Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Psychotic Reaction

Oh, the arrogance of the blogger.  In my own mind I am now a renowned expert on the European Project.  Of course, I'm not actually an expert on anything except for multi-threaded optimisation in heterogeneous computing environments.  To be perfectly honest, I'm not even that much of an expert at that and sort of make do and mend as I battle each day at work.  Just don't tell my boss any of this in case it affects my hourly rate.  Anyway, the Scottish Government published yesterday their proposal to keep Scotland in the EEA and I'm going to damn well comment on it.  Even though literally nobody asked for my take on this I'm going to spew my inexpert opinion all over the internet like a laser-guided vomit machine.  Enjoy.


Let's start with my first impressions.  Against all my expectations, this is a serious proposal. Really, this reads like a serious proposal that demands a serious answer from the UK Government.  Well done everyone involved (apart from some careless typos). I'm especially impressed with the spirited and technical defence of the EU and EEA. This is probably the first time a mainstream politician has laid out the reality of the EU and the EEA without either using these terms interchangeably or making glaring factual errors driven by prejudice and ignorance. The Scottish Government has a good grasp of the obligations and advantages of EU/EEA membership and spells them out clearly.  Bravo!  Have a Euro party!


What exactly is it all about?  Well, it takes us through a range of outcomes in decreasing order of desirability from the perspective of the Scottish Government.  Obviously, it starts with an independent Scotland in the EU but dismisses that because the proposal seeks to solve the Brexit problem without invoking independence.  It then moves on to the UK remaining in the EEA as a next best option.  In doing so, it lays out a summary of Scotland's interests in any future European deal.  Personally, I'd recommend cutting out the text of "Section 8: Defining Scotland’s interests" to keep as a quick test of the quality of any future UK deal.  This option is also dismissed as an unlikely outcome due to the UK Government's various red lines on immigration and not being beholden to European courts.  The real meat of the document is a proposal to keep Scotland in the EEA while also remaining in the UK.

The document spells out the obligations required to uphold EEA membership.  It doesn't go into complete detail here but gives a broad brush of the kinds of obligations and legislative powers that are involved.  The problem, of course, is that the Scottish Government only has powers over devolved matters, while most of the powers required to uphold EEA rules are reserved for Westminster.  All of these powers would need to be moved to Holyrood. Crucially, that includes powers over migration,  employment, company law, professional regulation, telecommunications, financial services.  In fact, it's hard to think of a power that would be retained by Westminster apart from policing the border; currency and interest rates; and the military.  If the Labour Party are serious about Home Rule then it will be hard for them to disagree with any of this.  The Conservative Party, of course, are not minded to be in favour of this transfer of power.  Let's assume that Labour will be against it in some form or other too.  Add the Lib Dems to that list.  They seem to dismiss anything that gets in the way of a 2nd Euro Ref, despite having only 8 MPs of whom 3 abstained in the recent Article 50 vote.

Scotland would certainly need to have extensive powers over its own affairs but it also needs agreement from the EEA in order to join without first achieving full independence.  How would the permission of the EEA be sought?  Several possibilities are presented.  The first is that Scotland becomes an associate member of the EEA, while the second is that it becomes a member indirectly through EFTA membership.  A final proposal is that the UK joints EFTA or the EEA and then strikes an opt out for rUK, leaving Scotland as the only territory that will be bound to uphold EEA rules. All of these proposals require the good will of one or more third party.  The document is a bit short on detail here but does list precedents of the Faroe Islands and Liechtenstein as examples of EEA/EU flexibility. I can't argue with the precedent of flexibility but so far these precedents have been for micro-states the size of Kilmarnock.  Scotland has 5 million inhabitants, oil fields, banks, a chemical industry etc etc.  It will require a lot of good will.  I suppose it is Christmas.
We will need plenty of good will from the EU Pawliament. It might be ruff going.  Oh dear.
A key point in the proposal is that Scotland follows rUK in or out of the Customs Union.  This stops Hadrian's Wall becoming an external border of the EEA and eliminates all of the customs complications that would involve.  What about that border?  Would it really be free of customs and passport checks?  If rUK leaves the Customs Union then Scotland and rUK would both be free to strike a trade deal that would keep the border open.  The difficulty would be for goods imported to Scotland from rUK and then exported to the EEA.  This is the kind of problem that Norway already faces.  The solution is a customs check for goods leaving or entering the UK but there is no explicit need for internal checks. There is good precedent for this and it shouldn't be a problem beyond the expense.  It's worth noting that the proposal doesn't add to the customs expense because that is going to happen anyway if the UK as a whole leaves the Customs Union.  If the UK remains in the Customs Union then the Scotland/England border is unchanged.

