Sunday, 26 February 2012

SSE Weighs into Scottish Independence

Unionists have been desperately trying to drum up scare stories about how the “uncertainty” caused by the prospect of a referendum on Independence for Scotland is jeopardising investment in Scotland.  The latest attempt to scare us all came last week with comments from SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy).  Their submission to the various consultations on offer were seized upon by the Unionist press with glee.  “Power Giant’s Blow to Salmond”, screamed the Daily Mail, while even the supposedly unbiased BBC reported that the submission was evidence of this jeopardy to investment.   Unfortunately for our Unionist friends it was no such thing.  
The submission, which you can read in full here, talks at length about risk.  Their main concern it appears is regulation and the possibility of changes to the regulations.  As they put in their submission. “SSE has long acknowledged, most recently in its Annual Report 2011, that regulatory change and legislative change, of which the current proposals to reform the electricity market in Great Britain are an example, are among the principal risks it has to manage, and it has extensive experience of doing so.”  Notice that phrase at the end.  SSE itself is making it clear that SSE has extensive experience in managing this kind of risk.  So why all the fuss and bother?  Is there some kind of semi hidden political agenda behind SSE’s submission.
To return to the substance of their concern - the risk of regulatory change.  SSE, as a company that operates throughout the British and Irish Islands, wants a common regulatory framework to apply across the islands.  As they put it rather well, “SSE believes that the interconnection and integration of the electricity and gas systems and markets in Scotland and in England and Wales should continue regardless of the outcome of the referendum on Scotland’s future.  This means that there should continue to be a single energy market for the islands of Great Britain, just as there is a single electricity market for the island of Ireland.  Indeed, SSE supports further harmonisation of energy systems and markets to strengthen security of supply and achieve efficient use of energy resources for the benefit of customers.”   It seems a little surprising in the light of the above paragraph that SSE appears to be ignorant of the deliberations of the recent British-Irish Council meeting, where all the eight governments of these isles agreed:  “the All Islands Approach (AIA) vision of an approach to energy resources across the British Islands and Ireland which enables opportunities for commercial generation and transmission, facilitating the cost-effective exploitation of the renewable energy resources available, increasing integration of their markets and improving security of supply. The Council agreed a set of principles to underpin the vision, and launched a programme of joint work spanning the potential for renewable energy trading, as well as workstreams on interconnection and market integration.”  Furthermore, the Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing welcomed SSE’s submission and added: "We agree with SSE that post-independence we should maintain a single Great Britain energy market, within an increasingly unified single EU market - that has been the policy position of the Scottish government for some time.”  Pity that SSE and the headline writers in the media had not done a bit of elementary research before writing anything.  Perhaps it is the UK government that is the most reticent about all this?   After all it was the UK government which just last year changed the rules regarding exploration in the North Sea.  Without any prior consultation.
Back to SSE and their submission.  Curious then that in the light of all the damaging headlines, SSE make it crystal clear that they have no intention of moving their HQ from Scotland.  Further, they go on to state loud and clear,  “Making investment decisions is about striking the right balance between risk and reward. The additional risk of regulatory and legislative change does not mean that SSE will not invest in projects in Scotland while its future is being determined. The development of SSE’s existing projects in Scotland will continue as planned.”  So, where exactly is this blow to Salmond?   There is some additional risk around, but SSE has extensive experience of managing these risks and anyway its existing projects in Scotland are to go ahead as planned.  If this is the best that Unionists can come up with the game’s a bogey.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Greece - Don’t Blame Germany

The current long running Greek tragedy continues.  The latest bailout package has it seems finally been agreed.  Yet nobody seems to be satisfied with the result.  If anything passions are rising by the minute.  As in all very difficult situations there is a natural tendency to find someone to blame.  And in this case Germany has been more or less single handedly cast in the role of the villain of the piece.  Not just in Greece, but in many parts of Europe, Germany is now portrayed as trying to dominate Europe through its financial power and aiming to establish a Fourth Reich.
