Monday, June 30, 2014

The Curious Case of Mr Juncker & Mr Cameron



On Friday, Scotland had another right wing leader imposed on it that we did not vote for.  Yet the SNP lead Scottish Government and supporters of Independence were relaxed about this turn of events.  So what’s the script?

Current Commission President Barrosso with his sucessor elect Juncker
On the one hand the anointment of Jean-Claude Junker to become the President elect of the European Commission has put the cause of the EU back 20 years.  One reading of the European Elections – elections which were not about directly voting for a European Commission President as some people claimed –was that there is rising discomfort at the direction of travel of the EU.  The French National Front won in France, UKIP won here and there was a rise in the support for Eurosceptic parties on both sides of the political spectrum across Europe.  Except the pro-Independence movement chose to side with the Eurocrats and look at the headline figure  - that the centre right EPP group won outright – and chose to back their preferred candidate.

Of course, what Junker’s main Scottish cheerleader on Friday’s Good Morning Scotland programme, the SNP MSP Alyn Smith, failed to notice was that Junker’s own past is not encouraging for those of us looking for a more accountable & transparent EU.  The Finance & Tax commentator Richard Murphy has already raised concerns regarding Junker’s silence on the issue of transparency & accountability in business.  Murphy and also Private Eye have also highlighted Junker’s own actions as Prime Minister of Luxembourg.  As the Eye put it “Supporters of (Junker) should perhaps pause to examine the great man’s (sic) record of wreaking fiscal havoc across the continent  

The Eye identified companies such as Vodaphone, Glaxo, Tesco and Pearson as companies that route funds through Luxembourg as a means to…  er…  maximising their profits…  er…   Indeed Junker’s policy of financial deregulation has been coupled with an intention to resist transparency initiatives from the EU.  It was only since Junker left his post as Prime Minister that Luxembourg has signed transparency treaties with EU countries such as the EU, while ironically enough the European Commission has announced an investigation into the various tax deals offered by Luxembourg.  What is worrying is the trust the SNP and pro-Independence commentators like Iain McWhirter have put in Junker.  His opinion that the referendum is a matter for Scot’s coupled with his supposed willingness to not interfere has apparently been enough for pro-Independence supporters to forget that Junker is the wrong candidate at the wrong time and that there is something of a conflict of interest here.

So just why did the leaders of the 28 member countries go for a man who’s record goes against what is needed for the European Commission?  David Cameron.

I’ve blogged before about Cameron’s poor negotiating skills when it comes to European summits.  He memorably flounced out of a conference in 2011 when it was clear that the other 27 EU member countries were going to ignore his veto.  This time, he has been actively campaigning against Junker from the off with very little in the way of a plan or a “stop Juncker” alternative candidate.  Remember as well that pretty much any goodwill towards Cameron from other EU leaders will have been spent in December 2011.  What makes Cameron think that his fellow EU leaders would be disposed to listen to anything Cameron has to argue?

Cameron’s voice was not a lone voice on the British political landscape either.  Both Clegg & Milliband were against the appointment of Juncker.  If anything, it’s the SNP who are the lone voices here, in support of the self styled Eurocrat.  But its Cameron’s negotiating and campaigning that has isolated the UK, while his reaction to this outcome hasn’t endeared him to his detractors in Brussels.  For the next EU summit, it may well be preferable to send a 7 year old child in Cameron’s place for all the good he does at these summits.  The child would be less petulant too.

Rather than an expression of the democratic wishes of the European people, the anointment of Jean Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission flies in the face of the democratic wishes of the people of Europe.  If anything, this is the one thing that Cameron gets out of the whole situation if nothing else.  Unfortunately once again we have seen a demonstration of how unfit for the office of Prime Minister Cameron is.  In the meantime, we have seen the SNP continue to shoot themselves in the foot regarding the acceptability of right wing policymaking.  The pro-Independence camp’s acceptance of Juncker adds to the sense that as far as the SNP are concerned, EU initiated pro-Thatcherite policies are good while Westminster initiated pro-Thatcherite policies are bad.  The electorate look from the Westminster politicians to the Eurocrats and cannot distinguish between the two.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cyber-twats



There are moments in the independence campaign where you do wonder when the rest of the UK will catch up with the debate happening in Scotland or whether they’ll ever get it.  Then there are moments like last week where things are reported in the national media and you think “oh right,we’ve known this for about 5 years now…”.  So thank you so very much the London media for last week discovering the joy’s of the Cybernats.

There were two incidents that caused controversy, the coming off the fence of JK Rowling which garnered all of the London-centic headlines and the abuse suffered by pro-Union supporter Claire Lally which gathered half of the Scottish headlines.  Whereas Rowling’s abuse was more about her expressing an opinion and pro indy tweeters not exactly liking her decision, Lally’s abuse is not the story.

Wing's Over Scotland's new logo went down well with the lawyers...
Pro-Union supporters would like the story to be about the dastardly Cybernats and that they were clearly orchestrated by the First Minister’s media advisor Campbell Gunn.  Clearly…  except that the pro union parties have failed to come forward with any evidence of Gunn’s machiavellian deeds.  They are happy to repeat the allegation, but are shifty when talk of evidence comes about.  Gunn’s problem is that the allegation that he spread – that Lally was a relative of the former Provest of Glasgow, Pat Lally – came from somewhere.