The proposal addresses travel as well as residential and employment rights.  Travel rights will continue as they do now under the auspices of the Common Travel Area, thereby eliminating the need for a passport border.  The right to travel, of course, is quite different from rights of residence and employment.   An obvious problem is that a German worker in Edinburgh will not have the automatic right to reside or work in England or Wales.  How will this be policed?  The proposed solution is to enforce those rights at the point where they are granted.  An English employer, for example, would need to inspect the passport of all potential employees.  The same would be true of landlords, banks and building societies.  This all sounds workable, although it does make it difficult for business to relocate staff. Implicit in all this is that UK citizens can work anywhere in the UK.

The weakest point in the proposal is the thorny issue of EEA nations granting rights to Scottish citizens that they automatically grant to citizens of other EEA nations.  Let's imagine that I moved to Austria to take up a job there. How would I prove to the Austrian authorities that I have the automatic right to reside and work there?  I don't have Scottish citizenship or a Scottish passport.  The proposal merely notes that "domicile would be the determinant of those rights".  That isn't really enough, I'm afraid.  Somehow or other I would need to formally register as Scottish in a way that satisfies all EEA nations. That requires more of that good will but also a formal sense of Scottish nationhood.
 
This is a genuine proposal that acknowledges its success lies in flexibility and good will from the EEA, EFTA, the UK Government, and the EU. I'd like to believe it could come true but ultimately I have no faith in it whatsoever.  Does anyone really think Westminster is going to grant Scotland all of that power?  I don't.  My view here is that the UK Government should give the go-ahead to Scotland to continue talks with the EEA/EFTA/EU and then wait for them to knock this back.  That would be the smart thing to do because there is simply no appetite in Europe for special deals that add complexity. There's nothing smart about the current Government so they'll just reject it.  In fact, they already have rejected it.  It seems certain now that we'll have a 2nd indyref at some point in the near future.  No need to hurry with that, though, because Brexit will take years and years and years.

Over and out,

Terry

PS  There's a particularly interesting sentence buried in the report.  Here it is: "Assuming that the decision to exit the EU is irreversible for the UK Government – politically, if not legally – EEA membership is the outcome the Scottish Government considers to be the least damaging to Scotland’s interests".  This seems to suggest the Scottish Government take the view that Article 50 is reversible. Have I read that correctly?


17 comments:

  1. An excellent analysis!

    I would read the last comment to suggest that the SG thinks the UK government might reverse the decision to invoke A50 rather than that A50 is reversible once invoked. But what would I know?

    Hugh

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    1. Yes, I think you're right. That might indeed be a better interpretation of the text. It is a little ambiguous but I think you're right here. Cheers!

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  2. An excellent analysis!

    I would read the last comment to suggest that the SG thinks the UK government might reverse the decision to invoke A50 rather than that A50 is reversible once invoked. But what would I know?

    Hugh

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    1. Hugh: Even though I reckon that, if the referendum were rerun today it would have a different outcome, I still think that the UK government would be taking an enormous risk to fail to take forward Brexit.

      A large number of the population who voted for it, were concerned only about dreaded foreigners and how they could be got rid of, and of course foreign judges telling decent British people what to do, not that they very often overturned UK decisions. This of course only came to the notice of Monsieur Tout le Monde, courtesy of the Sun, Star, Mail and Diana. And let's face it, these papers are not renowned for their accuracy. Print it today on page 1 and apologise on page 36 tomorrow.

