“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it without a sense of ironic futility.” – Errol Morris
This article was previously published on Source under the headline “The UK is Pooling More than it Shares”.
You can also read my previous work on GERS on this blog behind the following links: 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19.
In many ways, this year’s GERS report marks the end of an era. It’s not that the report itself is going to change drastically or that we’ll finally reach the point of independence where we can stop moaning about how independence is impossible/necessary and that our fiscal position is fundamentally strong/weak and improving/declining compared to the rest of the UK (delete as per the report’s figures and your personal political position). It’s more that the Covid-19 crisis has completely changed the way that a state’s finances work. This year’s GERS report does include the initial measures implemented in response to Covid but only the initial responses up until the end of March. The full impact of this unprecedented fiscal year shall not be felt until the GERS 2020-2021 report next year.
We’ve entered a new era in which almost everything in government will be judged either as “Before Covid” (BC) or “After Covid” (AC). The assumptions that governed our economy have changed. Spending plans have changed. Priorities have changed.
But until then, this final GERS report of the BC era largely just repeats the arguments already well rehearsed in previous years.
“The wizards, once they understood the urgency of a problem and then had lunch, and argued about the pudding, could actually work quite fast. Their method of finding a solution, as far as the Patrician could see, was by way of creative hubbub. If the question was, ‘What is the best spell for turning a book of poetry into a frog?’, then the one thing they would not do was look in any book with a title like Major Amphibian Spells in a Literary Environment: A Comparison.” – Terry Pratchett, The Last Hero
In Part One of this series, I laid out the reasonable options that Scotland could pursue in order to demonstrate the democratic will for independence. There have been some murmurings of a potential “Plan B” to supersede the “Plan A” of a sanctioned referendum by Section 30 order so as to circumvent the current barrier of Boris Johnson simply saying “No” everything time we ask for one.
In that article, I referenced Pete Wishart who has expressed his objection to any “Plans B” and has since written his own blog post outlining some of the same challenges as I have identified – albeit without also challenging the limitations of the “Plan A” approach. I strongly encourage folk to read his article in conjunction with my own efforts and to start discussions in earnest about which option you prefer AND how you’d like to see the challenges addressed.
To greatly summarise my own Part One, I found that all of the reasonable options bar the “Plan A” of a sanctioned referendum cannot be blocked simply by dictat from Westminster BUT in addition to individual challenges unique to each of those Plans, they all suffered the common problem of not having an automatic mechanism of bringing the UK Government to the table to accept the results and begin to negotiate independence. On the other hand, “Plan A” – which DOES have that mechanism via something like the Edinburgh Agreement – suffers from the problem that Westminster can ensure that the vote itself doesn’t take place. The effect is the same in all cases. Until Scotland can put pressure on the UK Government to accept the Plan and the results, we are not going to become an independent country.
In this article, I’m going to draw again from Common Weal’s strategy paper Within Our Grasp to look at various ways that Scotland could ramp up the pressure on the UK Government until they agree to recognise our independence.
“There is always a choice…Or, perhaps, an alternative. You see, I believe in freedom, Mr Lipwig. Not many people do, although they will of course protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all others are based.” – Havelock Vetinari, Going Postal.
You would have thought that Lockdown would have opened up more time for me to look after my blog but instead Common Weal dove headlong into its busiest session of policy-making we’ve ever seen. Between pushing for more effective Covid strategy, analysing the impact of the pandemic on the Scottish economy and launching our post-Covid reconstruction plan I’ve been writing everywhere BUT here.
But most of that has now been completed and I’m currently on holiday which means that instead of writing about politics for work I now get a little time to write about politics for FUN!
Over the next few blog posts I intend to lay out what I see as the main strategic block on the development of the Scottish Independence campaign. Namely, a focus on developing “mandates” for another Scottish independence referendum rather than working out how to actually get one, where to go if one doesn’t happen and what to do after one happens.
This kind of thinking is long overdue but in the absence of it coming from the Scottish Government I’d like to offer my own thoughts and analysis to and for the sake of the independence movement.
Substantial parts of this series will be drawn from Common Weal’s strategy for gaining independence Within Our Grasp which you can read here.
“It is fear that reinforces the walls we build, people are afraid to be swayed from their convictions, afraid to question their moral instincts and expose themselves to ideas that may challenge the fabric of their entire existence, but what are we if we are not seeking to better ourselves?” ―
We are entering a new phase of the independence campaign. One in which “mandates” are traded against each other – propping each other up more than they are trying to topple the other.
One in which the bounds of the constitution must be challenged rather than worked within.
One in which the “status quo” is no longer the answer to “change” nor is it even on offer.
One in which the nature of the debate becomes ever more existential rather than aspirational.
The idea of a 2020 independence referendum is all but dead with even the First Minster now looking more towards a post-2021 election victory to bolster her own mandate even where the UK Government has already committed to ignoring it.
