Is four days long enough? I’ve waited until now to mention Jo Cox’s killing out of a sense of respect for the human loss and because there is something unseemly about the way everybody with a keyboard rushes to get their judgment out there. It’s inevitable, of course it is. But I have no reservation about allowing others to occupy the space. The media has its obligation to report. I have no difficulty with that. But those of us without pretensions to profile or recognition represent a niche that feels insignificant in the face of such loss.

Who the Hell is one man and a blog when a woman has been subjected to a frenzy of barbarity whose emerging details are so horrifying that they chill the blood. Political assassinations we tend to think of as clinical in execution, planned for minimum of fuss and with total finality…a single bullet or blow, a bomb blast. The wolfish savagery at work here – several shots (three?) from a sawn-off firearm, the last, from reports, to the head; a stabbing (six blows, it is said) with a blade accompanied by kicking – signify the uncontrolled rage of the deranged. Yet, it is beyond doubt that the victim was targeted. This was no random act of violence.

Who knows what impulses drove her killer. Even an interest and practical engagement in extremist xenophobic campaigning doesn’t render a man capable of carrying out premeditated murder. Surely for many of the anti-immigrant white supremacists the adrenalin surges through membership of the group with its open talk of hate and armed resistance, its gunplay and hare-brained sabotage schemes. It needs a wiring error in the brain neurons to translate gang culture into an avalanche of ferocity against another human – an unthreatening woman.

Unless the same small, lively, articulate woman was indeed a threat in his mind as a worker for migrants’ rights. Did he know she was working on a report on far right extremism?

The truth, or a version of it, will emerge if the man arrested, Thomas Mair, continues to make what seem to be political statements. It would imply he is proud of his views and activities and will want the world to know. That can wait.

My own view is that the death of Jo should not be used to change politics at all. The tone of the coverage and the pronouncements of politicians so far are self-critical, demanding a softening of language and moderation of opinions. If we are all just a bit nicer to each other, it will all be fine, seems to be the message.

Yet being polite doesn’t stop the crushing of spirit among those already without life chances who are eating from the foodbank after being sanctioned by the DWP.

If we’re nice to each other will the government stop secretly preparing to renew the nuclear deterrent?

There are already signs on Twitter of the Cox death turning into a convenient cover for past deeds by providing a retrospective alibi. Margaret Curran and Anas Sarwar use it to deflect questions by suggesting their critics should desist in the aftermath. Margaret is using it as a shield against reminders that she played a UKIP-style card, along with many others in BetterTogether, when she claimed independence would make foreigners of our relatives (including her own son…) This was a device to other people by using the phrase foreigner as a pejorative. In the light of the shooting, everybody is running scared of sounding anti-foreigner, including Gove and Johnson who have happily let the racist Farage make the running for them up to now.

Wasn’t it Sarwar who played another dangerous game by stating – in the ‘mother of parliaments’ – that there was no democracy in Scotland…

We have a majority SNP Government in the Scottish Parliament, but that is not a democratic place in the conventional sense; it is a dictatorship of one man sitting in Bute House, who will do not what is in Scotland’s interests, but what is in his own or his party’s interests.

Those are two strands of a current powerful force in the referendum debate – turning foreigners into a social problem and the lack of a voice for a disaffected working class ignored by London government. Using an act of unspeakable tragedy to cover your tracks is sleekit. They will not be alone and I’m sure we have all used language or ideas that offended someone and which in retrospect could have been moderated.

I just get queasy at the idea that this event can be turned into a blanket excuse to pretend were all in it together, that Cameron doesn’t despise Corbyn and that those several million disenfranchised folk in the English Midlands and North can be assuaged by a black tie and a bunch of flowers.

Those working class English have legitimate grievances. They have watched their areas decline, the shops shut and house prices fall through the floor. The young that can, leave. Jobs are scarce, incomes stuck or down in real terms. Their tax pounds flow to the gilded south. The social hegemony they remember has changed in their lifetime and they have struggled to acclimatize to a migrant-heavy local community. They are left bewildered and resentful. Who consulted them? How did this happen?

There is a reason for rage in society. We should resist the attempts to deny it. It is recognition of a genuine grievance consistently stated that leads to change. Anything less is too easily dismissed by the power wielders. Moderating language won’t stop a madman. We can’t reorganize society against the 10,000-to-one chance that a lunatic will launch at attack. We can’t change the nature of debate in case somebody daft enough misunderstands. (1700 people are killed by cars every year but we don’t ban traffic).

