Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Europe is becoming a pivotal issue

This is developing into a very complex and fascinating issue involving 3 or more geographical areas and different political groupings within each. It is so complex that I seriously doubt my ability to distill the whole thing into something neatly laid out in the way that blog articles usually are. However, I will try to set out some of the issues as I see them and I will let the readers (if any, LOL) judge whether I have made done justice to them.

Firstly the anti-European sentiment in the UK has recently increased to the point where serious doubts are being expressed about the government's ability to contain it. There is an excellent article in the Economist this week which sets out some of the issues and options and one of the premises is that the British Conservative Party may come under irresistible pressure to conduct an in/out referendum and if one were to be held today there seems to be a high probability that the vote would go against the status quo.

This whole situation is exacerbated by the economic crisis which has befallen the countries within the Euro zone and what many perceive as the inevitable demise of the Euro and all it entails. Already there seems to be a strong possibility that Greece may be forced out of the Euro Zone and Spain is in an economic, financial and banking crisis which may require more of a bail-out than Germany (for one) is willing to sign off on. Even if Spain turns out not to be the proverbial straw Italy and France have their own problems which could reach similar proportions if they are not there already. Clearly the possibility cannot be discounted that the Euro Zone as we know it may cease to exist. This does not necessarily entail the complete dismantling of the EEC but it would require at very least a fundamental rethink.

A further dimension is that even if the existing Euro Zone was to somehow, miraculously, survive the current crisis the potential departure, or even continued failure to join, of the UK might inofitself lead to Germany pulling out because within the EEC, if not the Euro Zone, the UK and Germany have similar views about economic policies and Britain has been an ally to Germany in countering some of the excesses of the countries along the southern fringe.

It should be pointed out, however, that some of the alternative scenarios alluded to in the Economist article are not universally viewed as being viable. A very recent article by Tony Blair dismisses, out of hand, the 'Norway' and 'Switzerland' options. Here is what Blair had to say: "Let us first demolish one delusion, namely that Britain could be like Norway or Switzerland. Norway has a population of around 4.9 million and a GDP of $485.8 billion. It also has a sovereign wealth fund currently valued at more than $600 billion and set to rise to $1 trillion by 2020, owing to vast oil and gas reserves. If the United Kingdom, with a GDP of $2.4 trillion, had a wealth fund of roughly $3 trillion, all of the arguments would change. But it doesn’t. And no serious case can be made that Britain could become like Switzerland, a unique case politically and economically. Britain outside the EU would face three major disadvantages. First, it would lose its global leadership role. There should be no illusions about this. The idea that it would then seek new relationships with the likes of China and India is fanciful. Neither country would ever subordinate its relationship with Europe to a relationship with a non-European Britain. Second, leaving the EU would exclude it from the decision-making process determining the rules of the single market. British companies know this; so do global companies that use the UK as a European base. Finally, Britain would lose the opportunity for cooperation and added strength on issues that it cares about – for example, climate change, trade negotiations, foreign policy, and bilateral disputes – at a time when others are seizing the opportunities offered by regional integration. From the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – now with roughly 600 million people and looking to get a single market underway – to the African Union and South America’s Mercosur and Unasur, countries everywhere are coming together in regional blocs. Will Britain drift away from the one on its doorstep?"

Now let's look at the situation which is developing regarding Scotland's standing in the EEC in the event of independence from the UK. At first the assumption was made that because Scotland and its citizens had been members of the EEC for 40+ years they would naturally have the continuing right to remain so, albeit under a different flag, as an independent country and under the same or similar treaties as enjoyed by the UK as a whole. Although this could yet be a tenable position and has not been fully rejected by the great legal minds within the EU bureaucracy in Brussels Jose Manuel Barroso has come out, guns blazing, with a clear and unequivocal statement that if Scotland should vote for Independence then it will be back to square 1 in terms of membership of the EEC and that all treaties would need to be renegotiated. Opponents of Scottish independence have been quick to point out that this could necessitate Scotland joining the Euro Zone and adopting the Euro plus a closed border with England. The former is almost certainly a deal-breaker in the eyes of all but the most fervent Nationalists, especially in light of the current Euro crisis, the latter might be welcomed by some, especially if the rebuilding and staffing of Hadrian's Wall led to significant job-creation. Here is a link to an article about Barroso's position .

The fact that Barroso has his own agenda here should not be overlooked. He is having to deal with the issue of growing Nationalism in several European countries, particularly in Spain where the momentum is being all the more fueled by the country's economic and banking crisis, to say nothing of 25% unemployment. Clearly giving Scotland a green light to smoothly transition to becoming an independent state and maintaining EEC membership on substantially unchanged terms may not be seen to be in the best interests of maintaining stability across the Region irrespective of the rights and wrongs or even legality of the matter.

What has yet to unfold is a good summary of the economic pros and cons of Scottish membership of the EEC - both from Scottish and European perspectives. Just how valuable to Scotland are those treaties which are in place? Does the Scottish fishing industry stand to gain or lose by membership or non-membership of the EEC on current terms? What would the EEC stand to lose if Scotland became like Norway? Will Scotland be a net positive contributor to the EEC and by how much? What would Scotland stand to lose if it ceased to be a member of the EEC?

It really is a fascinating issue and I am actually beginning to wonder if the timing of the referendum needs to be pushed back. What concerns me is that it appears unlikely that the UK's position vis a vis the EEC may not be clear within the 18-month or so time-frame within which the referendum has to happen. Similarly it may take longer than that for the economic crisis within the Euro Zone to stabilise, if indeed it ever can. Stepping back and looking at these issues one cannot help but wonder if 2015 or 2016 might not be better timing for the referendum. From the "Yes" campaign standpoint the only reason why sooner might be better is the uncertainty created by the anti-European movement in England and the rest of the UK which might be destined to take the UK out of the EEC, whether the Scots like it or not.

