Monday, 20 August 2018

Our First Act of Foreign Policy

There's a right old stooshie going on at the moment about Yessers disgust at the Peoples Vote campaign.  I want to use this post to ask fellow Yessers to look beyond the end of their nose and think about what is in their own interests and how best they might achieve the optimum result for themselves.  It probably doesn't involve slagging off a campaign that is acting in your own interest, even if it comes from a radically different perspective.  If we're going to think like an independent nation then we need to start formulating some foreign policy. Sometimes, that means holding your nose. Right, get those fingers on your nose, pinch and simply enjoy. [Previous versions of this introductory paragraph were uncharacteristically angry and impolite. In the end, I opted for a shorter edit without the anger and impolite statements. Nevertheless, I am hopping mad and there is some foul language right at the end.]

The Peoples Vote campaign had a demo in Edinburgh last Saturday (18/8/2018).   The organisers, however, made a colossal error of judgement in the way they pitched this to the assembled crowd. They forgot that Scotland is divided along Yes/No to a much greater extent than it is divided along Remain/Leave.  In doing so, they turned up in Edinburgh with exactly the same message that will have played so well in rUK:  we love the EU because we love the UK.  Speakers like Rory Bremner, Menzies Campbell and Gavin Esler were wheeled out to support this core message. Just in case anyone doesn't know, this trio were all active participants in the No campaign in 2014.  Had I been there, I'm pretty certain I would have scarpered sharpish. I wouldn't, however, have taken to social media to proclaim that I want no part in a 2nd EU ref. I would merely have stated that Peoples Vote ballsed it up because that is what they did. They royally ballsed it up to a sparse crowd.

Why do I support a 2nd EU ref?  Well, I support it because Scotland will leave the EU on 29 March, 2019.  That is in just 7 months time.  It is imminent. The clock is ticking. I don't want Scotland to leave the EU under any circumstances because it makes the lives of friends and family so much harder. There also remains a significant threat of a disorderly Brexit.  This threatens the legal order that underpins civil society.  What does that mean for my parents?  For emergency care?  For the supply of basic provisions? If that isn't enough, I have personal concerns.  There is a real possibility that travel to the country of my birth will be impossible.  Planes and trains could all be at a standstill because the established order that lays out legal obligation and responsibility will be void.  In that event, families, friends and couples will be in a hellish limbo.  What if I need to get back in a hurry? Well, I won't be going anywhere in a hurry if that happens.  Then there are the rights of the 4 million humans inadvertently caught up in this mess.  What about them?  Nobody has yet secured any rights for the 4 million.  A disorderly Brexit will trample all over them.  Brexit is a calamity.  If you're Scottish, stopping it is the right thing to do because it is going to happen to you just as it will to everyone else.

Independence is a long way off.  There are no signs that Nicola Sturgeon will disclose her intentions for indyref2 any time soon.  If she was going to kickstart the process during the October conference season then she'd be laying the groundwork right now.  She'd be making a push for the benefits of independence, softening the public mood, giving out little hints here and there.  None of those things are happening.  An independence referendum is not yet on the horizon.  Sure, if she makes a shock announcement in a few months time then Yessers ought to prioritise their time and resources.  With indyref2 on a ticking clock it makes sense to campaign for it rather than EURef2. But Nicola Strugeon hasn't yet done that and I don't think it will happen for the rest of the calendar year. In the meantime, Brexit is hanging over us. An impending calamity is hanging over every resident in Scotland. We cannot pretend that it doesn't affect us.  It is happening. Imminently.

Let's start thinking about the foreign policy of iScotland. What would we want for our neighbours that would be in our own interests?  Top of the list is that rUK remains as closely bound to the EU as possible.  The further that rUK drifts off into a regulatory mid-Atlantic, the harder Scotland-in-EU becomes.   If Brexit  threatens Scotland's devolution settlement then it sure as hell poses a risk to the practicalities of independence. A regulatory border with rUK will be a gift to Unionists in the indyref campaign.  They will wheel it out at  regular intervals because it poses a real problem and because the threats of a hard border with rUK will no longer be threats. If we get over the winning line (and let's hope that we do) then we need to deal with the very real problems at the regulatory, customs, and legal border that we will be required to erect.  To be honest, Scotland-in-EU may no longer be a practical outcome.  We might instead be looking at Scotland-in-EEA.  It is doubly hard to campaign for an outcome with that level of uncertainty.  It is in our interests for rUK to remain tightly bound to the EU.