This is all pretty powerful stuff and to some extent understandable.  It is always easier to blame someone else - anybody else - rather than face up to one’s own responsibilities.  And let us be clear here - the mess that Greece is in now is primarily if not solely the responsibility of Greeks.  It was after all a succession of Greek governments which indulged in some dodgy accounting practices to hide the reality of Greece’s public finances.  It was Greek governments which borrowed and borrowed with apparently no regard as to how they could repay these loans.  Now some of this irresponsible behaviour lies with the private banks and other financial concerns who leant all this money to Greece, without bothering if Greece would be able to repay the money.  But the primary responsibility lies with Greece.
Greece’s public finances are so unreliable that no private company is prepared to lend it any more money.  In order to stay afloat and avoid a default - with all the downsides that would bring - Greece has perforce had to ask the EU and the IMF to step in and provide emergency funds.  Which they have been prepared to do.  At a price.  And it is this price which has angered so many Greeks and others elsewhere.  The swingeing cuts in public spending that the EU/IMF are demanding are incredibly severe and are already causing great pain for many Greeks.  This pain will only continue and probably only get worse in the years to come.  But what is the alternative?
Since it was irresponsible borrowing and lending that got Greece into this mess in the first place, do we really believe that a further bout of irresponsible lending is the answer?  For make no mistake, further lending without conditions is tantamount to irresponsible lending.  Is that in the long term interest of Greece, not to mention the taxpayers of the other EU countries?  As I have posted before, Greece is in an incredibly difficult situation in which there appears to be no easy way out.  Whatever Greeks decide to do, they are faced with years if not decades of economic and social dislocation and pain.  But I do not ascribe to the view that the rest of the EU should just hand over loads and loads of money to Greece to do whatever it wants with it.  That is irresponsible.  It is also the view shared by all the other EU countries.  There is no point other than vindictiveness to single out Germany for blame.
Now, while I fully support the imposition of conditions to current and future loans, it is another matter altogether when it comes to the nature of these conditions.  The current wave of austerity and yet more austerity leading to recession, leading to even more austerity is self-defeating.  The conditions which the EU and IMF are imposing on Greece are just plain stupid and only serve to show how much of current economic thinking is divorced from reality.  Not just the present, but our politicians and economic leaders all seem to have forgotten the lessons learned from the economic and political troubles of the 1920s and 30s.  But once again there is little point in singling out Germany is this regard.  Bad though German economic thinking is, it is shared by almost all the other EU countries.  Even in the UK, our very own nasty coalition is mired to austerity.
If we are all to have a better future and get through these difficult times with the least possible suffering then we all need to work together to challenge the still dominant neo-liberal thinking which rules in all our capitals.  Petty minded, nationalistic blame games will only make this very difficult task even more difficult.  Greeks above all need to meet with and work with those Germans and others who disagree with current economic thinking and find a way to mount a serious political challenge to our current leaders.  Calling Germans names is not part of the solution.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Mr Cameron comes to Scotland

Our Supreme Leader - Prime Minister of the UK - visited Scotland last week in an endeavour to save the Union.  He came and was duly filmed eating some porridge - is there no end to what this guy will do to save the Union?  As regards the speech itself, which you can read in full here, though he kept referring to the future, it was full, some might say overfull with eulogies to our apparently great and glorious past.  When it came to specifying what the benefits the UK will bring to Scotland in the future, he was alas, exceedingly vague, or simply unforthcoming.
Take for example, where he talks about the challenges ahead.  “........ the United Kingdom is actually even more of an inspiring model for the future.  Think of the key challenges of our times.  There’s the risks and opportunities of globalisation - with populations moving, cultures clashing and new routes to prosperity.  And there’s the impact of increasing economic competition from the new, economic power houses of the world.  The United Kingdom has the answers to both.”  Now that is quite a sweeping claim.  The UK not only has answers, but the answers.  Now I have to say, living in the UK, I am not immediately aware of what these answers are.  We are deep in an economic mess, on the border of a recession and the government’s policies seem to be making things worse not better.  This claim that the UK has the answers is also a tad arrogant and may not go down too well elsewhere in the world.  Is Mr Cameron suggesting that Germany does not have the answers?  Or to take another small country like Scotland, is Denmark following the wrong prescriptions for surviving these challenges?  Has Mr Cameron told the Germans and Danes and all the other countries in the world that only the UK has the answers?  It is instructive to note that in his speech Mr Cameron makes no attempt to spell out what these answers are.
