And Then There Were Two

“It is likely that such a replacement will be from the Brexiteer wing. Rees-Mogg has ruled out a run for the job but I think he’d be happier as Chancellor of the Exchequer under his able deputy PM Boris Johnson” – The Common Green, November 2018

“Why PM Boris Johnson should appoint Jacob Rees-Mogg as Chancellor” – Bernard Ingram, June 2019

The Conservative and Unionist Party’s leadership contest has completed its first phase and has whittled the number of candidates down to two. These two will now make their case to some 120,000 Tory party members across the UK who will vote for their preference.

Once they have done so, Boris Johnson will become the leader of the party and, unless there is a general election, will become Prime Minister of the UK.

After the last three years of dismal Brexit jockeying the only thing that could have made this any more Brexit-y would be if the other person in the race had been Michael Gove. Then we could have relived that picture of the two of them standing at their “victory” press conference with that “What do we do now?” look plastered over their faces.

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But alas, Gove was knocked out by two votes and the other contender is Jeremy Hunt. And that look may have gone but believe me, the question hasn’t been answered.

So, with the caveat that my last attempt at a Brexit prediction failed badly because of my assumption of rationality and basic competence, let’s try and answer it. What will PM Johnson have to do once he takes the helm?

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The Centre Could Not Hold

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
– From “The Second Coming”, W. B. Yeats

The UK has completed the exercise in democracy that it wasn’t supposed to have. After almost three years of choosing to spectacularly screw up the attempt to leave the EU, the UK Government took a rightfully earned kicking. The principle “Opposition” party, Labour, also could not come to terms with its own ambiguous position on Brexit and was also pummelled. The UK has joined the ranks of many countries around the world where the balance of power has shifted from the comparative centre of the Establishment to the more radical fringes. We’re living now in interesting times.

EU Map

Source: BBC

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How Scotland Votes: A Guide to the European Elections

Disclosure and Disclaimer: Whilst I am politically active and an active member of the Scottish Green party, this post is intended to be objective and politically neutral. This is a guide on how to vote, not a blog to try to convince you to vote for or against any particular person or party.

This is a blog that even up to a few weeks ago, I did not expect to have to write. The UK was originally due to leave the EU before this point and as of the current situation, has the right to leave at any time if the UK parliament can ratify the agreed Withdrawal Arrangement. Even now, at this late stage, there is a possibility that this blog will prove redundant. But as things stand, a deal is looking unlikely and it is almost certain that the UK will, possibly for the last time, take part in the European Parliamentary elections on the 23th of May.

If you are unsure on how to vote – not who to vote for, unsure about how to actually cast your vote – then this blog is for you and is a continuation of my long running series which has also covered the UK General Elections, The Scottish Parliamentary Elections and the Scottish Local Authority Elections.

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Source: Flickr

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The Final Countdown

“We’re leaving together,
But still it’s farewell
And maybe we’ll come back
To earth, who can tell?” – Europe

We’re finally there, after delay and shambles, at the day of the “Meaningful Vote” on May’s Brexit deal. I’m about to commit that cardinal sin of political commentary and analysis and actually try to make a prediction about what happens next. May my desk soon suffer not as it has.

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Source here.

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How To Break A Democracy

“Elections remind us not only of the rights but the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.” – Robert Kennedy

There’s a tweet being shared around Scottish political Twitter advertising an event on October 23rd. Australian company Clearpoll going to be holding an opinion poll on Scottish independence but are doing so in an intriguing way. They are offering a blockchain-based mobile phone app that, they claim, could be the first step in a revolution in how we approach voting. Instead of having to go to a ballot booth, one could simply press a button on your smartphone, secure in the knowledge that your vote will be transfered and counted without the vulnerabilities to hacking and spoofing that occur in other forms of electronic voting.

An advert by Clearpoll for a "blockchain powered mobile vote on Scottish independence" on October 23rd.

First of all. I’m not going to tell people to not take part in this poll. If that’s your thing, go for it. If you want to help test an upcoming piece of technology, by all means.

But I do want to voice my concern about this kind of technology making its way into our democracies. They are vulnerable enough without adding something that, if done badly, could break our voting system entirely.

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unDemocracy

“I think it would be a good idea” – Apocrypha attributed to M. Gandhi on his being asked what he thought of Western civilisation.

The UK Government’s handling of Brexit continues to be veer somewhere between being a shambles and a criminally negligent disaster.

From its position on customs which remains something like “We have no idea what we want and we’re damn sure we’re not going to lift a finger to plan for it.”

