Monday, 18 November 2013

Why UKIP won't get an MEP in Scotland in 2014

As someone who found maths to be a breeze at school, it always annoys me to see the media making basic mistakes with numbers. It's particularly true when it comes to the idea of UKIP getting an MEP in Scotland - not only are the media desperate to promote the narrative that UKIP are on the rise in Scotland, but interpreting the results of European elections requires a wee bit of maths, and that's too much like hard work when you just want to get your copy ready for the deadline. So for the benefit of journalists all over Scotland, here's why UKIP don't stand a chance of getting an MEP in Scotland.

MEPs are elected using the d'Hondt method, meaning each party's total number of votes is divided by 1, then 2, then 3, all the way up to n, where n is the number of total seats being allocated. So if a party gets 1000 votes, in round 1 it has 1000, in round 2 it has 500, in round 3 it has 333, round 4 it has 250, and so on. Note that in each round, you're dividing the full total, not the result of the previous round. So, here were 2009's results, with the 6 rounds of division:

The numbers in bold represent the seats allocated in 2009. The numbers in italics represent the seats that would have to be allocated in order for UKIP to get an MEP. Here are those numbers in graphical form (minus the ones below UKIP):

They barely even got a quarter of Labour's votes, and Labour got almost 100,000 votes less than the SNP in 2009. And just to spell it out, here's the order MEPs would be elected in order for UKIP to get in:
1. SNP
2. Labour
3. Tory
4. SNP
5. Lib Dem
6. Labour
7. SNP
8. Tory
9. Greens
10. SNP
11. Labour
12. SNP
13. Lib Dem
14. Tory
15. UKIP

In fact, even if every BNP voter had voted for UKIP instead (after all, they're basically the same thing), there would still need to have been 9 MEPs for UKIP to get a look in.

Now, obviously the 2014 results will not be the same as the 2009 results. The Lib Dems are likely to lose a substantial number of votes, perhaps as many as 60,000 if their performance in 2011 is to be repeated. They could drop below the Greens, and who knows, maybe even UKIP. But that doesn't automatically mean there's a seat going begging for whoever can finish fourth in terms of the total vote. Even at the third round of dividing, the SNP's vote was still almost 50,000 higher than UKIP's total vote in 2009. UKIP would need pretty much all those former Lib Dem voters to come over to them, which seems rather unlikely - after all, if you were annoyed at the Lib Dems for putting a right-wing party into government at Westminster, why would you then vote for a party which is even more right-wing? Especially as the two parties are diametrically opposed when it comes to the EU.


The reality is that, although UKIP's vote has been growing across the UK as a whole, in Scotland they have already started losing votes. They lost 1.5% in 2009, which is interesting when you consider that the Lib Dems lost 1.6%, which suggests that ex-Lib Dem voters don't go flocking to UKIP in Scotland. Contrast that with the Scottish Greens, who have been on the rise constantly. It seems likely from this picture that any ex-Lib Dem voters are more likely to go to other pro-EU parties (unless some of them went to the BNP, although that'd be a bit weird...) In fact, it seems more likely that UKIP's surge in 2004 was at least partly down to Eurosceptic SNP voters unhappy with the strong pro-EU stance John Swinney took in 2004 (if my memory serves me correctly, that is - I seem to recall a series of televised debates, devoting one to each leader, with Swinney being very committed to Scotland joining the Euro, which probably pissed off the SNP fundies...) Such people are unlikely to ditch the SNP with the referendum so close.


The picture is different across the UK as a whole. UKIP clearly benefit from ex-Tory voters, with the Tories managing to shore up their vote in 2009 thanks to people indicating to Labour that they were on their way out of Westminster in 2010. UKIP will doubtless receive another surge in support in 2014, both from anti-EU Tory voters with the EU referendum in mind and from the kind of folk who voted BNP in 2009 because of their anti-immigration rhetoric, rather than "the old racism" stuff (the BNP appear to be pretty much dead, as their MEP-who-isn't-Nick-Griffin now leads his own brand new racist party, and they absolutely bombed in the 2012 local elections in England). Left-wing Lib Dem voters will probably go to Labour, even though they should really go to the Greens. 