In another section of his speech, Mr Cameron seems to have ignored just what independence is all about.  He waxes lyrical about how strong we are in the world - “We have a permanent place on the UN Security Council……real clout in NATO and Europe……and unique influence with key allies all over the world.”  Unfortunately the we here is the UK, not Scotland.  Scotland does not have any seat in the UN, let alone a permanent one, unless we are the foot stool on which others rest their feet.  Whereas with independence Scotland would have its own direct representation in the UN and in the EU and in any other international bodies it wants to join.  Now the UK may be stronger with Scotland, but that just shows how much the UK needs Scotland in order to strut its stuff on the world’s stage.  I don’t want the UK government to decide these things for me.

Much of the media coverage of the speech has of course focussed on his rather cack-handed attempt to offer some kind of carrot to us in Scotland.  He stated that, “When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further.  And yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved.  But that must be a question for after the referendum, when Scotland has made its choice about the fundamental question of independence.”  Pray why only when the referendum is over?  There is a Scotland bill currently before parliament in Westminster.  Why not use this bill to legislate now for these further powers?  Presumably because Mr Cameron has no idea of what these further powers might be and clearly has no intention of getting involved in working out what they could be.   This is all too clearly a ploy, reminiscent of the intervention of a previous Tory leader, Alex Douglas Home, who back in 1979 before an earlier referendum on devolution, promised that the Tories would offer Scots something better if they only voted no.  The result, a wait of some twenty years before we finally got devolution.  Either Mr Cameron himself is completely ignorant of recent Scottish history or his speech writers are, or most likely all of them are.  Much better to hark back to the days of the Empire than confront reality.  
We are left with what is the core of Mr Cameron’s message.   Just say no to independence and all will be well.  I’m Dave, a jolly good guy - trust me.  I’ve nothing to offer you lot just now, but well if you do the right thing and vote no, well then, who knows what I might condescend to do.  Probably nothing, but trust me anyway - I’m Dave, a jolly nice guy.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Greece - a welcome back for the Drachma?

Greece is once again on the brink.  The latest tranche of bailout money - €130bn - from the EU and the IMF needs to be transferred shortly.  Greece has to repay loan repayments to private lenders of €14.4bn on 20 March.  Without the new bailout money Greece will not be able to pay this money.   This has in time honoured fashion led to a stand-off between Greece and the EU/IMF.  The latter do not want to lend this money without cast-iron guarantees from the Greek government that it will this time around actually deliver on the austerity and reforms which they have signed up to.  The Greeks naturally are not too keen on ever more austerity and suffering.  While it is tempting to reduce this to a morality play with goodies and baddies, the reality is a bit more complex.  I have previously posted about Greece’s woes, here, and the situation has not changed much.
The kernel of the situation remains the same.  Greece needs to get rid of its debt.  A haircut will no longer do.  If a voluntary agreement cannot be reached to write off all of Greece’s debt, the country will almost certainly have to default.  It is probably just a matter of when.  This is when things become really interesting.  For Greece will then face a choice of whether to remain within the Eurozone or whether to exit the euro and re-introduce the Drachma.  Lots of commentators, particularly those of a eurosceptic persuasion hope that Greece exits the euro.  Not doubt as a precursor to the collapse of the whole Eurozone.  I will leave this speculation to others.  What interests me just now is how certain is it that exiting the euro would be of much help to Greece and its long suffering citizens.
Before that a brief word on the implications of a forced default by Greece.  This would likely be catastrophic for Greeks, individuals and companies.  By defaulting Greece would be unable to borrow any more money.  To regain access to borrowing the conditions would be likely to be even more severe than those on offer at present.  Short of any new money, the Greek government would have to balance its books immediately.  Which could lead to even greater redundancies than planned.  Default is an extreme measure and not to be undertaken lightly.  All of this is to emphasize that Greece is in an incredibly difficult situation from which there is no easy or painless way out.
