“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” – John Steinbeck
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 →
“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
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.
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?
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.
“Perhaps the answer is that it is necessary to slow down, finally giving up on economistic fanaticism and collectively rethink the true meaning of the word “wealth.” Wealth does not mean a person who owns a lot, but refers to someone who has enough time to enjoy what nature and human collaboration place within everyone’s reach.” – Franco Bifo Berardi
This weekend will see the SNP conference and the long awaited vote on whether or not to adopt the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report as the party’s main economic strategy for an independent Scotland. After almost a year of discussing this document, the party will have their final say on whether or not to adopt it as party policy.
I have written tens of thousands of words of critique, commentary and policy work on this topic. There will be more to come between the time that this blog is published and the vote on Saturday afternoon. Much of it has been centred around currency and the macroeconomic policies. Here, I’d like to look at things from a slightly different lens. How does the Growth Commission reflect upon Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to introduce a Scottish Green New Deal?
“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.
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.
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 havepersonallyauthoredthroughtheyear.
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)
“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.
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.
“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.
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?
“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.
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).