What we do need is intelligence. Too much of the discussion is simply inaccurate or misleading. We grew tired during the indyref of references to the ‘independent and respected’ IFS but that’s because it was playing a key role. The Institute was the arbiter of the economic case because we couldn’t trust the government or either side of the argument. Is it beyond us to devise a fact-check organization with official status – like the Advertising Standards Authority – that regulates the output of officially-recognised campaign groups? It wouldn’t close them down or shut them up but it could give definitive judgements on the accuracy of claims made. If Farage’s disgraceful poster of refugees failed to meet the criteria, it would have to be removed as it lacked all credibility. What would any balanced analysis have made of the indyref Salmond-as-a-thief poster with Scots taking cash from your pocket? Sadly, we are left in the hands of a too-often mendacious media which poisoned people against independence and the Scots and now does the same against our European neighbours and against migrants.

The real challenge for society is information – how to acquire it and how to disseminate it. All extremism incubates in ignorance. In Britain prejudice is built into the system through right-wing, tax dodging press barons whose influence distorts the news and corrupts the politicians. Until we have balance allowing intelligent choices, all the nicey-nicey talk in the world won’t stop the division and mistrust.

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As one of your assiduous readers, Derek, I can only agree with you on the emotional case for the EU.
What stays with me are the words of my grandfather, who left Lanarkshire to fight at the Somme, and father, who left Orkney and ended up in the jungles of Burma : “we are voting for Europe so that you never have to go through what we went through in the war”.
That was in 1975, when the referendum was really about the issue of Britain’s place in the world and our relationship with our neighbourhood. Contrary to what people say now, it wasn’t really about the economy – few people understood or were inspired by the Common Market.
The argument was between those who felt more comfortable with the way things were in the 1950s, and those who thought that the doors were closing on a Britain clinging to a fast-fading Empire, willing to take the risk of opening up to the neighbours.
You often say you are mystified by the ways of Brussels – maybe you are ‘othering’ the EU in the way that you rightly criticise our political leaders for. But if I could say to my grandfather that British, Germans and French, a Spain liberated from fascism, not to speak of the now independent countries that they had never heard of, were working together in the same town, the same building, the same corridor, the same offices, not fighting but talking, he would say – it’s a miracle!
Every day that ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ come to work together to find solutions – in those meetings that you find so boring or incomprehensible – is a miracle day for the people who fought in the trenches and jungles.
Every boring discussion about product standards, police cooperation, the rights of working people, energy saving lightbulbs, mobile phone charges, bankers’ bonuses, clean air, research cooperation, is a testimony to those who fought for our freedom. Each one, a tiny step to paying back the enormous debt we owe them.
Each Member State of the EU has committed to provide consular protection to the citizens of any other Member State. If I could say to my grandfather now – “Papa, if ever you’re in trouble abroad and you can’t get to the British Embassy, go to the Germans, they’ll look after you” – he would have tears in his eyes.
And for all the talk about the lack of democracy in the EU, not one decision can be taken by bureaucrats. They all have to be taken by elected people – in the European Parliament, or by elected national ministers in the Council.
No proposal to change any law can be made without publishing details about how it might affect people and what the costs and benefits are. You can ask for and get the emails of European Commission staff involved in preparing decisions, the minutes of meetings, who lobbied for what.
For all the talk about not being able to remove the bureaucrats, the sacking of the European Commission in 1999 is probably the only example in the world of an entire civil service being removed by elected people. What could we say about Westminster ‘taking control’ of its own bureaucracy.?
Just because people can’t be bothered to follow this, or say “it’s so complicated” doesn’t mean that it’s not democratic.
But it could be made so much better. Open up the hidden places in the EU – the lobbying, the ‘technical’ discussions where the opinions of Member States are never revealed, the conflicts of interest of members of parliament. Get people involved in shaping ideas and challenging public officials.
Shine a light on the dark places, and the EU can be better.
Ah, but what about Greece, then – or TTIP ?