      Now anyone giving it much thought knows perfectly well that we desperately need the foreign workers and that the economy will be dramatically adversely affected if most of them either leave or are sent away, but that won't stop the outrage of the loonies, and there are a lot of them, who simply hate them for not being British.

      If the government decides that that is the way to go, I'd seriously suggest that they do it in the middle of January when it's cold and wet and possibly snowing, and when the days are short.

      If they try that trick in Summer, I can see a rerun of 2010 when Mr Cameron had to come back from a Tuscan holiday villa, because the then Home secretary was well out of her depth. The Scots tend to not join in that sort of thing. It's too cold, even in August!

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    2. I completely agree & don't see the UK govt changing it's course of action. If my interpretation of the comment is correct I simply see this as another way the SG can say, 'see, we tried everything, even highlighted how the UKG could have decided to not proceed with Brexit but they wouldn't listen to reason so the only sane option is to vote for independence'.

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    3. I completely agree & don't see the UK govt changing it's course of action. If my interpretation of the comment is correct I simply see this as another way the SG can say, 'see, we tried everything, even highlighted how the UKG could have decided to not proceed with Brexit but they wouldn't listen to reason so the only sane option is to vote for independence'.

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  3. Excellent piece. Thank you.

    It seems sorting out a deal for Scotland would be endlessly complex, but then the whole thing is endlessly complex...

    The EU, and possibly the EFTA countries seem minded to co-operate as much as possible with Scotland. I don't think that there can me much doubt that the Scottish government's immediate engagement (showing that THEY, if not the UK government, had taken seriously the possibility of a leave vote) seems to have warmed the hearts of people in Brussels. And we have some kindred spirits in Scandinavia and Ireland. But they can only go so far.

    What we are up against is a UK government which hasn't a clue what it's doing, and isn't likely to be minded to do Scotland any favours. Let's face it they have one MP in Scotland hanging on for dear life to his seat which is on a shoogly peg. They don't have much to lose.

    And for all that the Scottish Conservatives have overtaken Labour in Holyrood, their percentage of the vote is not that great. In any case, I'm pretty sure that they would sacrifice Davidson and their Scottish voters to ensure that they hold the UK together as one.

    After all, Davidson is expected to follow, not lead, and she must change her attitudes to everything in line with the leadership in London (eg, lines in the sand, washed away by Cameron without consultation; about turn on Brexit becasue Mrs May says so).

    We must remember too, that Mrs May says that Brexit means not only Brexit but Red, White and Blue Brexit. It seems unlikely that there will be an exemption for the blue bit.

    However, that it is NOT impossible and that all it requires is some give and take, is interesting.

    As you say, Gordon, Kezia and Darling will have to work hard at finding an argument against most of the government's paper, given their new found interest in their 2 year old policy for federalism/their 100 year plus old policy for Home Rule which they seem to have overlooked every time they have had the power to do something about it.

    I'd say that one of the UK government's big problems is that it MUST find an accommodation for Northern Ireland, otherwise it may find any agreement it comes to being vetoed by Dublin, and of course, it will be mindful of the fact that the NI population have a history of not taking things lying down.

    If Westminster can come to an arrangement for NI and fails to bother its backside for Scotland, I wonder how the 62% (possibly greater now) will react.

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    1. Am I right that the Greens and SNP are the only autonomous Scottish parties? It strikes me that Labour, Lib Dems and Tories in Scotland are toeing the UK Party line. In doing so, they seem to be screaming "no 2 a 2nd indy ref" at the top of their voices and ignoring every other issue. They are so utterly useless I'm not any reasoned response from them.

      I've not yet seen a proper response from any politican, except for Theresa May who has already dismissed the report without any analysis at all. There must be significant political capital in there for the First Minister, assuming anyone has remaining stamina for the long haul of Brexit. To dismiss it within 24 hours is really quite shocking, in my opinion. That alone should be reason to call a 2nd indy ref - Scotland is not being listened to and now we have solid proof.

