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.

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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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Battening Down the Borders

The UK Government phoned me last night. They are getting that desperate. The Brexit negotiations are well past being called a “shambles”. It’s a constitutional crisis of a kind that the UK hasn’t seen in decades – perhaps ever. The government is simply not equipped to deal with this kind of thing. Iain M Banks coined a term for this. An “Outside Context” problem. An event where nothing in the subject’s frame of reference or prior experience can possibly lead them to a solution. Banks described this kind of problem as one that civilizations encounter only once and in the same way that a sentence encounters a full stop.

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But there is a solution to the Outside Context problem and that’s to expand one’s context. To find someone from outside one’s one cognitive bubble who can see the problem in a different light.

And so the UK Government phoned me. I don’t know if I was first on the list, or last, or anywhere in between. I don’t suppose it really matters.

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We Need To Talk About: The Growth Commission Report

If this is a discussion document – It’s time to start discussing it.

The Growth Commission’s long-awaited report is finally out and will surely take some time to fully digest. It has been described as a discussion document and a starting point for the revitalised case for independence; not the final word on SNP policy or national trajectory.

In many ways, the report covers ground now very familiar to campaigners in the independence debate. We’re all now quite familiar with the deep and systemic flaws of the UK’s economic system especially its regional inequality which, quite frankly, is embarrassing when compared to neighbouring countries in Europe.

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(Source: Eurostat)

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An Unequal Kingdom

“A system of government as close to federalism as you can have in a nation where one part forms 85% of the population” – Gordon Brown, 2014

The “F-word” is rearing its head again in Scottish politics. Federalism. An idea sometimes presented as a “credible” alternative to Scottish independence and a way of granting Scotland greater autonomy over its own affairs whilst maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, it’s also an idea that is rarely presented in any greater detail than that previous sentence.

Both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have flirted with this idea throughout their history and have been doing so again recently. In an attempt to raise the level of debate about this subject, I have just co-authored my latest policy paper for Common Weal with long-time constitutional activist Isobel Lindsay which you can read here or by clicking the image below. Isobel also has an article in the Sunday Herald which you can read here.

Unequal Kingdom Cover

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