Well, Greece asked for 300 billion Euro and got it – but the awful conditions were not imposed by Brussels but by elected politicians fearful of their taxpayers and voters. The crazy austerity came from the conservative ideology of elected leaders – of exactly the same type as we have governing from Westminster.
The same happened with TTIP – but it hasn’t got through yet. Almost 3 million people across Europe are involved in a campaign to remove the worst aspects of TTIP. The European Parliament can vote it down. They’ve already forced the light to shine on the issues at stake. But it’s just as much a fight in each country – especially in the UK where the government is pushing for the talks to be concluded as soon as possible. No group of people in a single country on its own can resist this. But together, it’s possible.
So what about immigration then ? The only way to cut immigration in the long term is to invest in the skills of British workers, to provide proper child care so that women can work more easily, to encourage the innovation and new ideas that generate growth. Those are all decisions taken by national governments, not the EU. If the EU can do anything, it could provide a service by helping countries work better together, to make the sum bigger than its parts – the economies of scale that working across boundaries can generate.
But our referendum has thrown up an alternative – to leave the EU, get rid of the immigrants, cut the growth rate of the economy and the number of jobs. Then we don’t need people to come. We can even go back to the days of net emigration, to help all those who say that our ‘wee island is too crowded’.
But since immigrants are net taxpayers, we’ll need to increase taxes now to maintain the crumbling NHS. Oh, and take back the 1 million Brits in the EU, mostly pensioners, who will have plenty of demands on housing and health services.
In the short term, when we can’t get enough people to work in the health service and care homes, or in the tourist industry, or in agriculture, we’ll need to get them from outside the EU. The nearest ones are Turkey, Albania, North Africa and the Middle East. More likely, from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. How long before anti-EU feeling turns to anti-Muslim ?
Surveys show that the people voting to leave the EU don’t even believe that it will really cut immigration. Their concerns are about something else – “our town isn’t like it used to be”. The closed factories, the delayed doctors appointments, the crowded schoolrooms, the declining health service, the housing crisis – none of which is anything to do with the EU.
It’s strangely reminiscent of the referendum in 1975 – people looking backwards, trying to get back something that has gone. And people looking forward to the things that they could get by working together.
Only this time, after 40 years of political leaders othering Europe, of nothing but bad stories promoted by a press with commercial interests outside Europe – even Boris Johnson admits that he made almost all of them up – who is left to argue the positive case ?
If there is a difference between Scotland and England, it’s that people know that Scotland is a small country that needs to work with others. Most of England still thinks of itself as a big country, an island of itself.
Enough for Scotland to exchange one type of dominance for another ?
Except that in Westminster, there are no written rules. There are no guaranteed rights. There are only subjects, not citizens. No nations that can refuse illegal wars or nuclear weapons. No countries that can escape policies they didn’t vote for.
The EU may have hundreds of pages of Treaties. Complex and boring ones. But they are written down. They are scrutinised publicly. And judged. They guarantee independent nations rights and votes. Vetoes over things like wars or weapons. Dignity. For the people that fought for our freedom.

(Courtesy of Alan. Dateline: Yesterday)

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The Cheque’s in the Post

Is it over? Is the end finally in sight for the national call on our support that’s been going on across the media for weeks and which has become unavoidable – the relentless arguments For and Against made by famous faces telling us how our European nation’s future will be shaped. Are you In or are you Out?

Not the referendum, of course, but the Bella crowdfunder.

I can’t decide which has taken up more space on my timeline nor which has irritated me more. Just as the EU referendum should have been a chance to discuss what kind of Europe we want but instead descended into rancour, so the fundraiser should have been a straightforward appeal for a good cause. Instead, others of us out here in the new media have been abused and accused in a totally unnecessary way as the Bella outfit trampled on its own side in the search for cash.

Snide asides and naked attacks* have marked the march of Bella as it positioned itself as pre-eminent…the largest Scottish based site I think I read…(whatever that means…presumably another way of saying much smaller than Wings). According to Mike and Kevin Williamson the rest of us can be dismissed as SNP cheerleaders, we speak in an echo chamber, engage in circuitous arguments, lack ideas and don’t deserve support.

I had no idea we were in competition.