Exiting the euro and re-instating the drachma is of course equivalent to a devaluation.  In the case of Greece this is likely to be a substantial devaluation.  And in the past, devaluations have worked for some countries.  The example most frequently presented is Argentina which defaulted in the early 2000s, left the dollar peg and re-instated the peso as its own currency.  And relatively quickly recovered economically to become once again a relatively successful and prosperous country.  However there are two key differences between Argentina in 2001 and Greece in 2012.  The first is that Argentina had and has enormous natural resources, which the rest of the world wanted.  Secondly the rest of the world, and in particular, Argentina’s key export markets were booming in the early 2000s.  Neither is alas true for Greece now.  Greece has no great natural resources and worst of all, most of the rest of the world is either in recession or suffering very, very weak growth.   So, even with a large devaluation there is little prospect of a significant improvement in exports.  As Ricardo Hausmann in an article for the FT puts it: “Here’s the bad news for Greece: in our sample of 128 countries, it had the biggest gap between its current recorded level of income and the knowledge content of its exports. Greece owes its income to borrowed foreign spending it cannot pay back. It produces no machines, no electronics and no chemicals. Of every 10 US dollars of worldwide trade in information technology, it accounts for one cent.”  There is only so much that an increase in the numbers of tourists can contribute to reviving the Greek economy.  So it would seem that the key advantage of a devaluation - a sharp increase in export income - may not be easy for Greece to achieve.
The downside to a devaluation is of course that it makes imports a lot more expensive.  Depending on how much the new drachma is worth, imports are likely to cost Greece anything between three and four times more than now.  And here is the biggy.  At present, Greece imports around three times as much as she gains from her exports.  Now with a devaluation some of this will change.  Greece will export more and import less.  But without its own industrial or energy base, Greece will have to spend more and more of its new drachma on imported manufactured goods and on oil and gas.  Without a good and reliable transport system for example there is little prospect of increasing the number of tourists nor of increasing exports.  And transport will largely depend on imports.
The upshot of all this is that a devaluation in current circumstances will make most Greeks poorer.  More of them may be in work, which will be a good thing, but their earnings will be in drachma and these drachma will buy them very little in the way of imported goods.  Just about everything will become much more expensive.  But then things are very, very bad just now and will only get worse whatever happens.  This post is not an argument for or against devaluation for Greece.  This is a matter for Greeks.  I just want to emphasize that it is not a pain free choice.  Greeks face a most unenviable series of choices and whatever they decide or is decided for them, the short and medium term future does not look good.  As the old Irish saying has it, I wouldn’t start from here.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Another Labour MP attempts to discredit Scottish Independence

Yet another Labour Party stalwart has jumped into the breach to try and stem the tide of opinion in favour of Scottish Independence.  This time it is Willie Bain, Westminster MP and Shadow Scotland Office Minister.  This latest effort appears in LabourList which is a grassroots Labour Party online site.  Willie’s offering has the title Why the Left should beware Salmond-onomics, which is presumably meant to be an attempt at witticism.  If you have the stomach for it you can read the whole piece here.  Now the first thing to be said is that a leftwing critique of current SNP economic policies would be a most welcome contribution.  Alas, Willie Bain’s piece is no such thing.  It is one more blatant attempt to discredit Scottish Independence.  What is interesting about this piece is that Bain makes not attempt to present a positive case for the Union, but simply asserts again and again that Scotland is too wee and too poor to be a successful state in its own right.
He starts by off badly with a false premiss - that the referendum will be about the future economic policies of an independent Scotland.  Now this is plain nonsense and Bain must know this, or he is very badly informed.  The point of the referendum is to determine whether the future economic policies (among all the others) of Scotland should be decided by the Scottish Parliament or continue as at present to be decided at Westminster.  The referendum is not about policies as such.  It is about independence - the right to decide for ourselves which polices we wish to pursue, and to take the responsibility for these decisions.