Through its tearing away from anything even remotely connected to the EU – including Euratom (which means good luck running a nuclear power plant or obtaining a medical radiological), the Gallileo satellite system (to which the British response was a petulant “We’ll build our own…somehow”) and fundamental human rights which protect us all from the whims of governments that act a bit like the current UK one does.

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Senatus Populusque Caledoniae

(Apologies if my scant Latin has mangled that translation. If someone corrects it, I’ll see about writing it out 100 times on the walls of the Palace.)

It seems that all news is canceled this week. All of it. There’s nothing happening. Our state broadcaster (which is totally unlike other state broadcasters in that when it promotes its state’s national interests, this is a good thing and not the most hideous evil to ever despoil the airwaves) has told us that the only thing of note happening anywhere is that someone is marrying someone with Magic Blood.

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This is to be a ceremony that we’ll all proudly take part in, by which they mean that we are to pay for it, despite not even being invited to the party. We’re not even getting a day off work because that would apparently cost too much.

Those in power are definitely not going to use this event to sneak out the devastating news that benefits are to be frozen again this year – that’s effectively a 3% cut after adjusting for inflation. I’m certain that they’ll be bending all effects towards sorting the gaping holes in the UK VAT system which allows more than £1 billion to be evaded every year.

They absolutely wouldn’t be cutting HMRC’s budget by £400 million per year RIGHT before the UK is going to leave the largest Customs Union in the world, would they?. They certainly would be breaking ground on all the new checkpoints and infrastructure that are going to be needed. The department should be awash with capital spending in preparation, shouldn’t it?

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They certainly wouldn’t big up their having done some furiously detailed groundwork on the impact of Brexit when they hadn’t actually done any such thing and were just hoping that no-one would ask to read them…till they did.

The UK has some seriously skewed priorities and it goes from the bottom right to the top of the structure of governance. Scotland needs to have a good, hard discussion about what role it plays in all of this.

The Scottish Parliament already has a far fairer voting system than the one used for UK elections (despite the comparative complexity of the former) but should we take the step of becoming an independent country then we’ll have to have a think about some other levels of government too.

I’ve already said a fair amount about the state of Scotland’s local government so today I’d like to look at what we’d want to do ABOVE the level of the present Scottish Parliament.

For instance, we may well decide to create an Upper House to scrutinise legislation but what we absolutely shouldn’t do is copy the UK method of stuffing it full of Lords and paying them to sleep off their hard day of…doing what ever they do for £300 a day.

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Far better would be a Citizen’s Assembly. Think of it as Jury Duty writ large. We’ve already decided that the best way to determine if someone has transgressed our laws is by a jury of randomly selected citizens so we could easily set up a method by which randomly selected citizens can determine if the laws themselves are just, fair and easily understood.

And for above that? How do we represent the nation of Scotland to the world?

If you had asked me in 2014, I would have said that I didn’t really mind too much and was pretty content with the Scotland’s Future plan of keeping the monarchy in the same way that Canada and Australia have.

But I’ve shifted somewhat since then. I’m not sure I’d really welcome the appointment of a Governor General as Scotland’s nominal Head of State nor am I completely clear on what duties they would actually have in practice. The First Minister already does most of the Head-of-State meet-and-greet stuff when folk come to Scotland and it seems a little strange for that to stop.

Nor do I want a restored and separate Scottish monarchy. Again, I’ve no time for someone to tell me what to do by dint of their divine appointment or Magic Blood even if Scotland does maintain a tradition of the Scottish Monarch being subordinate to the people of Scotland. Nor should a country professing to be a democracy pride itself on  its locking citizens out from ever obtaining any governmental office even in theory.

So, if we choose to have an official Head of State separate to the First Minister then it’ll have to be an elected President and that seems straightforward enough to arrange.

Though we still need to have that discussion about what we want them to DO. As said, the First Minister already does most of the Head of State meet-and-greet stuff when folk come to Scotland so we’re faced with the choice of either actually empowering our Head of State and giving them executive controls like the power to veto laws, sign their own legislative orders or other such powers (i.e. similar to the President of the USA) or we continue to have a head of state with a ceremonial role but little actual power.

And as I think on it…whilst I think it would be an upheaval too far to actually empower a Head of State, I don’t think I feel so enthused about swapping an unelected but powerless leader with an elected but still powerless leader. It just doesn’t feel as if it’s a decision rooted in the practical. On the other hand, I’m somewhat nudged by the argument that a Head of State separate from the government may be able to say and do some things without constraint by that government (though it’s noted that our current monarch maintains a “strict” rule against saying anything at all unless they think they can get away with it).

But maybe I’m wrong.

So help me out here. What would you want from a Head of State of an independent Scotland? How would someone gain that position? And what kind of person would you expect to see in the role?

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