Quite simply, the 2014 European Election will almost certainly serve only to highlight yet again the differing politics in Scotland and the rest of the UK. It will be a tale of two referendums: in England (and perhaps Wales - UKIP have a Welsh MEP, after all), the focus will be on the EU referendum; in Scotland, we'll all be focussing on the Independence referendum. These are the prisms through which people will be looking when deciding who to vote for in May, and they will yield very different results north and south of the border. It all hinges on the Tory vote, really - in England, you get the feeling there's a sizeable chunk of Tory voters who will ditch the party for UKIP in order to force the issue of the EU referendum; but in Scotland, you get the feeling the Tories are pretty much at their base support already, and they're certainly not going to ditch them for a party that has no chance of getting an MEP.

And all this is before you even consider the fact that UKIP's candidate selection process in Scotland has been a disaster, or that the SNP are currently polling well above the 29.1% they got in 2009 in both Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions...

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

There by the grace of the UK

There are many reasons why I reject the Christianity that my parents (and school, despite not going to a faith school) tried to bring me up to believe in. One of the biggest ones, however, is the idea that all your achievements or good deeds are thanks to the work of God, whereas any time you fail or do something bad, it's your own fault. It's a bizarre mindset that I can't get my head around - never taking credit where it's due, but always taking the blame. It seems to be a recipe for low self-esteem (which may go a long way in helping explain the Scottish Cringe...) Of course, if you want to convince yourself that there is a benevolent omnipresent being watching over us all, then such seemingly contradictory positions need to be taken - similar to the idea that natural disasters, famine and poverty are "challenges" set down by God, rather than proof that there IS no God, or if there IS, he's an evil bastard, unworthy of worship.

There's an element of this thinking behind support for the union, where the UK gets credit for everything good that Scotland has done over the past 300 years (e.g. the enlightenment), whereas any failures are of our own making (the collapse of "Scottish" banks, high levels of heart disease, child poverty in areas of Glasgow etc.) It's rather apt, of course, since unionism is every bit like a religious cult. There are the meaningless mantras repeated ad nauseum ("Better together", "stronger and more secure") which fall apart at the first sign of scrutiny. Facts are not welcome, especially ones that challenge the very foundations of their cult. Unionists see no need to explain WHY the union is good for Scotland - it just IS, okay? Separashun is an evil virus, and vicious separatists seek to tempt people away from the warmth of the union, speaking with forked tongues.

For such people, the union seems to exist to save Scots from their natural desire for self-destruction - our Natural Sin, if you will. Without the benevolent force of the union to protect us, we will inevitably waste money on irresponsible things like free education, decent social security measures, and fair wages. Instead of the abstinence preached by Westminster, we will brandish the nation's credit card like a big boabby, running up huge debts without caring about the future generations that have to pick up the tab. We will fail, because everything positive that has ever happened to Scotland has been thanks to the union, rather than despite it.

It's all nonsense, of course, but here's the problem: how do you get this message across to people who act like religious zealots? If someone can't acknowledge that there are problems with their ideology (because to do so would introduce doubt, and doubt is the biggest enemy of zealots), then how can you convince them that things would be better a different way? Thankfully, it is possible - after all, the need to avoid doubt is a subconscious admission that the belief is built on a web of lies. Not all followers of a cult have the same strength of unshakeable faith in the ideology, so while they can ignore one or two facts, there comes a point where they simply cannot ignore reality any longer, and their faith is shattered. Ex-followers tend to become the most vociferous critics of the ideology they once ascribed to, partly because they feel angry for having allowed themselves to be duped, until they eventually saw the light. Again, there are parallels with unionism here, as former unionists are very much among the loudest voices in the Yes movement, keen to make others open their eyes to the truth in the same way they did.

