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.


  1. Kangaroo says
    A well balanced comment and whilst I agree totally, I still find myself on the side of those who want those f*ckw*ts to go back to the where they came from.

    Spittin chips.

    Terry we are #DissolveTheUnion and then we can do what we like. England can do what they like. I suspect they will quickly reconsider their position once the effects of #Brexit become clear to the man in the street.

    1. Thanks!

      I don't want it to get to the stage that people need to quickly reconsider. The man on the street is my Dad (who voted Remain). I don't want his supply of medicine to dry up. I don't want to be stranded at an airport. I don't want EU citizens to be left wondering if they can legally work. I don't want any of this. Brexit is bigger and more imminent than indyref. I think it is morally right to do whatever it takes to stop it from either happening at all or from happening in any substantive way. That includes holding our nose at an ill-judged demo because the bigger picture is in our own national interest.

      I've seen quite a few #DissolveTheUnion tweets. I don't really know what to make of that, to be honest. The call is always for the immediate dissolution of the union. It's a good slogan but taken literally it is actually quite frightening. Do people mean it literally? I think they do but I might have missed something. Taken literally, it will result in the calamity of a disorderly Brexit. It will in fact represent a disorderly Brexit for Scotland because we would be immediately out of the EU without being able to participate in the standstill arrangement in the Withdrawal Agreement. I'd guess about 1/3 of voters in Scotland could be swayed either way. This kind of thing will terrify them.

      I realise I am very boring. I am averse to risk. I want legal continuation and regulatory order. I guess my htag would be #OrderlyNegotiatedSettlementLeadingToIndependentScotlandInEUWithUninterruptedTradingAndCulturalLinksWithRUK It's never going to catch on.

  2. "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."

    That message does not actually play so well in the rUK, just not as badly as in Scotland. The tone-deafness of PV's organisers does not bode well for their ability to reach Leave voters.

    They appear to be just roaming around the most pro-Remain bits of the UK. Cardiff, 60% remain. Liverpool, 58%. Edinburgh, 75%. London, 60%. Preaching to the converted. Only two of over a dozen events have been in leave-voting areas(and both of those were ~51%).

    Honestly, it seems like nobody in charge there has any strategical skills. In order to mount a proper campaign for a People's Vote, they had to focus on two types of areas:
    1) Tory voting Remain areas, to persuade Tory MPs - essential for HoC progress!
    2) Leave voting areas, to most effectively shift public opinion

    If they are indeed recycling Better Together's techniques or an "evolved" version, then they ARE colossal idiots. Those tactics saw No lose significant ground. The only thing holding them back from total defeat is the utter incompetence of the government.

    I do think that "no deal" is a damned near-certainty now. That it always was and is the real intention of the UK government to shred the present social order in the UK and reshape it into something else. Just like Thatcher's brutal reforms, only this time there won't be any oil bonanza to cover it.

    1. You make a great point - it does strike me that inexperience is a key feature of PV. Having said that, I'm not sure that targetting Leavers is going to get very far. Polling tells us that almost nobody has changed their mind. The small swing to Remain is explained by people who didn't vote last time opting for Remain with a 2:1 ratio. Perhaps this is the tactic of PV. I honestly don't know.

      Having said all that, they've taken something that was pretty much a taboo and turned it into a frenzy of activity. Newspaper headlines are now talking about this, people are talking about this, there are petitions with 500k+ signatures. It must be in the minds of MPs as a way out because a good number now openly support it. That was unthinkable just 12 months ago.

      I think the chances of a 2nd EU ref are next to nothing. If Parliament had the savvy make it happen we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. There is no way the buffoons in Westminster are going to save us now. I think this is the key of PV. If something bad happens, like a disorderly Brexit, people will start to think that they should have been asked. They'll feel that they were denied a voice at a crucial moment. That leads us to all sorts of opportunities to drive MPs to a particular kind of Brexit that is purely cosmetic. When the "will of the people" expires on March 29 this all becomes a real possibility.

      So, I guess PV are laying the groundwork for a change in direction at any time, either before or after Brexit day. They're not going to go away after the UK leaves the EU.