This isn’t going to be a fight won by legal battles (though a clarification on the UK’s constitution would be welcome) nor by wagging votes at each other.
Meanwhile, Scottish politics itself is suffering as the two major cleaves running through it (Yes vs No and Remain vs Leave) have dealt a crippling blow to the designed “collegiate” atmosphere that the Scottish Parliament was supposed to be founded upon.
Some might hope that a more gradualist approach to independence will get us there, even if it really does take waiting a lifetime. But between the impending climate emergency and the sheer unlikelihood of the other parties changing their minds on their own, I don’t think this is a wise approach.
Common Weal recently published a strategy document aimed at using the sheer power of the Yes Movement as well as the substantial bloc of SNP MPs in Westminster to start to apply pressure on the UK Government – to first mock and embarrass them then to ramp up and slowly bring their ability to govern Scotland to a halt until and unless they accept the inevitability of Scottish independence.
How about we add another tool to that box and start to bring pressure on the Unionist parties themselves? Could we even do this from within? Could we give them the nudge that we need?
“The mistakes that have been committed in foreign policy are not, as a rule, apparent to the public until a generation afterwards.” – Otto von Bismark
At 2300 GMT on Friday 31st January, I will no longer be an EU citizen.
My citizenship, and all of the rights, privileges, protections and responsibilities that it entails, have been stripped from me as a result of a narrow vote three and a half years ago followed by three and a half years of pissing about, general incompetence and an unwillingness to listen to any but the most hardline radicals who practically wallowed in their ignorance of the EU and how it worked.
I accept the “will of the people” in their instruction to the government to leave the EU but this is a very different proposition from accepting how that will was discharged.
Had the Brexit process been conducted competently, then that would have been easier to bear. Instead, we have a litany of self-inflicted disasters piling up with no shame and even no sense of self-awareness on the part of those doing the piling. It’s enough to make one smash their face against their desk.
“To discover strategy is to fulfill mandate” –
On Sunday Politics Scotland this morning, the new Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack shifted the goalposts again. The 2014 independence referendum has now been declared a “once in a lifetime” event and that even a pro-independence majority in the 2021 Scottish elections or even an outright SNP majority in those elections would be insufficient grounds for him to grant Scotland his permission to self-determine our form of government.
He went even further than this extremist position by stating categorically that he believed that it would be “absolutely unacceptable” for Scotland to hold any such referendum at a time of its choosing and under our own terms – effectively attempting to apply a veto to the Referendums Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament recently.
I think we should have a look at this Tory attempt to stifle Scottish Democracy.
“In contradiction and paradox, you can find truth.” – Denis Villeneuve
On Saturday I, like a hundred thousand others, attended the All Under One Banner march in Edinburgh. I was struck by a couple of observations about the crowd beyond the sheer size of it.
“Fact be virtuous, or vicious, as Fortune pleaseth” –
It’s that time again! The annual GERS report has been released and interested parties continue to analyse, pick apart and spin the numbers as required. And my now annual tradition of diving into the numbers continues with another installment.
You can read my coverage of GERS 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 behind those links.
You can read the report and download all of the data tables for this year’s report here.
“Don’t bargain yourself down before you get to the table.” – Carol Frohlinger
At the weekend I gave a talk to Yes Edinburgh North & Leith on the subject of splitting the UK’s debts and assets in the event of Scottish independence. It was based on my 2016 paper Claiming Scotland’s Assets and my recent episode of the Common Weal Policy Podcast but during it someone asked a very interesting question that I’d like to explore here. What happens to Faslane and the UK’s nuclear weapons when Scotland becomes independent and what is the prospect for Scotland “renting” the base until things can be moved elsewhere?
“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” –
Theresa May, in one of her last acts of power before abdicating as PM and turning over to either Boris Johnson or (perhaps) Jeremy Hunt has made a surprise announcement of a trip to Scotland to launch a “review of devolution” in the UK by Lord Dunlop – who was Head of Research within the Conservative Party during the Thatcher era and worked with David Cameron to formulate the UK Government’s strategy against the 2014 independence campaign.
Details of the review will be published on Friday but the early press release doing the rounds today has said that it will not “review” powers already devolved to the Scottish parliament and other administrations but will instead look at reserved areas to determine if they are still functioning optimally in the face of the changing politics of the UK and the last few rounds of devolution since the 2014 independence referendum.
This story comes in the same week that the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Lib Dems are having an almighty temper tantrum at the thought of the Scottish Government running a round of Citizens’ Assemblies on various issues including the topic of independence. Elected MSPs have even been encouraging a boycott of these Assemblies by Unionist supporters, seemingly not quite understanding that those who abstain from democracy lose the right to complain about the results of it when it happens without their input.
I won’t “empty chair” democracy. I won’t be disengaging from this devolution review but will instead offer some thoughts on it and speculate about what it might discover if it chooses to look. Continue reading