But if anyone wonders why unionists sometimes seem to fit somewhere between Jehova's Witnesses and Scientologists in their unwavering support for a blatantly broken ideology, it's quite simple - it's a cult.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Adam Tomkins School of Impartiality

Adam Tomkins, Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow, is a semi-regular pundit in the Scottish media. A unionist to the bone, he is never the less portrayed as an impartial expert when invited onto current affairs programmes or when writing in the press, and was especially visible recently when the Scottish Government published its proposed timeline for Scotland becoming independent after a Yes vote in 2014. This Scotsman article is a perfect example, and with Tomkins presented as an impartial third party who is commenting on the proposals as an academic expert rather than a "unionist stooge", it gave the No campaign plenty of material for discrediting the Scottish Government's document, littered as it is with words such as "disingenuous", "ruinous" and "irresponsible", and all coming from someone who, very handily, has a Professor at the start of his name so that the public know that he must know what he's talking about (even though he blithely repeats the "14,000 treaties" claim that is so preposterous that even the UK government ended up having to admit it was rubbish.

Anyway, in case there was anyone out there still convinced that Tomkins has any semblance of impartiality in the debate, he's very helpfully started his own blog, complete with the following explanation in the "About this blog" section:

I am a Unionist. I am opposed to Scottish independence. I am British (not English; not Scottish) and I do not want my country broken up.
So, I think we can all agree that's pretty categorical. Anyway, someone linked to this post on Twitter, and obviously I felt the need to reply, because it's just complete and utter unsubstantiated guff. The idea that this man is a suitable commentator when the media is looking for an impartial academic expert on anything related to independence is, as they would say in Germany, ficken l├Ącherlich. Which, naturally, means we'll see more of him, not less of him. Anyway, at the time of posting, Tomkins has yet to see fit to publish any of the comments on his article, and I know for a fact I'm not the only one waiting because the URL on the postback said my comment was number 2 (not a number 2). So, for posterity's sake if nothing else, and in case he never publishes it, here it is.

Well, thanks for showing that seasoned academics are just as capable of spinning rubbish as the rest of us. It's a bit disappointing, mind, because we always like to think that when we see someone with "professor" or "doctor" in their title that they'll be giving us the results of proper analytical research, rather than spin that could have come from a bog-standard politician's SpAd.
"And, now, note this. The SNP opposed both the moves to create devolution in 1997-98 and the moves to enhance it in 2009-12."
This is simply a lie, Adam. The SNP were a key component of the YES-YES campaign in 1998. Indeed, there are stories of areas where SNP volunteers did all the legwork because there simply weren't enough Labour campaigners to do it. On the other hand, the Tories formed the official No campaign (as is their habit in referendum campaigns...). And while Labour may have given a united front in 1998, they had more than their fair share of naysayers, not least Tam Dayell. It's also difficult to imagine Alistair Darling - who campaigned against devolution in 1979 - being the most vocal supporter in 1998...
As for 2009-2012, the SNP took no part in the Calman Commission because it was expressly designed to find a way of keeping Scotland in the union, which is against SNP ideology. It was part of its mission statement, for god's sake - "...and continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom." Criticising the SNP for not taking part in that would be like criticising the Greens for not taking part in a commission whose mission statement specifies "...and to enable continued use of fossil fuels for as long as possible."
And yet, what happened when the actual act was being put through? The SNP government tried to get MORE powers added to it - suggesting after their emphatic win in 2011 that there were areas of crossover between parties in Holyrood for devolving things like broadcasting and the Crown Estates - and, in the end, passing a Sewel motion to allow the UK government to enable the legislation. Pretty strange behaviour from a party that apparently "opposed" the legislation. 
If we can't trust academics to tell the truth, then who can we trust?

Friday, 30 November 2012

The voting behaviour surrounding UN resolution 67/19

(or "why do the Pacific Islands hate Palestine?")

I've recently become obsessed with doing the geography quizzes on Sporcle, partly because all the talk of how many independent countries there are in the world etc piques my interest in world geography, but mainly because I like being able to give pointless answers when geography questions come up on Pointless. So naturally, I was intrigued to see how the world voted in the recent UN vote to give Palestine official non-member observer state status, particularly when I noticed a couple of trends. Let's go through the continents one-by-one and look at how it went. I should point out here that my definition of which continent a country is part of is generally based on the Council of Europe, so that means Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are included as part of Europe, even though they span both Europe and Asia.