Now policies, and in particular economic policies are important, and it would be good if the Labour Party were to offer some serious thought as to how an independent Scotland could improve the lives of its citizens.  However Willie Bain is clearly not remotely interested in this.   His alternative to his rather distorted description of SNP policy starts off very promisingly.  He advocates   “a Scotland prepared to join the new agenda being advanced by the European left on reducing income inequality, and securing long-term investment in manufacturing and other growth industries through institutions such as a National Investment Bank,”  Now this sounds more like it.  If only the sentence had ended there, but as the observant among you will have noticed, it ends not with a full stop, but with a comma.  For Willie Bain goes on to add, “within the United Kingdom.”  (my italics)
Does Willie Bain really believe that we in Scotland can only participate in this new European left agenda through Westminster?  That somehow we are too incompetent or whatever to do so directly?  Since he talks specifically of a European agenda, I presume that most, if not all left of centre parties in Europe are contributing to this agenda.  For example, Denmark, which currently has a left of centre government, led by a Prime Minister from the Social Democrats, colleagues of Labour in the Party of European Socialists (PES).   So we have the situation whereby Willie Bain’s political colleagues in Denmark can and do participate in and contribute to this new European left agenda directly on their own, without the need to belong to a bigger Union.  There is no United Kingdom of Scandinavia.  Yet, somehow a small country like Denmark, with a population almost identical in size to Scotland clearly manages to survive very successfully as an independent country.  Why does Willie Bain believe that Scotland cannot do so?
It is also rather defeatist of Willie Bain to claim that only through the UK can Scotland achieve this new left agenda.  Is he implying that in an independent Scotland the Labour Party would be reduced to a minor rump?  Has he no faith in his fellow Scots?  After all the Labour Party dominated the first two Parliaments in Scotland following devolution and less than two years ago won a stunning majority of MPs from Scotland in the last Westminster general election.  So why does he have so little faith in the prospects of his party in an independent Scotland that he is prepared to rely on the rest of the UK coming to his rescue?
For if this wonderful European left agenda is mean anything other than mere words, it requires the election of a left of centre government.  And is Willie Bain so confident that this will happen in the UK anytime soon?  After all the previous Tory government lasted for 17 years.  A rather long time to wait for any chance to implement this new agenda.  I would have thought that an independent Scotland is more likely to elect a left of centre government than the UK.  But Willie Bain will have none of this.  As the rest of his article shows, he is firmly convinced that Scotland, alone of all the countries in Europe, is simply too wee and too poor to meet the challenges of the future.  I wonder what his Danish Social Democrat colleagues say to him?  Has he ever asked them?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Israel and Iran - A Tale of Two Countries

Once again the screws are being tightened against Iran.  The USA, as always supinely supported by the UK, wants to ratchet up the sanctions against Iran.  And of course Israel and its supporters in the USA would really like a war against Iran.  Something which the USA refuses to rule out.  The ostensible reason for this latest bout of sabre raising is the assertion that Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear weapon.  Western politicians, closely followed by their cheerleaders in the media, constantly bombard us with scare stories about an Iran with nuclear weapons.  All this scary stuff about nuclear weapons is of course just bullshit.  The Iranians have always denied any nuclear weapons pretensions and the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) has consistently found no evidence of a nuclear weapons programme.  This is also the conclusion, perhaps surprisingly of the Israelis.  A recent report in Haaretz, via Juan Cole, confirmed that the Israeli intelligence agencies have concluded that Iran has not yet decided whether to begin a military programme to construct a nuclear warhead.  US intelligence agencies have come to the same conclusion.

So why all the talk about harsher sanctions against Iran?Here it is important to remember that western hostility to Iran has nothing to de with nuclear weapons.  Iran's nuclear programme began while Iran was still ruled by the Shah, that great friend of the west.  At that time the west showered Iran with praise and economic deals, including nuclear deals.  It was only after the revolution which toppled the Shah and ushered in the Islamic Republic that the west turned against Iran.  What the west and the USA in particular dislikes about the current regime in Iran is that it offers a ongoing challenge to western hegemony in the middle east, source of most of our oil.

