Thursday, July 21, 2016

One Country, Two Systems : How Scotland can remain in the EU

A guest post by Alasdair Stirling

It is an understatement of some magnitude to say that the words of the ancient Chinese curse - ‘may you live in interesting times’ – are apposite today.

The EU referendum vote set the good ship ‘UK’ on an uncharted course and just for good measure has thrown the captain and his officers overboard. And if that wasn’t enough, fate determined to set the reserve captain and his motley crew fighting amongst themselves. Now a month from the referendum we have a new captain but no course and no compass. However, all is not disarray. The first mate of the northern part of the ship is showing worrying signs of leadership and competence and is threatening to launch the lifeboat; most horrifyingly of all she may have both charts and a compass for the voyage.

Seafaring analogies aside, the Unionist establishment are far from worried about any peril to their blessed Union from this turn of events. Quite the reverse in fact: the Unionist media in Scotland is cock-a-hoop with delight at the way that Theresa May’s first order of business was to come north and ‘sucker’ Nicola Sturgeon into participating fully in the forthcoming the Brexit negotiations. Their delight is grounded in the belief that Theresa May has killed any resurgent demand for independence with kindness. However, their view is underpinned by the logic that there is no possible way for Scotland to remain in both the British and European unions. Thus the logic goes: give the SNP the time and chance to propose the impossible and when they fail gracefully accept their capitulation to the inevitability of Brexit.

However, this type of thinking is what is known as an informal fallacy: specifically it is ‘argumentum ad ignorantiam’, or in English an ‘argument from ignorance’. You see, the Unionist’s delight at Theresa May’s political positioning putting Scotland in an impossible position is the measure of their ignorance. How delighted will they be if Nicola Sturgeon puts forward an arrangement that can see Scotland remaining in both the British and European unions? Not so delighted I suspect, and no doubt inclined to write off any such proposal as a crazy CyberNat/SNP fantasy. But there is a giant fly in that particular jar of ointment: you see the British Foreign Office negotiated and the British government approved the working template for just such an arrangement.

In 1984, the British and Chinese governments agreed the Sino-British Joint Declaration founded on the constitutional principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ formulated by Deng Xiaoping (the Leader of the People's Republic of China). The imperative driving Deng’s thinking was the obvious difficulty in successfully reunifying Hong Kong’s advanced free wheeling capitalist economy with the mainland’s underdeveloped bureaucratic command led society. Deng’s suggested resolution to the problem was that there would be only one China, but distinct Chinese regions such as Hong Kong could retain their own capitalist economic and political systems, while the rest of China uses the socialist system. Under this principle, Hong Kong could continue to have its own political system, legal, economic and financial affairs, including external relations with foreign countries.

For those interested, the full text of the Sino-British Joint Declaration is available HERE. However, in mischievous spirit I shall use it to set forth a draft text of a possible Anglo-Scottish Joint Declaration that Nicola Sturgeon might put forward for Theresa May’s consideration.

• The national unity and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom shall be upheld and a Scottish Special Administrative Region (ScotSAR) shall be established.

• The ScotSAR will be directly under the authority of the Government of the United Kingdom (GovUK) but will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in defence affairs.

• The ScotSAR will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The laws currently in force in ScotSAR will remain basically unchanged.

• The Government of the ScotSAR will be composed of local inhabitants. The First Minister will be appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the basis of the results of elections or consultations to be held locally. British and foreign nationals previously working in the public and police services in the government departments of ScotSAR may remain in employment. British and other foreign nationals may also be employed to serve as advisers or hold certain public posts in government departments of the ScotSAR.

• The current social and economic systems in ScotSAR will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the ScotSAR. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law.

• The ScotSAR will have the status of a free port and a separate customs territory. It can continue the current trade policy, including the four freedoms: goods, services, people and capital.

• The ScotSAR will be an independent financial centre with free flow of capital and a freely convertible ScotSAR currency. The ScotSAR may authorise designated banks to issue or continue to issue ScotSAR currency under statutory authority.

• The ScotSAR will have independent finances with its own budgets and final accounts, but reporting it to the GovUK. Additionally, GovUK will not levy taxes on ScotSAR, but the ScotSAR and GovUK will agree financial transfers one to another as required in respect of the use of defence facilities and mutual defence arrangements.

• The ScotSAR may establish mutually beneficial economic relations with the United Kingdom and other foreign countries.