Europe

Europe was pretty evenly split between voting in favour of the motion and abstaining, with the Czech Republic out on its own as the sole "no" voter. The main trends here are that the Nordic countries all voted in favour (no surprise there), as did all the Eurasian countries mentioned above. There's a bit of an east-west split in the mainland of Europe, with the west generally voting in favour and the east generally abstaining, although that depends on your definition of "east". Germany and the Netherlands' abstentions made me think there might be some politics around the US's foreign-based nukes, but the fact Belgium, Italy and Turkey all voted in favour blows that idea out of the water. You could certainly draw a line between the Dutch-Belgian border, taking Germany into the "east", snaking round Austria to the west and stopping at the coast where Italy meets Slovenia, and you'll see a pretty clear split, with just the playboy states of Andorra, Monaco and San Marino being anomalies. In fact, I've made a crude drawing to show that the cowards of Europe* form a pretty nicely self-contained landmass.

(As you can see, I've excluded Scotland, since our government has made it clear it would have supported Palestine's bid if we had a vote, but the Northern Irish and Welsh governments have not, as far as I can tell, made any such proclamations. And Ukraine only escape by dint of not being present at the vote.)

Oh, and it's worth noting that Serbia was alone amongst the former Yugoslav states in voting for it (Kosovo not having a UN vote, of course), which presumably is some sort of overhang from the various troubles there in the 1990s.

*This is not entirely serious - I've always been a fan of Germany and eastern Europe. But they DO all have splinters up their bums...

Asia

As you might expect (certainly in the middle east), Asia was almost unanimous in backing Palestine, with Israel being the rather unsurprising sole voter against, and just Mongolia, South Korea and Singapore abstaining. There doesn't seem to be any instantly obvious reason for this, until you do a bit of digging and find that Mongolia and Israel have forged close links in education and agriculture, and Singapore has a history of close links with Israel. As for South Korea, perhaps it's as simple as trying to keep the USA onside in terms of the North-South Korea situation (although I expect that's not exactly difficult...)

Africa

Africa is one of just two continents (the other being South America) where nobody voted against Palestine. On top of that, just five African nations abstained, those being Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (as opposed to plain old Republic of the Congo), Malawi, Rwanda and Togo. I always imagine that places which have a recent history of colonisation are likely to favour other nations declaring independence or making bids for statehood, and this perhaps backs that idea. On the other hand, perhaps it's simply because many African nations don't recognise Israel as a state, and obviously it's not exactly rocket science why the Islamic African nations support Palestine.

North America

Right, here's where you can start having great fun trying to work out the motives behind the votes, generally through decades of aggressive US foreign policy pissing loads of countries off. The vast majority of central America - most of whom have been subject to interference from the USA at some point over the past 60 years - voted in favour of Palestine (and perhaps countries in Europe should start looking at just how many friends the US has thanks to its many "interventions" throughout the 20th century). Guatemala and Haiti abstained, although Guatemala historically has strong ties with Israel anyway, and Haiti received significant aid from Israel in the aftermath of their earthquake, so it should perhaps come as no surprise that both countries would be sympathetic to Israel's position. I can't really think of any reason why the Bahamas and Barbados were the only Caribbean countries to abstain - maybe relations with the US are particularly strong in those two former British colonies? - but it's certainly no surprise that Panama voted with the USA considering the history between the two countries since the US invasion in 1989. Perhaps if Panama was governed by the leftist PRD, things would have been different.

Heading further north, the USA was obviously never going to vote any other way than against Palestine, and it's hardly a surprise that Mexico voted the same way as the majority of the central nations. But I think the big shock for a lot of people was Canada, since people assumed Canada was a fair country, almost a sort of North American equivalent of Scandinavia, and it seems a bit odd seeing them voting with the USA on this. Still, they have their reasons, whatever you think of them.

