge-led inquiry.” He added: “That is what we need to get to the bottom of the case. The fact that it is led by a judge will help ensure that we get it done properly.” That is the opposite of what has happened as the establishment realizes how damaging to it the torture issue is.

Typical of the duplicity of the British was their courting of Gaddafi and intense behind-the-scenes talks to release Megrahi while condemning the Scottish government for doing so. There is the co-operation between MI6 and Gaddafi’s intelligence agencies and the UK’s involvement in the rendition of two Libyan opposition leaders and their families to Tripoli in 2004 back into the hands of the regime who tortured them , and any role Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, played in authorising those operations. He has denied any wrongdoing, although MI6 is reported to have confronted him with documentary evidence that he personally authorised the agency’s involvement in the Libyan rendition operations…a Labour Cabinet minister. I smell more state collusion is the statement from the retiring head of the FBI Robert Muller that more arrests are expected over the Lockerbie bombing. Really? We were told as soon as anti Gaddafi forces took Benghazi three years ago that they would search the files and find the evidence that Libya brought down Pan Am 103. Since then, nothing. Speculation and visits by the Lord Advocate, but not a shred of evidence let alone a suspect. Odd, don’t you think, that if they wanted an arrest they had in their hands Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s security adviser who would surely have known the truth? But then, he was MI6’s link man in Tripoli with whom they exchanged Christmas greetings and rendition victims so they couldn’t put him on trial. If the UK conspired with the US over the war in Iraq, does that indicate it would also conspire over Lockerbie? Are they so close that they are indistinguishable or isn’t that exactly what has been proved by Edward Snowden revealing the mass collection of private data….

There have been allegations of MI6 and MI5 involvement in a series of other operations in Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Bangladesh, as well as Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan, which have resulted in terrorism suspects suffering severe mistreatment. In some cases – the most notorious being that of the British resident Binyam Mohamed – the allegations have been found to be true, while in others the government has paid sums totalling several million pounds in order to settle compensation claims out of court…the British state at work.

Meanwhile, even as further and deeper benefits and budget cuts are announced with pride – at the same time as the government boasts of recovery – we find that British officials  “lost their nerve” in tackling tax avoidance by global corporations and have presided over a £35bn tax gap as they pursue easy prey such as small businesses and individuals, the easy meat.

In a report that highlighted how the Treasury is owed missing tax payments of £35bn, the public accounts committee added that HM Revenue and Customs has left the state with another multibillion pound shortfall by failing to gather £2.6bn of an expected windfall from Swiss banks. How easy is it to savage those with no voice but to bend the knee to the corporate kings who make their own rules and decide how much they will deign to pay in taxes…

To me this is the British state, no matter which party is in power, self-serving and contemptuous of the people it is supposed to serve.

PS When will we get the report of the Chilcott Committee four and a half years since it started?

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