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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Fishing Lines

“Teach all men to fish, but first teach all men to be fair. Take less, give more. Give more of yourself, take less from the world. Nobody owes you anything, you owe the world everything.” – Suzy Kassem

A political declaration has been published jointly by the UK Government and EU which aims to take the first small steps along the very long road between where we are right now with the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement out to the final trade deal and future relationship between the UK and EU beyond the expected transition period post March 2019.

Others will go through the whole thing in detail with far more competence than I can manage. I particularly recommend Ian Dunt’s Twitter thread here.

I do want to comment on one are in particular because it has already caused more than a bit of a fight up here in Scotland and as it does a good job of highlighting the political divisions involved in Brexit in certain interesting ways. Let’s discuss fishing.

RS-HMS-Scylla-colllides-with-Odinn-Credit-Ian-Newton

The UK/Iceland “Cod Wars”: The UK is no stranger to getting into a fight over fish

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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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Excluding Growth

“Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist” – David Attenborough

I have a bit of a bugbear about the way many of us approach economics and the future potential of things like an independent Scotland. We focus rather too much on chasing after “growth”.

This focus permeates much of our thinking about the economy and what we should do to improve it. It frames our analysis of policy to the point where we can sometimes struggle to imagine any kind of alternative. “Growth is good”…even when it’s not.

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But we live in an economy where we have experienced near-constant growth for decades. We have not all been equal participants in that growth. Of the nearly $4.5 trillion added to global GDP between 2016 and 2017, 82% of it was captured by the richest 1% of people. The poorest 50% of people saw no increase in their wealth at all.

Faced with such rampantly growing inequality, there have been steps taken to try to, if not solve the problem, at least make a it more palatable to voters.

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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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We Need To Talk About: GERS (2017-18 Edition)

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” – Mark Twain

There’s no day that’s guaranteed to set the heather alight amongst Scottish political social media sects like the release day of the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report – also known as GERS.

GERS

I want to make one thing clear up front. No serious commentator now suggests that GERS can be used as is as a projection of the finances of an independent Scotland. My 2016 paper “Beyond GERS” shows some of the changes that would need to be made for this to be the case. But as a set of accounts for Scotland, the region of the UK, I’m content to use GERS as it is. Maybe improvements can and should still be made, but this is true for all statistical publications and the team behind the report do the best they can within their remit.

So what does this year’s publication tell us about Scotland, the region? Continue reading

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like GERSmas

A photo of the Scottish countryside. The sky is split between the moon and the night on the left and the sunset on the right.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
It’s on the news, you know.
The size of the deficit, is all that matters to it
No deeper in shall the headlines go.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
What will the numbers have in store?
To the rest of the UK, we compare ourselves today
It becomes a chore.

If a tax here is tweaked and everyone is freaked
imagine if they tried something more.
To reform all the land, make sure fracking stays banned
tax the rich till they’re sore.
But till we can then GERS we have and here it comes again.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
Here, again, we go.
The fight about all the stats, the guesstimates and the facts
Where we stand I doubt we’ll ever know.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
For calm, I shall now say.
Why don’t we have a truce, and not let Twitter run a loose
This GERSmas day….

Just this GERS-mas day.

Merry GERSmas everybody.

The Common Green logo comprising the words "The Common Green" above the Common Weal "balance" icon