I had thought all of us in the alternative media were equal – part of the same movement for self-government but with different approaches and a different cast of characters. We appeal to different groups and sub groups. Not all readers of my blog also read Newsnet. I ignore some outlets, dip into others, come and go according to taste and think of us all as an organic and complementary service. I have no desire to tell Bella what to publish or how to develop and wish it only success. If it moves into non-indy issues, that’s fine by me. Newsnet has covered poetry, art, broadcast news analysis, refugees and given voice proportionately to more Greens and Rise supporters than anyone else. We even hear regularly from a Labour Party member…!

The tired label of cheerleader doesn’t account for any number of doubts and criticism of SNP policy and approach we publish. But what is true is that I personally think, like half the voting public, that the SNP is the strongest vehicle for achieving independence. No one I know says that excludes other voices. It doesn’t. But we’re all entitled to vote whichever way we like in a democracy and we can do without the judgmental opinions of self-selecting blogging elites when we do so.

I can’t tell how how disappointed I’ve been with the censorious mentality displayed by Mike Small to those with whom he disagrees. He’s even tried to tell us who we should drop from Newsnet. His satirising of my own stance on the SNP budget was just insulting as if he expected us all to fall into line with what I assume to be his personal outlook. It strikes me as weird that someone who publishes such a diverse and creative site struggles to tolerate anyone else in his space…more Philip Green than Vote Green.

I’ve shut up ‘til now for fear of intruding on the fundraising effort and agreed with Alan Bissett’s peace plea, published ironically on Bella. But I’m no doubt that the acrimony has its roots in Mike’s determination, however undeclared, to promote Rise which in turn has curdled into a sour approach to the SNP and those who support it. Well, we can’t expect everyone to agree but neither can he appoint himself the Compliance Officer of the new media and dictate to us all. It may be his burgeoning ambition to be Biggest and Best that leads to getting above himself, as his motto says.

I simply fail to see the need for the trashing of the efforts of others as if only one site truly deserved support. The one-dimensional pursuit of some kind of ‘we’re better than you’ domination is surely a corporatist trait rather than a collective one. Newsnet has never even had an organised fundraiser and gets along on a tiny fraction of Bella’s budget. That’s the way we do it and we know, because it’s low cost, it is sustainable. We don’t have to make Brexit-style threats of closure if you don’t get your hands in your pocket.

Now he’s got the money in the bank** can Mike Small get back to editing an excellent and eclectic website in the spirit in which all this started – people-based, organic and tolerant. More than thirty grand is a huge sum to run a website in Scotland so there should be no further need for smearing others. It’s a real pity it came to this and I know how it disappoints many readers but, as Scotland itself has discovered, the time for shutting up is long gone.


*Kevin Williamson

Difference of approaches have opened up between the likes of Common Space/Bella who want to explore ideas and take bolder more radical approaches and the fundamentalist axis of Wings/Newsnet who act mainly as SNP cheerleaders while critiquing the media/Unionists in showboating circular arguments.

The blogs close to the SNP are so devoid of new political thinking they’ll end up circling the wagons around an ever-decreasing readership. Such is the nature of movements when they ebb. Common Space and Bella have a future because they go beyond indyref politics.

Its what makes these websites necessary. Scotland needs radical ideas, fresh thinking and the questioning of power much more than it needs pro-Indy government cheerleaders.

Mike Small

-I suppose where we differ is that some other sites focus exclusively on one party as the road map to independence and we think the issues are more complex than that.

I’d ask you to read the list of writers in the blog above and ask yourself where else has such diversity?

From our very beginnings a decade ago till the end we have independence at our very core. We think it’s fair enough to hold a forum for this debate. Ultimately if people just want to support the blogs and writers who support the SNP exclusively then I guess we will close down. We should know within a few weeks.

-If you want an alternative media that comprises largely of exclusively pro-SNP voices, who often don’t consider any critical thinking or dissent then that’s OK.

Too many of the existing new media exist just for speaking to their own people. This results in circular self-confirming articles and comments: ‘Great post – I agree!’ The challenge is to reach and engage with new audiences who don’t agree with you. The political challenge is to take a 45% for Yes to a 60%. That won’t happen with closed minds and echo chambers. It will happen with fresh thinking, critical thinking and open forums about how to go forward.

**I donated.




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Getting Nippy

A few weeks is hardly enough time to debate the huge implications of the European Union, let alone explain how the whole bagatelle works. But there’s Britain, blundering into a potential exit with consequences nobody can truly know under the illusion that it will mean ‘regaining control’. A referendum shouldn’t be an expedient to get a party or a Prime Minister out of a tight spot and shouldn’t be scheduled for the high point of the social disillusion with government and an international refugee crisis we’re going through now – a kind of political total eclipse.