      We'll need to see if Westminster can accommodate an arrangement for NI. Despite Tony Blair's many faults he was a genuinely astute diplomat in his first term in office. I would never say the same about the current lot. This really requires the power of human empathy, to understand what the other side is thinking. Compromise and consensus seem absent from the skill set of our current leaders. Brexit is already hard enough.



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    2. I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

      Northern Ireland's reaction to Brexit would be far, far more scary than Scotland's if I was an MP.

      When Scots get upset, we hold votes, and make fun of you. When the Irish get upset, they bomb London.

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    3. Well, I REALLY hope they won't do that, but Westminster needs to understand that they, unlike the rest of the Brits, really don't like and won't tolerate being messed about.

      And much though this will affect us, and affect us badly, Ireland will be incredibly hurt by it, unless England stumps up a very great deal of money that it doesn't have.

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  4. Well, there are minor parties like the Scottish Socialists, but of those represented in parliament the only ones which are Scottish are the SNP and the Scottish Greens. The three main London parties call themselves Scottish (Scottish Labour, etc), but they are not registered parties with the electoral commission, and must therefore, enter elections with identical policies to their English or Welsh counterparts. Northern Ireland has a different political set up.

    So the two main opposition parties and the Liberal Democrats just parrot their bosses in London on anything that isn't very local to Scotland, and on all internal matters they seem to have no argument except SNP Baaaaaad.

    I agree that Blair (and to be fair Major before him) did a good job in Northern Ireland. There seem to be no politicians of any high calibre in the Westminster government. I can't think of one that stands out as being a political thinker. And that's not me being partisan. I have rated Labour, Liberal and Tory politicians in the past. There just aren't any left worth it. And this is the time, if ever in the last 20 years, that we need some.

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    1. It's something particular to the Brexit brigade that has imposed a very specific type of sloganeering and empty politician. David Davis is a backbench MP, Liam Fox a disgraced MP, Boris Johnson a clown. Theresa May seems popular with voters (although that was never truly put to the test) but seem to lack the skills of getting on with people. Maybe Hammond will turn out to be ok. I don't get any sense of a grand vision from him, though. He comes across as quite a timid figure.

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  5. TerryEntoure,

    Thanks for your clarification. It is unusual to see a proper analysis of a Scottish Government proposal. For that you have my genuine support.


    --------------------------

    I know this is trivial, but I like trivia!

    You do know that Hadrians Wall bi-sected Newcastle? We would welcome a large chunk of North East England but it is not our negotiating position!

    Anyhow it would preclude me claiming that Partick Thistle playing Berwick Rangers was an 'international'. Sadly, the only international we are likely to play.

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    1. I love trivia too. Keep it coming.

      Well, I definitely think our negotiating position should be expansion of the borders! On second thoughts, the heavy remain vote in the North East might make matters worse. Let's keep your international hopes alive a while longer.

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    2. To be fair to Terry on this one, there have been a fair number of frothing yoons of the English persuasion who keep bringing Hadrian's Wall into the discussion. I suspect that they are not only English but southern English as well so they view anywhere north of, oh, London, to be all one place called 'the north'. In the past I'd have been very open to the Geordies joining us as adopted Scots but I'm not so sure now after Brexit...

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    3. To be fair to Terry on this one, there have been a fair number of frothing yoons of the English persuasion who keep bringing Hadrian's Wall into the discussion. I suspect that they are not only English but southern English as well so they view anywhere north of, oh, London, to be all one place called 'the north'. In the past I'd have been very open to the Geordies joining us as adopted Scots but I'm not so sure now after Brexit...

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    4. I think I need to update my geography and history knowledge before I clumsily grasp at another way of saying Scotland/England border. Hadrian's Wall just sort of sprung to mind but I'm now a little bit annoyed with myself at my error. My pernickety STEM mind-set likes to be factually correct at all times. It's a time of forgiveness so I shall forgive myself and then forget after a few snifters of sweet, sweet booze.

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