What is the Peoples Vote really about?  Well, I don't think it's really about having a 2nd EU referendum.  There are no available mechanisms for there to hold a 2nd EU referendum before the UK exits the EU by the automatic process of law.  We can look to parliament all we like but the political capital and collective competence required to legislate for a referendum that undermines the "will of the people" is simply not there.  The outcome of the Peoples Vote campaign will be to shift the Overton window so that the general public starts to think that a clean break from the EU might not be such a smart move after all.  Despite the debacle in Edinburgh, they're actually doing a great job.  This is important because the "will of the people" mandate will expire on 29 March, 2019, when the UK formally leaves  the EU.  Parliament ought to feel able to re-exert its authority after that date.  We need to remember that the future UK/EU relationship is undecided. Discussions will only begin after the UK actually leaves the EU and enters the limbo of the standstill arrangement provided for by the Withdrawal Agreement.  There is a real chance that the UK enters a semi-permanent standstill arrangement that will solidify over the passing years.  This is exactly what Yessers want for all the reasons I described above. This outcome is more likely if campaigners successfully seed a public meme that it is ok to change your mind.

What is the ideal outcome for Yessers?  Indyref2 right now depends on the UK departing the EU.  After all, this is exactly the red line laid down by the First Minister.  She made it clear that Scotland has to choose between UK and EU membership.  The UK will almost certainly leave the EU. As a consequence, there is a political requirement for Scotland to have a say on its preferred outcome. The problem then is that independence becomes so much harder if rUK substantively exits the EU.  Our ideal outcome is that rUK formally leaves the EU but remains forever in its orbit. The Peoples Vote campaign is helping to make that happen.

Foreign policy is a brutal world.  It involves doing things you don't want to do in order to achieve higher priority goals. We may find the Peoples Vote campaign bizarrely rUK-centric but they are actually helping us achieve our higher priority goals. There is no point in deriding their tactics if the outcome is to your liking. To do so would be stupid and childish and short-sighted. Ignore them if you want, politely point out that their message plays badly north of the border, spend your time on other activities.  But saying that you won't participate in a 2nd EU referendum?  For fuck's sake, that is mindless idiocy.

Over and out,


PS Too angry for a pop video today.  Next time.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Echo's Answer

How's that campaign for another EU referendum going?  Not that any one asked me but I'd say it's going pretty well. The people behind it are doing a great job.  It's gaining real traction among Labour's membership, MPs and the general public.  It's certainly no longer a taboo. It is, however, something that leaves me in two minds. Let's find out what's bugging me, even though nobody asked.

The Peoples' Vote campaign are keen to point out that they are not suggesting a rerun of the 2016 referendum. Leavers, of course, have a valid argument when they say that a rematch is hardly democratic.  This time the referendum will be on the final settlement negotiated by the UK and the EU.  The Peoples' Vote campaign proposes that the choice ought to be between the final deal and Remain.  It sounds sensible at first but when I found out that people like John Redwood suggested this back in 2012 something started to gnaw away at my brain. What's wrong with this suggestion?  Quite a lot, as it turns out. We're going to learn that John Redwood is a certified idiot.

What is the point of having a referendum?  In a representative democracy the point of having a referendum is to let the people decide what parliament cannot.  Scottish independence is a good example.  Westminster does not have a mandate to make decisions about the future of Scotland because it represents the whole of the UK rather than a single component country.  The same is true of the recent referendum about appointing English city mayors. What else might parliament not be mandated to decide?  I suppose we might look at fundamental constitutional questions like how the public vote for MPs. The question now is whether Westminster should be throwing the final deal to the demos.  To answer that we need to look at the final deal.

What exactly is this final deal that everyone bangs on about?  Well, to be honest, there isn't very much to it.  In fact, its main function is to provide for a continuity of the UK's commitments.  The Withdrawal Agreement makes provisions for citizens' rights, it details the ongoing financial commitments the UK made to the EU budget and it lays out a set of minimum requirements to uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the all-Ireland economy.  Any real contention is limited to the standstill arrangement that will hold the UK in the EU's orbit until December, 2020.  There is nothing new here, certainly nothing that falls outside the reponsibility of Westminster. The final deal is symbolically important but the details ought to be meat and two veg for MPs.  If Westminster feels unable to make a decision about the contents of the final deal then it should throw open every decision to a public vote. 