To bear this out, one only needs to compare the west's treatment of Israel with its treatment of Iran.  On the nuclear issue, while Iran clearly has no nuclear weapons and has always denied any nuclear weapons ambitions, Israel does have nuclear weapons.  It has had them since the late 1960s and continues to develop them.  Israel is the only nuclear power in the middle east, yet the west has conspicuously failed to impose any sanctions on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.  Israel has also failed to sign the Non Proliferation Treaty, while Iran has.  This means there are no 
IAEC reports on Israel's nuclear weapons programmes.  And  still no sanctions from the west.  The photo at the top of this post shows the latest Jericho 3 missile which provides Israel with nuclear strike capabilities within the entire middle east and Europe. 

When it comes to living peacefully with your neighbours there is also a great difference between the two states.  Iran has not attacked or invaded any country for at least over a hundred years.  It has of course been attacked in that period - think Iraqi war, when the USA and the UK backed Saddam Hussein of all people, but it has not itself attacked anybody.  Contrast this with Israel, which has been in a constant state of war with most of its neighbours since its inception.  A birth that involved the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their historic villages and towns.  Since then Israel has invaded Lebanon twice or is it three times, Egypt and Jordan at least once and continues to illegally occupy the Golan area, part of Syria.  Not to mention the ongoing occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.  So one country, Israel, has a recent history of invading and occupying the territory of its neighbours, yet is immune from any sanctions or indeed of any kind of pressure whatsoever. While another country with no record of invasion or occupation is the subject of western imposed sanctions and threats of military attack by either Israel or the USA or both.

It would nice if just once in a while our mainstream media and especially our supposedly independent BBC was to properly investigate the double standards on display in out treatment of Israel and Iran.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Scottish Independence - The Irish Experience

Why is there so little reference to Ireland in the ongoing debate about Scottish Independence?  Specifically the existence of the Republic of Ireland, which let us remember was formerly an integral part of the UK.  We will soon be celebrating or at least remembering the 100th anniversary of Irish Independence.  Which came about through violence and a bitter war.  The UK is already broken.  The Republic of Ireland broke it up in the 1920s.  To use the language of Unionists, the Republic of Ireland had the audacity to choose separation and divorce.  Yet the rest of the UK is now and has been for decades, best friends with the Republic.  Even our beloved Queen on her recent visit to Dublin was able to state:  “Together we have much to celebrate: the ties between our people, the shared values, and the economic, business and cultural links that make us so much more than just neighbours, that make us firm friends and equal partners.”
Let us pause for a moment to take this in.  The Republic of Ireland is living proof that there is life outwith the UK.  Not just life, but a successful and viable life.  Without the benefits of North Sea oil and gas, I note in passing.  And this has been achieved not in opposition to the rest of the UK, nor in hostility to the rest of the UK, but as the Queen stated, as “firm friends and equal partners.” 
Yet the current generation of Unionists trot out the same old assertions about an Independent Scotland, as though the Republic of Ireland does not and never has existed.  Let us take some of the most repeated Unionist claims about Scottish Independence and review them in the light of the experience of the Republic of Ireland.
Scotland is too wee and too poor to survive on its own. This oft repeated refrain is impossible to maintain in relation to Ireland.  Without the natural advantages of Scotland - oil and gas, whisky, rich variety of landscapes, home of golf, historic universities etc - the Republic has become one of the richest countries in the world.  According to the IMF in 2011, GDP expressed as Purchasing Power Parity per capita was $39,507 for the Republic compared to $35.974 for the UK.  How do Unionists explain this transformation?  It cannot all be down to grants from the EU.  Unionists simply ignore the existence of the Republic.  Though recently they have started to take some pleasure in the current economic woes in the country.  As if the UK was somehow immune to austerity and cutbacks and low or negative growth.  It is also worthy of note that despite their current economic difficulties, no-one, but no-one in the Republic is suggesting that they would be better off by re-joining the UK.
An independent Scotland would be defenceless in a dangerous world.  So how does Ireland survive?  The Republic is not even a member of NATO.  Yet it manages to support a small army, navy and air force.  Primarily for coastal protection.  Ireland does not get involved in invading and occupying other countries, and I imagine Scotland would not wish to do so either.  The Republic’s military does however contribute successfully to UN peacekeeping actions.  If the UK has ambitions to remain a global military power, so be it.  As the Republic shows, there is no need for Scotland to be part of this.