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Even the term Brexit has become the nom de guerre of the event and if anything embodies the ignorant and bellicose approach of much of Britain to the EU it is the bare-chested drunken thugs of the English football support. Away from the hushed corridors of Brussels there will be citizens in many member states quietly delighted to jettison the boorish Brits and their endless complaints, renegotiations and opt-outs.

We are now reaping what has been sown for 40 years by a political establishment which never consistently embraced the concept of a wider Europe beyond the idea of a massive Sunday market in which to flog our goods. Our politicians failed to agitate for an end to the mendacious and racist newspaper agenda which soured any and every attempt to inform the public. They played the game of othering Europe as if we weren’t actually part of it, allowed the idea to germinate that decisions we didn’t like were made by faceless foreigners when the UK had its own commissioners, senior civil servants, a permanent presence in the Council and 73 British MEPs.

Deflection is a tool of the political trade and is used by them all to divert attention from their own shortcomings. How convenient for a patriotic MP to blame the garlicky Europeans for everything from business bureaucracy to farming.

European statecraft always required an aspect of political insight lacking from too many of the British contingent who thought first of Little England, then Dead Empire followed by Friends Across the Atlantic and, finally, of the Continent. It may have changed now but MPs used to insist that MEPs had no automatic entry to the Westminster Parliament – they may be elected (by PR), they may even be of the same party but they won’t get in to our club.

We haven’t really had a debate at all, more a slanging match about the costs and the petty ways membership compromises national action. Without the moral underpinning the argument has descended into hysterical warnings that nobody believes and as a result the economic case has been buried as the Outers abandoned it in favour of the race agenda. And that in turn is essentially emotional as nearly everybody thinks there are many more immigrants coming in than there are in reality and believes they are here to scrounge. Yet the only incomers I see scrounging are a handful of street beggars (organised by East European gangs) who collect the cash. The thousands of immigrants from Europe are coming here because there is work for them. That’s work they’re happy to do while many locals are not.

It was revealing on the ITV debate that the Outers pedalled the idea that Brexit would stop immigration and give Britain control of its borders. If that is to be true it must also mean we have no access to the Single Market since freedom of movement is a bedrock of that market, as the grim-faced tormentor of Greece, Herr Schauble, pointed out this week.

Even if there is an initiative to relax this rule in the face of immigration concerns in other states, there will still be a requirement for open borders for those moving for work. Britain cannot do a deal with Brussels which avoids this reality. The £350m a week figure, already discredited, will be undermined even further when we take account of the cost of access to the Single Market (Norway pays 90 per cent of a full member’s fee). We will pay heavily. We will still have open borders from Europe and we will have no say whatsoever. Even in Cameron’s pathetic pretend renegotiation European incomers don’t qualify for in-work benefits for four years.

The Britain envisaged by the Outers of course has a deeper plan – Singapore Mark Two in which the UK becomes the offshore tax avoidance centre for Europe. Forget the Panama Papers…the right wing neo cons who will succeed the current crop of right wing neo cons will ditch the European rights we now enjoy in favour of severely restricted rights, especially at work, and draw in investment from those unconcerned with social conscience. Who, you may wonder will carry the can for this low tax, low rights regime? As ever, it will be the same disillusioned working men and women who vote to come Out.

Or am I scaremongering? It looks to me that the Tories have inched open Pandora’s Box and suddenly the lid has been flung out of their hands. There is no knowing where the fall-out from this vote will take us. I laughed to hear one of those ever-so smug voices on Any Questions (a woman from some financial website or other ) declaring unequivocally that Brexit will NOT lead to a second Scotland referendum.

