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Quote of the Day

“Any vote to separate an area from a member state then has the consequence of that area leaving the EU”

Herman Van Rompuy yesterday in a joint press conference with the Spanish Prime Minister who declared the proposed Catalonian Referendum unconstitutional

Referendum Latest

indy

Meltdown?

Crikey!

Greece is to hold a referendum on the bailout!

Here’s what Greek news site ekathimerini.com report as the prevailing mood in the country.

“The announcement by the premier came a day after an opinion poll found that 60 percent of Greeks view Thursday’s EU debt deal – involving a 50 percent writedown of the country’s debt and another 130 billion euros in loans – as negative.”

Every political opponent of PM George Papandreou has condemned the proposal (again from ekathimerini).

Centre right party New Democracy: “Mr Papandreou is dangerous,” said ND spokesman Yiannis Michelakis. “He has tossed Greece’s future in Europe in the air like a coin.”

Greek Communist Party: “No to the blatant blackmail and the ideological terrorization of the people,” said spokesman Makis Mailis.

A few hours before Papandreou called for the referendum, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) met with Papoulias and asked the president to use his powers to convene a session in Parliament to discuss the debt deal agreed with the eurozone. Later, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras dismissed Papandreou’s initiative as a “trick.”

So the bailout which had virtually no chance of solving the euro crisis on its own anyway and is in any case a fragile and complicated compromise which relies on external factors, (China?) is to be subject to a referendum?

Or is this the last throw of the dice from a beleaguered Greek PM?

In any case it requires a parliamentary vote of confidence on Friday.

If it does go ahead though, then the EU can hardly take their historical stance on referendums and just ignore it.

Using your skill and judgement, how likely is it that people being asked to vote for austerity in a referendum are going to vote FOR it? – and lets face it, they have a point don’t they?

We’re doomed.

Did I Say Remarkable?

The enormity of the Scottish Parliamentary Election result continues to sink in. The following is my individual take on where we are. I freely admit that I could be completely wrong on many or all points because who can guess what Alex Salmond or his party will be thinking on the back of the tsunami which has engulfed the Scottish political landscape?

However here goes.

I think that independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom  is now highly likely. I also think that the most likely and best way for this to be achieved is in incremental steps. I simply don’t see it happening as a result of a single referendum and I would question that a referendum would be the best or even possible way to achieve it.

For such a referendum, three years from now as proposed, to succeed, the SNP would have to sustain the increase in their support which electorally has now been on an upward curve for eight years. Traditionally, governments which are elected on a landslide lose popularity. It is almost impossible to imagine that the heady support the SNP enjoyed in Thursday’s ballot will endure, even allowing for the almost total hopelessness of the opposition. The high watermark of a tsunami doesn’t last for long.

I am reminded of the referendum for the UK’s Common Market membership in 1975. That settled the country’s status the Common Market/EEC/EU, and although there would have been subsequent times when another referendum would have gone the other way, referendums are a once and for all settlement.

For example if, as I think is very unlikely, the Scots were to vote for independence in a referendum then this would be irreversible. By the same token, if  the electorate were to vote against independence in a referendum then that would be a result which would have to be abided by for the foreseeable future.

The only reason there was ever a second referendum on devolution was that the outcome of the first one was clearly rigged. Even that process took 20 years.

I haven’t even mentioned the AV referendum.

So, leaving the referendum aside for now, why do I think independence is inevitable?

The answer is that the comparative political landscapes of Scotland and the rest of the UK are now so different as to be seemingly irreconcilable. When the Condem coalition was formed last year understandably the Tories handed the Libdems the post of Scottish secretary. This was briefly occupied by Danny Alexander and now by Michael Moore. The thinking was that the Libdems, unlike the Tories enjoyed a historic, reasonable and seemingly sustainable level of support in Scotland. It should be pointed out however that this was in terms of seats rather than votes. The Tories in terms of votes, even in that party’s darkest days were usually slightly ahead of the Libdems.

On Thursday in the first past the post constituency vote, the Libdems polled 157,714 votes. This was nearly 120,000 fewer than the Tories. On the Regional List vote the Libdems total was 103,472. In 2003 the Scottish Socialist Party polled 128,026 on the Regional List. Imagine on the basis of that, that Tommy Sheridan had claimed a mandate to serve as Scottish Secretary?

So getting back to the referendum. It may be that gambler as he is, that Eck thinks he can stake the thing that he has strived for all his political life on a winner takes all gala day. It may be, but I seriously doubt it. It may be that he can turn the financial and monetary crisis, which is yet in its infancy, to the SNP’s advantage. Again I doubt that.

So how would the SNP wriggle out of what is a pretty strong commitment to hold a referendum? Well they could give a free vote on the enabling legislation (there would surely be a dozen from the 69 SNP MSPs who would vote against), or Eck could have discussions with David Cameron which he could claim were a timetable for independence thus making the referendum unnecessary. I simply don’t know how the SNP will do it.

Or maybe this is all a double bluff? Maybe the SNP DO want a referendum and want it to fail, thus keeping the comfort blanket of the union but being de facto independent and at the same time chipping away at the union?