South America

So as previously mentioned, no South American country voted against the resolution, and with Latin America  having generally turned its back on the Washington Consensus and embraced leftist politics, it's hardly a massive surprise they generally voted the opposite way from the USA. Not everyone, though - Colombia and Paraguay both abstained, which is less of a surprise in Colombia than Paraguay perhaps, since Colombia is one of the few Latin America countries that hasn't turned to the left (although that didn't stop Chile supporting Palestine). Mind you, Paraguay has fallen out of favour with the rest of Latin America since the coup d'etat removing Lugo as president, so perhaps this is just a result of that. (Paraguay also happens to be the only South American country to recognise the Republic of China, so it's not the first time Paraguay has not gone along with the Latin American consensus.)

Oceania

Okay, this is what really intrigued me about the vote. Oceania is by far the most opposed to Palestine of all the continents, with just three of the fourteen nations voting in favour, and four voting against (six abstained, while Kiribati was absent). New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu all voted in favour, but the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau all voted against. This seemed pretty random at first, but it turns out that the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau are all Associated States of the USA, meaning the USA provides defence, funding grants and access to US social services under the terms of the Compact of Free Association agreement. Suddenly, all becomes clear. Meanwhile, although not part of COFA, Nauru is seen as one of the few bankable votes Israel has at the UN.

Two of those who voted in favour have recently forged ties with Iran, with Tuvalu getting involved in Iranian oil imports, and Iran granting $200,000 worth of scholarships for the Solomon Islands; meanwhile, New Zealand seems to be one of those rare countries that actually practices what it preaches in terms of seeking a two-state solution - something countries like Germany and the UK could learn from. As for the abstainers, it's no real surprise that Australia abstained, since it has strong relations with the USA. (In fact, Julia Gillard wanted to vote no, as she has long been a supporter of Israel, but was met from resistance from backbenchers.) I have no idea why countries like Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu abstained - perhaps torn between not wanting to look like dicks and not wanting to fall out with neighbouring countries. Either way, it's fence-sitting.

(Having said all that, perhaps it's merely as simple as the fact that the 50th state of the USA is, in fact, in Polynesia... And the US territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are in that area too...)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Persona Non Grata - the latest unionist tactic

I am excellent at arguing with people. I'm a very argumentative person, particularly online, having wasted large swathes of my late teens and early twenties on music forums, where emotions tend to run high as people bicker about their favourite bands and why your favourite band is awful. This was especially true of the official Manic Street Preachers forum - of which I was once a moderator (a power I gleefully abused by correcting people's posts if they couldn't spell properly) - which ended up getting shut down because of the "robust" nature of debate on the forums (I didn't say we were good moderators...) It's for this reason that I've always found the "Cybernats" business rather ridiculous, because it simply betrays a total ignorance towards the psychology of debates conducted over distances, particularly when people are protected by the cloak of anonymity. Let's be perfectly honest, internet discussion forums and social media are exactly what you would get if radio phone-in shows didn't have producers to filter out the more nutty callers. As a result, I find the hysteria over rammies about independence rather silly.

However, something altogether more sinister seems to be emerging from the unionist side of the debate, something way beyond silly name-calling and the everyday ad hominem attacks that have thus far characterised the anti-independence argument. This is touched upon today by Ewan Crawford in the Scotsman, in an article discussing the negative nature of the NO campaign. He mentions that non-politicians have been criticised for just doing their jobs in a way which unionists have decided is helping the independence case. But it's not just Peter Housden and Martin Sime who have been attacked recently. Remember Willie Rennie attacking the decision to have Martin Compston as the "posterboy" for the Glasgow 2014 games, for having the temerity to (Shock! Horror!) support independence? The first comment on this Scotsman article today about Brian Cox being announced as an ambassador for the Edinburgh Lyceum Theatre follows this theme.