      I look at "no deal" Brexit and it turns out I still maintain a misplaced residual faith in our institutions. This can't happen, surely? Yet that is the current trajectory. If we carry on there will be capital flight, Sterling will drop significantly further, there will be a run on the banks, there will be headlines of NHS patients running out of medicine. In saner times this would bring down any government, never mind the weak leadership we have today. We don't live in saner times. We're right to worry. That's why I'm sympathetic to PV's aims. Right now, Brexit is so much bigger than indyref2.

    2. "In saner times this would bring down any government,"

      Exactly. Yet it hasn't.

      I think they really will let "no deal" happen. Approval ratings will go really low, but what can anyone do? No snap election unless May, the DUP or ten Tory MPs want one to happen. They get to stay in until 2022.

      That's what the snap election last year was really about. Buying time to paddle away from the wreckage of Brexit and restructure the UK as they please. Then they'll say "Oh no, we shouldn't rejoin the EU. It will be as disruptive all over again."

      And that's why a number of independence supporters(myself included) are starting to realise that the People's Vote is a load of shite. Under present management, all they will accomplish is to block IndyRef2 by the simple virtue of spending the rest of this parliamentary term "building support" for their second referendum... after 2022.

      If we're going to escape Brexit Britain, the moment might well be mid-to-late 2019, before the disbelief has worn off, acceptance sunk in and reluctance to trigger any disruption builds.

    3. I think we're not quite at the point where the government could be brought down. That point is market panic, which is some way off yet. I still can't (won't?) believe that we'll get there and if we do it won't be for long. Brinksmanship can only go so far with a slim majority. I don't know what will happen because extraordinary events are hard to predict and plot but I think something will happen to stop "no deal" Brexit. I obviously can't explain this or justify it beyond the vague notion that political problems have political solutions and we, the public, expect them to be found.

      If there is EURef2 it would likely happen in 2019. The EU will not be prepared to hang around with an A50 extension for longer than the bare minimum. Indyref2 will not happen in 2019 because the SNP have done hee-haw about making it happen. We're all looking for a party conference announcement in October but that would be for a spring 2020 indyref. There is no way that it could be legislated before then. To be honest, I don't think there will be an announcement. There are no signs or hints this is going to happen.

      Given that there is no indyref2 on the horizon, I don't understand why Yessers are so against EURef2. Imagine a huge meteor was heading towards Trump Hotel next week but the dust cloud would block the sunlight in about 18 months time and kill everyone. Scots Yessers would be jumping up and down with joy that Donald Trump would lose some precious real estate. It's in our interests to save Trump Hotel, no matter how unpalatable that may be.

  3. I agree, Alan. Indyref in 2019 or we are well and truly shafted by this proto-fascist England.
    Terry, I get what you are saying, and hope that a way of staying in close orbit with the EU can be achieved by the UK, but I don't believe it will. Like your dad I depend on medication which might not be available. Brexit may actually kill me.
    Does Boris Johnson care? I think not. It will just be another brick in his "blame the EU" construction designed to bring him dominance in right wing middle England.

    This is rather darker than my usual posts about licensed premises research. Sorry. I'm feeling very negative right now.

    1. I'm afraid that indyref 2019 is highly unlikely. Nicola Sturgeon should have started laying the groundwork for that in March, 2018. She actually started the process in March, 2017 but since then we've had radio silence on the subject. I get the impression she is being very cautious, waiting to see the outcome of Brexit before calling it. The outcome of Brexit won't be known in 2019 or 2020 or 2021. In fact, we're heading for another cliff-edge in December, 2020 when the standstill arrangement expires. Brexit is the gift that keeps on giving, adding confusion at every turn.

      The standstill arrangement is an opportunity for Remainers to influence the destination of Brexit. As of yet, the destination is completely up in the air. Moreover, the "will of the people" expires on 29 March, 2019. There will finally be a real opportunity to start influencing MPs through lobbying and public opinion. I don't think there is a real chance of EURef2 but there is a real chance that Brexit can be as soft as possible, perhaps purely cosmetic. This is what Peoples Vote are really doing. They are laying the groundwork for a more positive outcome by planting the meme that it is never too late to change your mind. We don't need this in Scotland because we voted Remain but we do need Peoples Vote or something like it to be successful. iScotland has the best chance with rUK firmly in the EU's orbit.