• The name used for international relations will be ‘Scotland, UK’. In doing so it may maintain and develop diplomatic, economic and cultural relations and agreements with states, regions and relevant international organisations on its own account and it may issue ScotSAR passports for its citizens and local inhabitants. The ScotSAR may agree and implement international agreements to which the GovUK is not a party.

• The government of the ScotSAR is responsible for the maintenance of public order. GovUK military forces stationed in ScotSAR, for the purpose of defence shall not interfere in the internal affairs in the ScotSAR.

Of course this sort of arrangement should not be any obstacle to the Unionist establishment who a mere two years ago were offering ‘Devo SuperMax’, a ‘powerhouse parliament’ and ‘as near to federalism as is possible’. More than that, such a ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement would allow Theresa May (who is no doubt ‘respectful’ of Scotland) to avoid being the Prime Minister who lost the Union. However, I suspect that if Nicola Sturgeon were minded to make such a proposal, the Unionists will likely want to put a flea in her ear and tell her to ‘go home, be a good girl and eat her cereal’ - or rather they would if Scotland had no other option.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The middle ground between "veto" and "locked in" that the unionist media are pretending doesn't exist

It can't have escaped your notice that the unionist media are trying to present Nicola Sturgeon with a false binary choice - either she has a 'veto' over Brexit, or she will be 'locked in' to an agreed UK negotiating stance by cunning Theresa May.  You can see why they want that to be true, because either of those options would effectively preclude a second indyref.  But in reality, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes - the UK government will consult, but won't offer a veto, and there is therefore no guarantee (or even any great likelihood) of the Scottish Government signing off on the UK's negotiating stance.  Here is one possibility of what Sturgeon might say at the end of the consultation -

"As you know, I and other Scottish Government ministers have been taking part in extensive discussions with our UK counterparts over the forthcoming negotiations with the EU.  Theresa May indicated to us that she would listen carefully to any suggestions we might have about ways of ensuring Scotland's interests are fully protected.

We made two substantive proposals.  Firstly, that the UK should reconfigure itself as a decentralised confederal union to allow constituent nations like Scotland and Northern Ireland to stay in the EU, in line with how they voted in the referendum.  I regret to say that Theresa May and David Davis rejected that suggestion out of hand.  They reiterated that, in their view, "Brexit means Brexit, and when the UK leaves, Scotland must leave".

Our second, alternative proposal was that the UK as a whole should seek to remain in the European Economic Area on the same basis as Norway.  This possibility is far from ideal, because it would still involve Scotland being dragged out of the EU against our will.  But it would at least address our most serious concerns about Brexit, because Scotland would remain part of the Single Market, and our rights as European citizens, including the right to live and work in other EU countries, would be fully protected.  We made clear during the discussions that this is the absolute minimum that would be acceptable to us.

Unfortunately, Theresa May and David Davis indicated that they would be rejecting even this.  They felt that they had received a clear instruction from the electorate that free movement of people must end, and that they could not negotiate on that principle. 

Let me be clear : I and the Scottish Government fully respect the mandate secured by the Leave campaign on June 23rd.  But that mandate is not a UK mandate.  It is an England and Wales mandate.  Just as we respect that England and Wales mandate, so must the UK government respect the overwhelming Scottish mandate for Remain.  For us, Remain means Remain.

It is now clear that, in spite of our best and most strenuous endeavours, there is no formula acceptable to both governments that can reconcile the two conflicting mandates.  While we are grateful to the UK government for being true to their word and listening to our proposals, I'm afraid listening is not enough.  As they do not feel able to compromise, I must tell you that we will be opposing the UK government's negotiating stance on Brexit.  There will be no 'agreed UK negotiating position' that enjoys the support of the Scottish Government.  We will instead intensify our preparations for an independence referendum, which is now inevitable, although we remain open-minded about the timing."

Sound reasonable?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Labour members say Carry On Corbyn as incumbent leader opens up huge lead over both challengers in new YouGov poll

Corbyn v Smith :

Jeremy Corbyn 56%
Owen Smith 34%

Corbyn v Eagle :

Jeremy Corbyn 58%
Angela Eagle 34%

The million dollar question that formed in my mind as soon as I saw this poll was whether YouGov had taken into account the rigged franchise - ie. had they excluded all members who joined after mid-January?  According to Sam Coates of The Times, the answer is yes.  So Corbyn does appear to be on course for victory as of this moment - the poll presumably doesn't factor in affiliates or registered supporters, but both of those categories of voters were even more favourable for Corbyn than the membership in last year's election.  He might do a bit less well among registered supporters this time because his natural backers will be disproportionately hit by the ludicrous hike in the registration fee from £3 to £25.  But it's very hard to imagine the registered supporters voting against Corbyn if the members don't.