Beyond arguing that Scotland is too wee and poor, some Unionists like to claim positive reasons for maintaining the UK.  The commonly come down to talk about shared values, a shared history and links with family friends in England.  Again all of this explicitly ignores the existence of the Republic.  As the Queen’s speech referred to above makes clear, these shared values and shared history are also shared by citizens of the Republic.  It is the same with these famous ties that bind us together.  As the Queen put it so exquisitely:  “These ties of family, friendship and affection are our most precious resource. They are the lifeblood of the partnership across these islands, a golden thread that runs through all our joint successes so far, and all we will go on to achieve.”  Remember, this is our UK Queen celebrating ties of family, friendship and affection that exist between two independent states.  There is no reason why they would not continue to flourish when Scotland, like Ireland, becomes independent.
A final argument beloved of Unionists is that we are stronger together than apart.  In order to meet the many challenges of the future Scotland needs to remain within the UK.  This ridiculous claim also ignores the existence of an independent Ireland.  Thankfully the Queen, so beloved of Unionists, did not.  In her speech in Dublin, she specifically addressed this issue of future challenges.  “The challenges of the past have been replaced by new economic challenges which will demand the same imagination and courage.  The lessons from the peace process are clear; whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load.”  Lovely words and sentiments - working together and sharing the load.  But as independent countries.  Ireland can and does work together with the UK to meet the challenges of the future, and does so as an independent country.  There is no reason why an independent Scotland cannot do so as well.
Three cheers to the Queen for providing such succinct and impeccable arguments in favour of Scottish Independence.  When will our Unionists start reading the Queen?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Narrow British Nationalism of Ed Milliband

Ed Milliband, UK leader of the Labour Party was in Scotland recently to give what was billed as a major speech on why the Labour Party is opposed to Scottish Independence.  You can read the whole speech here.  He claimed in his speech that he was focussing on the positive case for the UK.  I have to say I did see much that was positive, but then I am just a little biased.  To me it seemed that Ed Milliband was again and again extolling the virtues of British nationalism.  He tried to frame his argument around the need to build a progressive society in the whole of the UK, but to make his point about the importance of maintaining the UK, he had to assert that Britishness was what mattered more than anything else.  Once again we had the rather unedifying experience of someone asserting the Scottish nationalism was very, very bad, but British nationalism was very, very good.  To illustrate this I present four of the key points that Ed Milliband make in his speech.  Quotes from his speech are in italics.
His first point was that he supports Scotland as part of the UK, not because he thinks Scotland is too poor or too weak to break away:  but:  because I believe that Scotland as part of the United Kingdom is better for the working people of Scotland, and better for the working people of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Now this is rather bold claim which partly rests on the somewhat dubious notion that the Labour Party is the party of progressive social change.  Not much evidence for that in the 13 years of New Labour rule.  Remember it was the Labour government which began the process of changing the NHS in England, dismantling comprehensive schools in England and committing the UK to illegal wars.  It is also more damagingly contradicted by the recent events at Westminster.  The UK economy and welfare system is now under the control of our nasty Tory led government for goodness knows how many years, at the very least until 2015.  How on earth is that better for the working people of Scotland?  And what if the good people of England decide to return the Tories to power in 2015 for another five years - how is that supposed to be better for the working people of Scotland?  The reality is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing we in Scotland can do about this.  Why should the people of Scotland have to wait until the English decide to kick out the Tories?  We only elected one Tory MP in 2010, yet we have to suffer the ravages of this nasty government.  No benefit here. 
Ed Milliband’s second point was that if we wanted greater fairness and a more responsible capitalism, then this could only be done at a UK level.  As he put it:  But I tell you this: we can only do it together. We must reform our financial services; its rules, its culture, its institutions. But if we change the rules separately, banks would move wherever the rules were weakest. We need stronger rules together, not weaker rules apart.  Rather than advancing fairness together, the risk is a race to the bottom on bank regulation, on wages, and conditions at work. We can achieve more progress together.  He concluded this point by a direct challenge to Alex Salmond.  Mr Salmond, you can’t build fairness in Scotland by giving up on fairness in the United Kingdom.
