Sound and Fury, Indicative of Nothing

“Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century: Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others; Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected; Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it; Refusing to set aside trivial preferences; Neglecting development and refinement of the mind; Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.” – Cicero

I write this on the eve of what would have been the UK’s departure from the UK. As it stands, there is still no actual plan on how to do so – though a recently negotiated extension has pushed the cliff edge out to April 12th. I didn’t realise just how prescient my “dystopian Brexit” mini-fiction was going to be when I wrote it last year. The UK Government still doesn’t have a clue how it wants to cut through its own red lines.

Incidentally, CGP Grey recently posted a good video illustrating the same paradox as I did but with shinier illustrations.

One interesting thing has happened though. Parliament, as exasperated as everyone else is, decided to “Take Back Control” from the Government and yesterday held a series of “Indicative Votes” in which the Parliament came up with a list of 15 possible options for Brexit (of which, the Speaker chose 8), and then they held “free”* votes on each of them.

*”Free” in the sense that some of the parties only whipped for or against some motions and the Cabinet were whipped to abstain on everything.

And the results of the Indicative Voters to check to see if Parliament, rather than Government, could come with an option that could command majority support? Well, in true Brexit style…they couldn’t.

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Exporting Scotland

“Trade negotiations are exercises in mutual self-interest. They are not power plays, or coercions” – David Davis. Former Brexit Secretary.

The annual ESS report came out last week and – as is traditional in Scottish politics – it was pounced on by those eager to make a quick headline out of the numbers. When statistical reports like this come out it’s always better to take a bit of time to dive a little deeper into them and to discuss the details that can often be far more interesting than those initial headlines.

The Carta Marina showing some of Scotland’s important trading partners in the 1500s.

First though, we should talk a little about what ESS is and what it measures (as well as what it doesn’t measure). Continue reading

That Was 2018

Bliadhna mhath ùr.

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Light and dark, land and sky in perfect balance. As all things should be at the turn of the year.

This year past has been one of the most rewarding I’ve experienced so far but also one of the most challenging. Principally, my colleague Ben’s moving from Head of Policy at Common Weal to Editor of CommonSpace led to me taking on the joint role of Head of Policy and Research and taking on roles in the co-ordination of various lines of policy work with various groups and volunteers who having been working with us in addition to the six policy papers I have personally authored through the year.

This doesn’t include the various newspaper articles and media appearances in which I’ve represented Common Weal nor my ongoing and extremely enjoyable Policy Tour in which I have visited pro-indy political party branches, Yes groups and, of course, Common Weal locals all over Scotland. I don’t have an exact count of how many talks I’ve given this year but I think I’ve been averaging around three per month. (I’m already taking bookings for 2019 so if you’d like me to visit your group, give me a shout)

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Withdrawing Agreement

“Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.” – Sir David Frost

I was preparing this week to talk about the “Meaningful Vote” in the House of Commons which would have ratified or rejected Theresa May’s woefully inadequate Brexit deal.

A parody timeline of the Brexit negotiations. An incomprehensible tangle of flow lines point to scenarios such as "We're screwed", "Bring back Nick Clegg" and "Jacob Rees-Mogg as PM".

But things have progressed somewhat since I started planning that post. In a direction not necessarily to the advantage of the UK government. Theresa May, Strong and Stable, took her deal from the table.  She started into the face of the humiliation of losing a vote possibly by a triple digit majority and ran away to try to renegotiate with the EU – who have already said that renegotiation is not possible. If it turns out that they were not entirely solid on that principle, then they’ll surely exact a high price for any changes.

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As Many As Are Agreed

“No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.” – Dominic Raab in his resignation letter as Brexit Secretary.

I pity the journalists who have to do this kind of thing for a living. Especially the ones who have to wait several hours before seeing their article in print. A week is a lifetime in politics. Today, an hour merely felt like one.

BrexitAgreement

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has finally been agreed between the EU and UK negotiating teams. It has also been agreed by the Cabinet of the government – albeit only “collectively” (read: not unanimously – merely by majority. Rumours speak of an 18-11 vote). It now needs to be passed by the UK and EU Parliaments and then it’s done. So…what could go wrong?

So, what’s in it and what has happened

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Transition Timelines

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” – Denis Waitley

Robin McAlpine wrote an interesting article for his CommonSpace column this week. In it, he congratulates the response to the SNP’s National Assemblies especially the response of the attendees to our own campaign for an independent Scotland to establish a currency by day one of independence. Having spoken to the Common Weal activists who were there for us, and from my own experiences talking to groups around the country, I know how overwhelming the feeling is in favour of our position.

The Ideas Board from the Edinburgh National Assembly.

This is not to say that the feeling is unanimous though and a significant line of questioning is arising around Common Weal’s policy around the area of what this means for the transition period between a successful independence referendum and the formal date of independence. Some have voiced concern about our plan to take a full three years from the referendum to build the institutions that we need before becoming independent. So I want to lay out precisely why we have proposed this by contrasting it with other proposals on the table. I certainly wish to refute any claim that we’ve been somehow misleading in our campaign by trying to hide or downplay our three year timetable. After all, it’s right there on paragraph one of page one of our book How to Start a New Country (which you can buy or download for free here).

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Demanding Supplies – Supplying Demand

“There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside” – David Davis, October 2016

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” – Apocrypha, commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette

I hesitated to write this article. Why, shall become clear in the reading but the short version of it is that this is not just a sensitive topic but the mere act of talking or writing about it may provoke the negative effects discussed.

The artifact warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I am talking about the recent stories that as we enter the “kinetic phase” of Brexit, beyond which any meaningful control of the course can be made, it is looking increasingly likely that the negotiations will conclude without a deal. The UK’s own red lines are insurmountable and are themselves incompatible with the EU’s red lines.

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