      I'm feeling negative right now, too. My twitter timeline is filled with conspiracy theories that Peoples Vote is actually a pro-Brexit campaign in disguise, that it is a "wolf in sheep's clothing", that it is Better Together reformed. Much of this is accompanied by a photo of Tanja Bueltjmann, a leading Peoples Vote campaigner but also a member of the SNP. I'm lost for words at some of this.

      I am left wondering what the SNP are actually doing. They are neither campaigning for indyref2 nor actively stopping Brexit. I want to see them doing one or the other. Any of the two will do, to be honest. But to do nothing? All eyes on party conference.

    2. As I understand it, Nicola has said that she won't take action (I'm guessing, at least in public) until the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is done, and we know what kind of Brexit is coming at us.

      This is on the basis that she has a mandate from the people (along with the Greens) to call for a referendum if there is a substantial change in circumstances, for example being taken out of Europe against the will of the Scottish people.

      If Brexit is going to be the softest of soft Brexits... Brexit by name only... she has no mandate from the people, and May will waste no time in telling her that... rightly. (OMG, did I just indicate that May would get something right? H E L P!)

      In theory the final deal between M Barnier and whatever he is called from England (I genuinely have forgotten his name) should be done and dusted by the end of September, 5 weeks away, so that it can go to all the governments in Europe that need to approve it during the last 6 months of UK membership (October-March).

      I wonder how much any of the member states (or their devolved parliaments) will alter Michel Barnier's agreement.

      Like you, I don't think that there will be a second referendum so close to the first referendum. If there were, there is no guarantee that the result would be different, although surely people must have sucked up the truth about the £350 million a week by now.

      A second referendum would be a dangerous step so close to the first. I could imagine civil unrest.

      But if WE want a second referendum on Independence, which we do, I don't see how we can reasonably object to people calling for a second referendum on this, however unlikely it is to happen.

      It is interesting though, that the organisers of these talks thought that it was appropriate to put up a trio of arch Brit unionists. Seriously it's another slap in the face for Scotland, or northern England as they imagine it. Has no one got the foggiest idea about how people feel in Scotland?

      Unless you want to piss off half the population, stop waving aprons in our faces, stop singing Rule Britannia and pushing how much we love Britain in our faces.

      A very good proportion of us don't. Indeed we quite heartily dislike it.

      In the meantime, because I have utterly no faith whatsoever in May and her useless team doing anything other than making a complete clutterfuck of the whole thing, I'm wondering how much of the grounds to give over to potato production...

    3. The PV campaign made a terrible error of judgement. I'm prepared to put this down to inexperience, naivety, lack of foresight. They just didn't think. It's downright annoying that it happened but the reaction to it has been even more truly disheartening.

      There are a good bunch of Yessers out there on twitter who see conspiracy in everything. They believe that PV is a unionist campaign, aimed at silencing Scots, deliberately engineered to put us in our place. A good chunk of this has taken a deeply unpleasant tone bordering on xenophobia and definitely spilling into harassment. I note with sadness that they chose to direct their ire at a woman rather than any of the men involved. I've lost count of the number of Yessers I've muted and blocked because of this. It's a knee-jerk groupthink reaction of the kind I usually associate with Leavers. Really, really grim to watch.

      There's another group of Yessers who see Brexit as an opportunity, not an existential challenge. They want Brexit to happen. If Brexit is stopped or limited in its implementation, they believe their world will end because it somehow lessens their claims to indyref2. I find this deeply cynical. It reminds me of the Socialist Workers in the 80s who encourage the poorest to vote Tory in order to bring about the conditions of revolution. It also reminds me of Rees-Mogg and his followers who see opportunity in Brexit. There are no opportunities in Brexit. It makes independence harder, not easier. It is morally right to stop Brexit no matter its outcome on independence.

      There's a real problem with the independence message at the moment. Nicola Sturgeon fired the starting gun, then swiftly stamped on the brakes. Her message now is that indyref2 will happen when we know the outcome of Brexit? Her mandate runs out in May, 2021. The UK will substantively leave the EU on December, 2020. Whatever deal can be arranged will be in place by March, 2020 for EU national parliament ratification. Our knowledge about Brexit will stop progressing after March, 2020. That is in 18 months time. The last indyref took 17 months. If she doesn't call this at the upcoming party conference then we are in deep trouble.

      It's time to start watching re-runs of the Good Life for tips on turning your back garden into a small holding. My tip is to have wealthy neighbours with a steady supply of gin.


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