There is some merit in this argument, but why just in the UK?  Surely there is a need for all of these progressive changes throughout the EU?  I can just as easily challenge Ed Milliband - you can’t build fairness in the UK by giving up on fairness in the EU.  On this logic, Ed Milliband ought to be arguing for a single government for the whole of the EU.  Which of course he is not.  I am sure he agrees that these progressive changes should happen at the EU level and that a Labour government would advocate for these changes within the EU.  But then so would an independent Scotland.  The only reason why Ed Milliband or anyone else would make this particular argument is that he is at heart a British nationalist.  The UK comes first and to hell with the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.  Not much of an internationalist here.
Ed Milliband’s third key point was about diversity.  He put it thus:  Britain is united in its diversity. By shared values and common interests. Not an island divided by borders on the basis of nationalities or nationalisms. But one brought together with the strength drawn from multiple identities. 
There are three points here.  One, though the island of Great Britain does not have borders, there is an international border within the British Isles.  Or has Ed Milliband forgotten about the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland?  Or does Ed Milliband not regard Northern Ireland as part of the UK?  As regards our shared values and common interests, does he seriously believe that the citizens of the Republic of Ireland do not share these values (whatever they are) or have the same interests?  Despite the border what is so different between an Irish citizen of the Republic and an Irish citizen of Northern Ireland?  Do they have different values and interests?  Thirdly, all the nations of these islands are diverse and have multiple identities.  This is certainly the case with Scotland, which owes its origins to the coming together of Scots, Picts and Angles.  Ever since Scotland has always attracted and welcomed people from different nations and cultures.  Within Scotland, most Scots are proud of their local heritage and this is certainly true of myself - a proud Fifer and proud Scot.  As the existence of the Republic of Ireland has shown, we do not need to be part of the one political Union in order to share values or interests or to celebrate diversity.
Ed Milliband concludes his piece by claiming that we are:  Bound together by common ties. Nearly half of all Scots have English relatives.
There is nothing progressive about a vision which says a pensioner in Liverpool is no concern of his, a child growing up in poverty in East London is no concern of his, a disabled person in the Midlands is no concern of his. That isn’t a progressive vision.That is shutting the door on the problems of your fellow citizens.
When a Scotsman who works in the shipyards of Govan meets an Englishman who works on the docks in Merseyside, he doesn’t see a foreigner, he sees a fellow countryman. The pensioner from Aberdeen or Ayr has more in common with the pensioner in Bristol or Bolton than with a pensioner in France or Belgium.
These famous common ties.  It is fascinating how these ties that bind us together seem to be exclusively with England.  It is quite clear from Milliband’s dismissal of Belgian and French pensioners, that Scots should only concern themselves with people from England.  How international is that!  Why should our undoubted and valued links with England supersede our links with other people?  It is interesting that he chose Belgium and France as his examples of other countries.  For I imagine that there are not many Belgians or French people living in Scotland.  But what about Italy or Poland? There has been a small, but innovative and long standing Italian community living in Scotland for well over 100 years.  Not all Scots would be so dismissive of Italian pensioners.  Or what about the many thousands of Polish people who have come to live and settle in Scotland during the past decade?  Are we to care nothing about their friends and relatives still living in Poland?  Not to mention the thousands of Scots of Indian, Pakistani or Chinese descent.  Are their family connections to be dismissed as of lesser worth than family connections in England?  And of course there are the hundreds of thousands of Scots whose family roots go back to what is now the Republic of Ireland.  Are these family roots too of a lesser kind?  I find this constant emphasis on ties and links with England deeply insulting.  I value our links with England and I too have family and friends in England. But I also have family and friends elsewhere.  And I do not value them less.  On the contrary since I have a daughter and grandson living in Switzerland, I value them more.  However, much as I love my daughter and grandson, and much as I like Switzerland, it has never occurred to me that Scotland should become part of Switzerland simply because I have relatives living there.
I find it rather sad that in order to keep Scotland within the UK, a leader of the UK Labour Party of all people, should be reduced to arguing for a narrow British nationalism.