So even allowing for a degree of polling inaccuracy, it's surely the case that a lot of minds will have to be changed if there is any chance of Corbyn being beaten.  The one glimmer of hope for the plotters is the strong rumour tonight that Angela Eagle will stand aside tomorrow to allow Owen Smith a clear run.  Although there's no evidence in this poll that Smith is a stronger candidate, it's probably fair to say he's less well known than Eagle.  I suspect that minds are already made up about Eagle and that there's very little scope for her support to grow - but Smith may at least be given a hearing over the coming weeks by the membership.  The snag for him is that he carries a huge amount of baggage into this race, and his right-wing past (not to mention his present day support for nuclear weapons and 'annihilating civilians') is bound to be brought up again and again.

One little downside for the plotters of a one-on-one Corbyn v Smith contest is that they won't be able to bang members over the head with the fatuous argument that they need to vote for the female candidate regardless of whether they agree with her views or not.  That was essentially Dan Hodges' argument for supporting Yvette Cooper last year, and it was fantastically hypocritical, because does anyone seriously doubt for a moment that he would, for example, vote for Stephen Kinnock over Diane Abbott?  All the same, it's somewhat disconcerting that two conventional wisdoms have proved wrong in quick succession - 1) that David Cameron's successor had to be a Brexiteer, and 2) that in the light of Theresa May's success, the challenger to Corbyn (or at least one challenger) had to be a woman.

There was a prophetic comment on Stormfront Lite on the day of the EU referendum, pointing out that if by any chance the polls were wrong and Leave won, the next few days would closely resemble the opening minutes of Channel 4's adaptation of A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin.  That was a reference to what was likely to happen (and did happen) on the currency and stock markets, but of course it could just as easily have referred to the establishment's subsequent attempt to topple a democratically-elected left-wing Labour leader.  In the story, the coup plotters stake everything on being able to force the leader out by putting overwhelming private pressure on him to resign - but he outwits them by simply submitting himself to a public election.  Sound familiar?  David Cameron's genuine incomprehension that Corbyn was hanging on ("but...but..the Westminster bubble has decided you must go!  Why aren't you listening, man!") was deliciously similar to the fictional Cabinet Secretary's dumbfounded reaction to the prospect of an open election deciding the leader's fate.  The real-life Labour plotters have invested all their time and energy in excitedly talking to each other about why the phrase "parliamentary democracy" is a spiffing good excuse for setting aside an election result, and have completely lost sight of the fact that, like it or not, it's the grassroots they need to convince of their case.  Essentially they've made exactly the same mistake for a second year running.  Mind you, in a parallel universe somewhere, Liz "four per cent" Kendall is Leader of the Opposition and is running rings round the Tories just by waffling on about "aspiration" all the time.

It was truly extraordinary to witness the ugly sense of entitlement on display from the plotters as they intervened on Corbyn during his speech on Trident today.  One of them pompously 'announced' that the next Labour manifesto would support the retention of nuclear weapons, regardless of what the leader and the members might think.  Normally it takes quite a mental effort to mildly criticise your own party leader on the floor of the House, but it seems all the inhibitions had completely melted away - a condescending "when are you going to do your homework?" tone was adopted as Corbyn was informed by jumped-up backbenchers that he was required to start setting out official party policy on Trident, rather than his own views (completely ignoring the fact that several previous Labour leaders have paid scant attention to the party's nominal policy on defence).  They now seem to perceive their leader as an impostor, rather than the real thing.  Kezia Dugdale's attacks on Corbyn can be seen as part of the same phenomenon - although some people have optimistically suggested that she's declaring her independence from London, the reality is that the branch office mentality is alive and well, and Dugdale is actually indicating her fealty towards what she assumes will very shortly be the new regime.  But if Corbyn is re-elected (likely) and the PLP shies away from issuing the widely-touted UDI (possible), there's one obvious question : WHAT IS PLAN B, KEZIA?  We might just end up with an estrangement between Scottish Labour and UK Labour by complete accident.