What about the appointments to the Scottish Police Association board last month, where Jeane Freeman (a former Labour spin doctor, no less) was one of four pro-independence people to make up the twelve-person board? Never mind that four out of twelve is only 33% - the same percentage the media keep insisting support independence. Never mind that there were former and current councillors from the unionist parties included as well. No, it's just the pro-indy folk who shouldn't have been appointed. Support for independence automatically makes you unfit to do a job apparently, regardless of your other credentials (and all three people here have great credentials for the jobs they have been given).

What we are seeing here is a concerted attempt to classify anyone who airs public support for independence as persona non grata. Want a job in a public role? Well, you'd better not even think about supporting independence. Supporting the union is perfectly acceptable, however. That's the right view (in both senses of the word).

The reasons for doing this are obvious, but I like typing so I'll state them anyway. A country having the independence to make its own decisions is just about the most uncontroversial idea you can imagine in politics. Seriously, it is. However, those who oppose it rely on it being painted as an outrageous notion, one adopted only by crazy people you would cross the street to avoid. That's fairly obvious, and it's why unionists are so keen to categorise nationalists as weirdos who have watched Braveheart too many times. In order to keep things this way, however, it relies on the public only seeing independence supported publicly by people they are conditioned to "expect" to support it. So we see the lazy references to the SNP when talking about the Yes campaign, with the underlying message being "well, they WOULD say that, wouldn't they?" We see the references to Alex Salmond and "his" plan to cruelly separate us from the warm embrace of Mother England, while conveniently ignoring people like Patrick Harvie.

Never mind refusing to refer to independence by anything other than "separation", the unionist argument relies on a slavish adherence to the strategy of personalising independence as some sort of SNP vanity project (an obedience the SNP could only dream of, despite its much-discussed, often-derided and somewhat-exaggerated party discipline). Every time a non-SNP person speaks favourably (or even just not unfavourably) about independence, this brings it closer to being normalised. The more normalised it becomes, the less scary it becomes, and the more likely people are to give it a fair hearing and end up voting for it. Once this happens, unionists will have to start arguing the case for the union on equal footing with independence, a feat which is, quite frankly, impossible to perform.

This is why people like Willie Rennie and John Lamont feel so threatened by people like Martin Compston and Jeane Freeman being given important roles. It's not that they seriously think for a second that these people are going to abuse their positions by using them as platforms to extol the virtues of independence. It's simply because having these credible people (who just happen to want Scotland to be independent) in public roles detracts from the message that all independence supporters are swivel-eyed, beardy-weirdy "FREEEDUMMMMM!!!!" shouters. The unionist answer to this dilemma? Cry foul and hope people stop publicly airing support for independence, in fear of being persecuted for it.

It's all very much in keeping with the sort of low politics utilised by snide, immoral politicians like Jim Murphy - but it's far more sinister than the usual playing of the man, not the ball.

(PS - fancy listening to my dulcet tones? Here's me in the latest of Michael Greenwell's Scottish Independence Podcasts.)

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Feder ye spikkin' aboot?

Feder... Fit are... Geddit?

Yeah, anyway, this isn't about Roger Federer (in case you got confused), it's about the Lib Dems and their sudden re-embracing of federalism, after years of claiming to be a federalist party, in much the same way students claim to be communists without having actually read the Communist Manifesto. There's nothing wrong with the Lib Dems taking this opportunity to capitalise on public interest on constitutional change to say "hey, what about this thing we've always said we should do?" However, their plan is half-baked, and we all know it simply won't happen anyway.

In short, the Lib Dems think the Scottish public's apparent appetite for "devo max" could translate into backing for turning the UK into a federal state. It's a nice idea, not least because it would attempt to provide a (theoretically) much more permanent solution to Scotland's constitutional problems than airy-fairy promises of unspecified "more powers", but there are a multitude of problems in getting it put into practice, and indeed, how it would actually work thereafter.