This had the feel of someone desperately reassuring herself by making statements that don’t allow qualification. Part of the argument – which is true – is the fall in the oil price which has hit our economy and our confidence. But wait a moment, what if Brexit leads immediately, as the Bank of England and major institutions forecast, to a relative collapse in the British economy? The Pound fell this week when a poll put Out ahead. Suppose many of the warnings are actually realised and Brussels puts its price on market access and the Brexit voters see they’ve been duped…what if the relocation of banks and global employers becomes real and thousands of jobs are lost or transferred? Companies always use/abuse economic circumstance to their advantage so the oil price crash has been used partly to perform surgery on staff numbers and amid a general slow down all manner of cuts, justified or not, would be effected. In this case and with a leap to the Right in Downing Street, might not an independent Scotland – all the while receiving warm messages from Brussels – become a more appealing prospect? The process takes two years, lots of time for the cold reality to become real and for the ground to be prepared for pro-European Scotland. In truth, there is no telling. All the rest, including this, is conjecture.

These are interesting times but, frankly I think they are also dangerous times. Hold on to your hats.

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A Very British Coup

How British would it be if the people voted to come out of Europe and Parliament disagreed? (The creaking sound is Oliver Cromwell – minus head – rotating at Tyburn). In my growing despair at the latest polls inching Leave ahead, I came across the BBC story quoting pro-EU MPs saying they would oppose measures to take the UK out even if the voters had demanded it.

So on the one hand you have democracy appeased through a fair vote but, because it doesn’t please the self-selected elite, the result is ignored. The people are traduced. There may well be the modern equivalent of a Cromwellian peasants’ revolt as a result but what does that mean when their elected representatives are securely bedded down at Westminster with, it seems, something approaching a 4-to-1 numercial advantage over the Brexiteers?

Whose side is democracy on? Obviously, the Outers. It was the same Parliament that voted for the referendum after all. It’s too late to change your mind now. But any amount of obstacles can be found in the Old Boys’ Club to obstruct the processes that are required to extricate the UK from 40 years of membership in Brussels. Nothing happens overnight and nothing actually changes on June 24 – except maybe the Prime Minister. But surely that too is doubtful as any mood for bluffing the exit really does require Cameron remains to ‘see through the transition’. Removing the In figurehead would weaken the case the Remain MPs want to make. And what is that case?

I imagine they want to delay as the message of the vote hits home and the dolorous task begins of picking up the pieces while hearing the gloomy news from around the world…watching the currency lose its value, hearing major employers talk of uprooting their operations, investment dries up, wails of pain from Northern Ireland, tales of doom from the more than a million Brits living abroad and dire warnings of fading influence in the City. The game will be to bluff until the idea takes hold that there has been a terrible mistake and the only escape may be through a second referendum – an idea given daily oxygen in Brussels where there is much head-shaking and eye-rolling at the perfidious Brits. Still, Brussels is mature enough not to rush things. They can be patient, if there is a mood to reconsider in London. The exit process is defined as two years but it can be adjusted by a unanimous vote of the 28 so they could shrug and decide not to trigger the exit talks.

There would be external pressure from solicitous international friends querying our sanity. The news would bed headed by the American President expressing dismay at our isolation and doubting if any trade deal can be finalised within a decade. Maybe more.

In Scotland the noisome Nats would be agitating and opening channels direct to Brussels, probably in alliance with the Welsh, through which devolved voices resistant to Brexit can be heard. Stories appear suggesting the EU is revisiting its unofficial opposition to statehood and surprisingly, finds a little-known document it prepared earlier for a fast track membership.

In Westminster the government fires the Brexit ministers returning them to the backbenches where they form a cadre of 150 rebels who demand daily that the people’s voice be heard and their decision acted upon. Across the civilised world, heads turn away although Boris Johnson is interviewed regularly on Russian TV.

The Leave MPs sound increasingly angry. It’s pointed out to them that the turnout was low and the margin of victory miniscule. Is it really a basis on which to make a fundamental decision? Didn’t some Unionists argue a straight majority was no basis for Scottish independence? Meanwhile the opinion polls show large numbers who didn’t turn out to vote are shocked into supporting EU membership.

In Brussels there is an immigration summit where the rules on freedom of movement are qualified to allow some discretion for member states, some of whom are in breach of open borders regulations as it is. A dispersal programme for migrants arriving from Mediterranean boats is agreed with country quotas.

Eventually Britain begins talk of doing a Dublin and asking the question again. There is polite coughing in Brussels. A new mood grips the UK as the EU takes on a warmer feel in the public mind and the hysteria in the newspapers fails to dent the new optimism. We’re staying in…

The only down side is in Edinburgh where Sturgeon drops preparations for her own referendum…

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