I am going to end this now. I did not expect to reach a conclusion and I have not reached one. Personally I still believe that Scotland should vote for self-determination and should not have to look towards Westminster for decisions about its future. Scotland's place in Europe is something that has to be worked through but it is possible that there could be very viable, perhaps even highly desirable, courses open which do not require membership either of a United Kingdom or an EEC or Euro Zone. Scotland is much more akin to Norway in terms of size, population and, hopefully, oil-prosperity and this might be a better direction to take. I certainly think that there are a lot of Scots who would welcome the opportunity to wave two fingers at BOTH Barroso AND Cameron. Perhaps I have reached a conclusion after all.....

Monday, December 03, 2012

A post or maybe an 'aide memoire'...

Today I stumbled on 2 quotations which I liked and which might find their way into designs before too long. The first is a a quote from Winnie Ewing - one of the early SNP MPs, who won a landmark by-election in Hamilton in 1967. On the night of her victory she is quoted as having said 'stop the world, Scotland wants to get on' which resonates just as much today as it did almost half a century ago.

Winnie, who sounds like a real character and someone who it would be a delight to meet, I'm sure, recently warned that the people of Scotland should not be fooled by empty promises by Westminster as happened in the 1970's. Apparently during one of her conversations with Sir Alec Douglas-Home just before an earlier referendum she delivered the second quotation which caught my attention, this one by Burns who said: 'The herts aye the pert that aye maks us richt or wrang'.

Winnie's advice to the Scottish people today is "So let's not have a repeat of history, and not be gulled by empty promises from David Cameron.

"When Alex Salmond comes forward with the referendum in autumn 2014, grab with both hands the opportunity for Scotland to become an equal and independent nation. Alec Douglas-Home offered Scotland "jam tomorrow" in 1979 - and we got 18 wasted years. Scotland has another opportunity to take a step forward - and I'd advise the people of Scotland to trust themselves, not Mr Cameron."

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Getting up to speed....

Here is one of the brand new designs I came up with and which I'm actually quite pleased with, it also works quite well with the blue version of the women's raglan style pictured here. I just hope that people don't think of it as dyslexic or a typo! To be on the safe side I added "Yes in 2014".

Before going any further I have to mention an excellent blog that I highly recommend to anyone who hasn't found it already. It is Auld Acquaintance by Rod Macfarlane and I very much like his style.

Now, by way of background, let me share some of my thoughts about Scottish Nationalism. My awareness of the movement really dates from when I was in my mid teens, at school in Carlisle. What I remember about it was how the Scottish Nationalist movement won my respect over similar movements on behalf of Welsh Nationalists and the Irish Republican movement. Rightly or wrongly the impression I had was that the Cause was pursued by the SNP by political and non-violent means which was not the case with the Irish - think Tower of London and Harrods bombings - or the Welsh - "come home to a real fire, buy a holiday cottage in Wales..". Even if the Welsh campaign was a long way from being as violent and aggressive as the Irish one there was also the issue that Wales seemed to lack the critical mass and credibility to be a stand-alone nation both of which Scotland clearly had, in spades. I have therefore been pleased to watch, with much admiration, the gradual devolution which this quiet and civilised campaign has brought about.

As I mentioned in a comment I left on Rod's blog I have a strong sense that if the referendum is allowed to take its course and is a straightforward yes/no vote then there really is only one possible outcome and that is a "yes", and probably not a marginal "yes" at that. I simply cannot see how a majority of thinking (or even non-thinking) Scots could possibly decide that their best interests are served by an elected body comprised predominently of non-Scots, sitting in London. Even in England the people around the periphery in counties like Cumbria, where I grew up, do not get much of a voice in national politics and are never at the front of the queue when it comes to the allocation of resources. At risk of labouring the point Scotland's interests simply have to be better served by an Untied Kingdom.
For sure the campaign will be a real fight, there are too many vested interests at stake, both real and imagined, and the political machine in Westminster will do its utmost to derail the campaign for independence. Only yesterday I noticed a blatant piece of scare-mongering when some august body or other (I plan to do a separate post on it in the coming weeks) warned that Independence could "wreak havoc" with the pensions of people north of the border. Clearly this is just one of the issues which will be used to try to galvanise the Scottish voters into inaction.

What I have not yet got my mind around is the extent to which the process has been agreed upon. If I understand the situation correctly it has been agreed that the vote will be a simple yes/no vote. I am not totally clear what outcomes have been agreed upon - for example, if the vote is "yes" will that definitely mean that Scotland will become a free-standing country in its own right and enjoying similar status on the world stage to, say, Eire? I am aware that there has been some recent debate concerning the situation vis a vis membership of the EU and if I read it correctly the consensus is that if Scotland becomes independent there will be no problem maintaining membership of the EU separately from what remains of the UK this being despite what some anti-Nationalist scare-mongers had been contending. On a very simple, practical, level if Scotland votes "Yes" in 2014 when is independence likely to happen and is there any spanner that can be thrown into the works? Clearly one potential 'spanner' - a requirement that, even if there was a 'Yes', independence would require a positive vote by the UK as a whole before being ratified - was stopped in its tracks earlier this year.

Clearly I have much homework to do if I am to become a meaningful contributor, in however small a way, to this process but I do find the whole process fascinating and I really do care about the outcome. So, for now, "Cheers!"