For a start, the federal UK the Lib Dems appear to be promoting here is one of four federal states. That won't work. It was suggested to me on Twitter last night by a Canadian (brought up in Greece and now living in Scotland) that Canada shows federalism does not require states/provinces/whatever to be of uniform size. Leaving aside the issue of using a country with one of the most prominent independence movements as proof that "size doesn't matter", even the biggest of Canada's provinces does not contain 83.8% of the population. The reason we got devolution in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in the first place was because England dominates the rest of us. There are no agendas or anti-Scottish/Irish/Welsh conspiracies behind this, it's simply the result of the massive structural imbalance of the UK.

As Iain MacWhirter points out in his column today, the idea of regional assemblies has been floated in England before, and it was a complete flop. The near-unanimous rejection of elected mayors this year also suggests there is little appetite for constitutional reforms in England, even fairly minor ones. So either 83.8% of the population would have to be satisfied with having the exact same say on matters as the 3% who live in Northern Ireland, or England would have to have more representation in a federal parliament than the other three states - which just leaves us back at square one.

The problem with federalism is it is a UK-wide solution to a Scottish problem. The whole reason there is no real appetite for constitutional reform in England is, I would suggest, because the current situation works fine as it is for them. England is not the country which lives off of a "pocket money" block grant, and the spending in England determines what is spent in the other countries of the UK, rather than the other way around. Those who do have grievances with the current situation tend to air them by calling Scots "subsidy junkies", rather than looking inwardly. If it's wrong for 83.8% of the population to force their wishes on 8.4% of the population, it's ten times as wrong for Scotland to tell England how it should be run. This is why Devo Whatever could never have appeared on the referendum paper as a third option, because anything short of independence simply cannot be delivered unilaterally for Scotland without the say so of the rest of the UK.

Now, unionists will say that whatever vision of minor constitutional change they envisage for Scotland doesn't need to be put to a referendum, because it will be voted on in the same way as any other policy, i.e. through party manifestos. This is a nice idea in theory, but in practice we found out a couple of years ago how strongly the Lib Dems stick to their principles when it comes to getting into power - so unless the Lib Dems plan on making the biggest comeback in the history of UK politics, they're not going to be able to push through federalism unless one of the other two UK parties back it as well - which is doubtful at best. Quite simply, the Lib Dems can pretty much promise whatever they like, because no one will take any Lib Dem pledges seriously for a generation.

Ironically, the best - and perhaps only - way for the Lib Dems to get federalism would have been in working with the SNP to get a multi-option referendum. Imagine a two-question referendum:

1. Do you think the UK should become a federal state, thus providing Scotland with more autonomy?
2. In the event of the rest of the UK rejecting federalism, do you think Scotland should become independent instead?

That way, if Scotland truly DID want federalism, we would vote for it, and then the issue of federalism would have to be treated seriously by the rest of the UK. If they don't want it, then fine, we go off on our own and everyone is happy. The alternative is to languish in the status quo, but as the Lib Dems themselves admit that the current situation is unsustainable, then they're implicitly admitting that this is not an option.

But that's not going to happen, so federalism is, in effect, completely undeliverable. But even if it was, why should we even believe it's the answer to Scotland's constitutional issues?

I've already mentioned Canada, which is a federal state with a prominent independence movement for one of the provinces. But other examples among the 29 federal (or de facto federal) countries in the world include Spain and Belgium, the countries containing the two most prominent independence movements in Europe outside of Scotland. You see, federalism is being offered here as a panacea to the independence question - "Don't vote for independence - federalism will give you the best of both worlds!" But if this were true, then why is there still such strong support for independence in Catalonia and Flanders?

The reality is, even if the UK DID go down the route of federalism, and even if England DID get split into ten federal states, there would still be at least 30% of Scotland seeking independence. We'd muddle along for a while, but eventually the same questions would start to get asked - why should Scotland harbour WMDs? Why should we fight in illegal wars? - and there would be no compromise solution left for unionists. Anyone who wasn't happy with Scotland's lot would just have to back independence, and indeed, it needs to be recognised that many of the strongest arguments for voting YES in 2014 are actually issues that cannot be resolved by anything short of independence - the EU, Trident, Iraq, the need for a different Scottish immigration policy.