Only one thing’s for sure in all this.

We live in interesting times.

When is Independence Not Independence?

Scotland’s first minister would never be mistaken for a cookie of the unshrewd kind. He is by nature a gambler but one who has done some feverish work with a calculator and scales before he places the stakes.

I heard an interview with Gordon Wilson at the weekend. It was he who as SNP leader expelled Alex Salmond from the party for a time in the seventies. At that time says Wilson there were two factions threatening the break up of the SNP. One was a kind of fundamentalist Jacobite kilts and tartan brigade and the others were leaning towards a kind of fundamental socialism.

Of course times have changed and the SNP is now the governing party in Holyrood albeit in a minority administration. The recent announcement of the introduction next year of a referendum bill must have been tough on Eck’s poor wee calculator and scales as he worked out the pros and cons (sic) and weighed up the options.

Apparently the vision of independence,  like the SNP has moved on somewhat.  The United Kingdom? well that might still exist as a ‘social union’. There’ll be a shared diplomatic service and armed forces. We’ll share a currency with England Wales and Northern Ireland too whether that be sterling or euro.

We’ll keep the monarchy.

And all the oil money.

It’s all in a paper released by the SNP last week to accompany the referendum announcement.

Quite how this kind of settlement would be negotiated with the remainder of the UK is anyone’s guess.

Interesting times.

Independently Minded

The Scotland I grew up in had a fairly simple political landscape. In those days it wasn’t just TV that was in black and white. Politics, religion and class were strictly monochrome.

Were you one of us or one of them? (which had more than one meaning!)

The Conservative party vied with Labour to be the main political force in Scotland and the SNP and Liberals were peripheral sideshows.

Then came an upsurge in SNP support in the (October) 1974 general election which returned 11 MP’s to Westminster.

Labour panicked and realised that the old unionist v separatist rhetoric which had previously successfully rubbished the SNP would not do any more.

The party which had previously stood shoulder to shoulder with their partners in crime (the Tories) as a party of UK unity, suddenly introduced two new words into the political vocabulary – devolution and assembly.

The Scotland act of 1978 provided for an assembly in Edinburgh. The proposed assembly would have no tax raising powers and many saw it as an unnecessary additional tier of bureaucracy, a talking shop.

A referendum was held on March 1st 1979 in which on a 60% turnout, 51.6% voted yes and 48.4% voted no.

Hardly a ringing endorsement for devolution but a majority nonetheless and first past the post being the accepted democratic system in the United Kingdom meant that the majority carried the day, right?

Wrong. A provision in the act meant that 40% of the electorate and not just a majority of those who voted would have to vote yes for the devolution dream to become reality.

This effectively meant that even before the poll, the act was dead in the water (a phrase I’ll return to)

In the wake of the referendum result the SNP withdrew its support for the Scotland act, brought a motion of no confidence in the Callaghan government which the government lost by one vote thus giving us a general election and…………………..

Thatcher.

Despite the anger in Scotland over the reslult and fall out of the devolution referendum, Maggie and her government set their collective face against devolution of any kind.

She and they treated the Scots with utter contempt. The proud nation which as a constituent part of the UK had been a significant contributor to Britain’s pre-eminence in invention, literary, manufacturing and military fields amongst others were now to accept the role of mendicant serfs in Thatcher’s brave new Britain.

All serious support for the Conservatives in Scotland evaporated. This culminated in the UK general election of 1997 when not one Conservative MP was returned to Westminster from north of the border.

By this time (1997) of course the Scots were slavering for devolution and one of the very first pieces of legislation brought forward by the Blair government was for a Scottish Parliament (not an assembly).

Another referendum was called and again the turnout was 60%. There were two questions relating 1) to a yes/no for the establishment of a parliament (the result of which was 74.3% yes 25.7% no)
and 2) a yes/no for such a parliament to have tax varying powers (63.5% yes 37.5% no)

The parliament thus became a reality and sat for the first time in May 1999 with Labour and the Liberals forming a coalition executive under “Father of the Nation” ;-) First Minister Donald Dewar.

At the time Labour’s George Robertson said that the establishment of the parliament left the SNP and independence “dead in the water”.

I remember thinking about this remark.

Quite how setting up the machinery and infrastructure for independence when the only effective opposition (and therefore alternative government) in Scotland was the SNP, would leave independence dead in the water was a mystery to me.

And so to the present. At the SNP’s spring conference yesterday and Alex Salmond, now SNP’s leader and first minister of Scotland, unveiled a new slogan “We’ve got what it takes”.

I strongly believe that in my lifetime Scotland will be an independent country.

The supreme irony here is that it was the SNP’s motion of no confidence in 1979 which gave the UK Margaret Thatcher.

Her government’s subsequent treatment of the Scots undoubtedly finished the Conservative party in this country and paved the way for devolution and possible eventual independence.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a rather nice living room an elderly man sits. George Islay MacNeill Robertson, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen KT GCMG FRSA FRSE PC (for it is he) mutters “Dead in the water I tell you” before once more drifting off to sleep.

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