The problem with the final deal is that it isn't the final deal.  The final deal will only emerge in about 5-10 years time, long after the UK has departed the EU. It will be insanely complex and will cover almost every area of our lives.  To be honest, I don't think there ever will come a point in time when we stare at a document and label it "the final deal". Even if that did happen, I'm not certain that asking the people for their comment is a particularly good idea. If Brexit taught us one thing it's that a sizeable chunk of the UK has no idea how their own country functions and no interest whatsoever in the rest of the world.

Let's imagine that enough MPs agreed that another EU referendum would be a good idea?  What would they do?  Well, they would push primary legislation through Westminster to hold a referendum. But what sort of referendum? Hmm. This is where it gets tricky.  As an example, there's been a lot of legitimate complaint that the franchise was too limited last time.  It failed to give the vote to UK citizens abroad and to EU citizens in the UK. There's an obvious inconsistency in that the franchise was based on neither residence nor citizenship but a weird mix of the two. This needs resolved, even though the people who messed it up last time  remain in charge of the process.

Let's try hard to imagine that the buffoons in Westminster get their shizzle together and solve the franchise question. What next?  They'll need to choose a date. It will need to be a date before the UK departs the EU.  Nobody thinks this is possible on the current timetable. Parliament will need to pass a vote forcing the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the A50 process.  In case anyone hasn't noticed, parliament is not able to make this kind of bold decision any more because it feels compelled to serve the "will of the people".

How's your imagination quotient getting alone? Please try hard, summon up your reserves.  Let's suppose that our brave MPS sort out the time limitations and the government successfully negotiates an A50 extension with the EU. I don't know about you but I'm flagging now. Onwards, let's carry on! The next job will be to legally provide for a fair and democratic referendum that avoids the cavalcade of lies and corruption that we saw last time. To do that they will need to recognise the problems of 2016. Leave MPs will need to admit to themselves that they are prone to telling lies, that they cheat, that Leave campaigners channeled Russian money to distort a democratic event, that the data privacy of UK citizens was compromised, that racism and xenophobia were dominant campaign instruments. The poor poppets are going to be emotionally exhausted with all that self-awareness going on.  Even if they recognise all of that they will need to proceed to rigorously legislate against a repeat. Crucially, that means that the outcome needs to be legally contingent on the democratic standards that lead to it.

There's a bit more work to do with the outcome of the referendum.  Will it be advisory or will it be binding?  If the referendum is advisory and Remain wins we'll just end up exactly where we are today:  the poor loves in Westminster will be in a right tizzy about what to do. As a consequence, the referendum will have to be binding, subject to legal challenges on campaign standards. What are the chances of that happening?  Hmm, close to zero.  We're going to end up with another advisory referendum followed by months and years of cowardly indecision.

Despite everything I just wrote, I support a second referendum.  I need to be honest with myself and recognise that it will be a rematch, that it will be every bit as dirty as the first. We will retread exactly the same arguments as last time because the arguments for leaving and remaining are the same today as they were in June, 2016.  It will be a dirty referendum filled with lies and racism and corrupt money because parliament is unlikely to do anything to prevent it and is anyway so completely useless that any attempt it does make will just make matters worse.  Leave will reckon they can win second time round.  After all, they overturned a bigger majority last time than the meagre few percent loss they are faced with today.  They will set out to win it using every dirty trick they can muster.

I'm not selling this second referendum very well.  It sounds perfectly awful, doesn't it? Why do I support this charade?   Well, I support it because I worry about my elderly parents in Scotland and what the calamity of Brexit means for their well-being.  I support it because I no longer care about the democratic voice of Leavers too ignorant to understand numbers and words, too obsessed with white English identity to make a rational decision.  I support it because it simplifies the question of Scottish independence. I support it because Brexit is a calamity implemented by a government intent on calamity. I support it because Parliament has abandoned reason. I support it because it can be won. I support a second referendum because there is nothing to lose. 

Over and out,


PS I can also support it because the probability of having to deal with the moral conundrums of a 2nd referendum remains vanishingly small.

PPS The distance of the "final deal" is surely the source of the First Minister's prevarication on holding an independence referendum.  Maybe this should be a separate post.