So, thanks for trying, Ming. But it's not going to happen. There's only one solution for Scotland, and we'll get it by voting YES in 2014.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

#MehToNato

Now, I'm sure we all know that during its conference this week, the SNP will debate a possible change to its defence policy, in a proposal which has been put forward and seconded by the two Angii, Robertson and MacNeil. Amongst some pretty sensible detailing of future defence policy for Scotland (which is broadly along the same lines as those outlined in a recent document by the RUSI defence think tank), there is the big talking point of the potential change to the SNP's 30 year stance on NATO membership.

Now, debate has raged on Twitter between fellow nationalists - some think this is a sensible update to the policy, while others think it is a betrayal of SNP values, or simply just don't see any need to change the existing policy. People on both sides feel very strongly about it and there has been a lot of arguing between #YesToNato and #NoToNato. But I think I speak for quite a lot of people when I say that the whole argument can be summed up for me as #MehToNato.

The important thing to remember is that the motion does not call for the SNP to simply sign Scotland up to NATO without consideration. The crucial part of the policy update is thus:

"On independence Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations. In the absence of such an agreement, Scotland will work with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme like Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland."

So, retain membership on OUR grounds. If keeping Scotland nuke-free and being able to opt-out of non-sanctioned wars is not acceptable to NATO, then we carry on as planned in Partnership for Peace. On the face of it, that seems eminently fair, pragmatic and sensible. However, as others have suggested, this could simply be the thin end of the wedge. A more simple argument against the policy change is that NATO is a nuclear alliance, and it is therefore inconsistent with Scotland's anti-nuclear sentiment to be a member.

I have sympathy with both sides of the debate. On the one hand, I can understand the need to present as few obstacles as possible to people for voting for independence, and the feeling is that a refusal to join NATO equates to defence being a weakness in the independence case. Also, the motion is not simply saying we should sign up to NATO - it's saying we should do so only on the conditions that we remain nuke-free and don't get involved in illegal wars. The motion seems like a "best of both worlds" proposal.

On the other hand, NATO feels like an anachronism, an antique concept from the days when the threat of nuclear war breaking out between the US and the USSR seemed palpable, and so countries felt the need to take sides - those on the west joined the US in NATO, and those in the east joined the USSR under the Warsaw Pact. But those days are gone, so do we really want to continue with a military alliance that feels inherently anti-Russian? More importantly, what exactly does NATO membership provide that PfP membership does not? PfP would seem to be what you join if you want to co-operate with NATO member states without being compelled to do so and not having to agree to nukes. It feels like we want to join NATO on the same terms as PfP - in which case, why not just join PfP anyway?

I do feel that there is a slight contradiction in taking some sort of moral stance against NATO on the basis of it being a nuclear alliance... Yet being happy to sign up to PfP, which is a NATO initiative. If NATO is so inherently wrong, why co-operate with it at all? But then if the only reason to join NATO instead of PfP is because the media etc tell us the public think it is a weak spot for independence, should we not be concentrating on winning that argument and showing how it can be an example of how Scotland can do things differently - the whole point of becoming independent - rather than just submitting to it?

So I don't think either side builds a particularly compelling case, certainly not to the extent that I am inclined to throw my backing behind either side with great gusto. On top of that, I'm simply not convinced the public gives enough of a toss to warrant making a change, never mind having a big fight about it. As a result, I am #MehToNato - I lean towards not joining, but I can't say I'm particularly bothered if we do.

Perhaps the most condemning thing I can say about the whole affair is that those who are making the "positive case for NATO", so to speak, have thus far done about as good a job of explaining why we should stay in NATO as unionists have in making the "positive case" for remaining in the union. I've seen plenty of scare stories about "security" and such like and public opinion apparently being against leaving NATO - but I've seen no evidence that we're "Better Together" in NATO than we would be as members of PfP, and no explanation of what NATO membership provides that PfP membership doesn't.

If only Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland had a uniform stance on the issue...

(Incidentally, why isn't the hashtag #NaeToNato rather than #NoToNato? Read it aloud and see what I mean...)