That allegation originally surfaced in the house blog du jour for one eyed pro Indy supporters with a natty line in appropriating Laibach imagery, Wings Over Scotland.  In the current tradition of journalism, Gunn in likeleyhood read this on Wings and thought that it must be true, without checking whether it was true or not.  If Gunn does leave his post, it’ll be an expensive mistake to have not checked any sources.  It also obscures the story that pro-Indy supporters wanted to tell – that Clare Lally was not an ordinary mum but someone close enough to “Scottish” Labour to be an advisor to the Shadow Cabinet – hardly credentials for that “just come off the street” ordinary mother material.

The truth is that something doesn’t quite sit with Lally’s involvement, that pro-Indy supporters wanted to expose this and made a monumental balls up in attempting to do this, while intentionally/unintentionally (delete what you believe) flying the red rag to the "Cybernat" bulls.  That Guido Fawkes much much less talented 14th cousin 20 times removed (in the Claire Lally sense of course) Stuart Campbell is involved has hindered the Pro-Independence cause.  I’m not going to go into Wing’s contribution to this mess – especially as Stuart Winton does an excellent job of doing that on Think Scotland – suffice to say it’s a good job Newsnight Scotland finished a couple of weeks ago & that Scotland 2014 don't advertise blogs with warchests...

Whereas Lally was something of an innocent bystander, Rowling’s entrance into the debate garnered acres of media coverage while she got her not so subtle, and entirely accurate, barbs in about the pisspoor SNP lead Yes Scotland campaign – “there is a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyonewho is not blindly and unquestionably pro-Independence” was Rowling’s version of the reducer before describing nationalists obsessed with lineage as “getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste”.

The meat and potatoes of her arguments surrounded the economy, flagging up that it was the Union that saved RBS (bearing in mind that Salmond was supposedly pro-Light Touch regulation as well, but was certainly competing with Jack McConnell for cheerleading duties when RBS was attempting to buy ABN Amro).  Her conclusion should have been “The more I listen to the Yes campaign, the more I worry about it’s minimalisation and even denial of risks”.  Instead, while complaining about the lack of impartial and non partisan information – strange given that economists are notorious for their varying opinions on the same thing – Rowling quotes two pro-Labour and pro-Union stooges.

I’d never heard of Jim Gallagher until I came across him on Iain Dale’s show on LBC a week or so ago trying to convince the London public that the elected First Minister should debate with the appointed chairman of the pro-Union campaign group Better Together.  If readers of Wings are described as one eyed nationalists, the Gallagher easily fits the bill as a one eyed unionist.  Not the ideal candidate for impartial analysis of the situation.

Funnily enough, in his response to Rowling’s piece, Pat Kane in Friday’s Independent underlined Rowling’s argument about Yes’s reticence to talk about the economy by concentrating on her line about lineage and certain Indy supporters being “death eaterish”.  Kane flags up Gallagher’s less than impartial credentials, but sweeps past the arguments about “Sterlingzone” and talks of Scotland’s membership of the EU as being “inevitiable” – as if Spain, Germany or r-UK wouldn’t have motives to turn down I-Scotland’s application to join the EU (of course, if they did it would be no bad thing).

Neither person deserved the abuse they received, both people were simply putting forward their own beliefs – this is still a free country after all.  It’s the abuse that has become the story, and that is damaging the image of this campaign being vigorous but not descending into rancour.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Referendum Story So Far...



With the European Elections now done & dusted, with the Newark by-election and the final Queen’s speech of this parliament coming up today, all attention can now focus on next years Westminster Election…  except for viewers in Scotland where there is the small matter of the Independence Referendum in 16 weeks – with the official campaign now underway. 

The irritation at the referendum is at the mild stage at this moment, however depending on how the vote goes, you can see that irritation growing.  This is why the main Westminster parties are lining up to upgrade the powers Holyrood has.  Preferably I would have liked them to have done this because they realised how much of a balls up Calman was but ho hum…

For people fresh to the referendum, the campaign can be divided into two parts. The first part lasted from the start of the campaign until the Scottish Government unveiled their White Paper.  In that part the No Camp had a very strong lead, while the pro-Indy Yes Scotland looked weak.  There were several reasons for this.  The launch of Yes Scotland itself did not catch the imagination at all, while the SNP made several poor tactical decisions. 

Sturgeon’s assertion that, despite all of the application forms being for the United Kingdom,  Scotland would be (or as she put it “remain”) in the EU with all the T’s & C’s currently enjoyed by the UK has quite rightly been dismissed by most parties.  Most people accept that I-Scotland would have to submit it’s own application and negotiate it’s way into the EU, yet the SNP are insistent that we would carry on being a member “as we have been for the past 40 years”.  I’ve said before the common sense line here would be for us to aspire to be a member of the EU but that the choice would be for the Scottish people.

Similarly, the SNP’s idea of a “Sterlingzone” had attracted derision for most of last year, with claims that currency unions do not work unless there is some sort of fiscal pact – one which would drive a coach & horses through Swinney’s claim that independence would enable Scotland to have all the powers of a normal country (presumably he forgot to mention that it would also allow Scotland to surrender some of its powers like any country as well).

From the infamous launch of Yes Scotland at Cineworld Edinburgh onwards, that was the pattern.  So what has changed?  Towards the end of last year, the polls started to show a drop in support for the union.  However about the time of the unveiling of the White Paper, the polling figures for Yes Scotland started to go up.  This tightening of the polls is still marginal – 1 point here, another here – but there is still tightening.  Pro Independence supporters getting on to the front foot has helped (alongside the publication of the White Paper) but the biggest factor has been the mistakes made by the Better Together camp.

The starting point was the dismissal of the White Paper before anyone could be able to get through even the edited highlights.  It’s not as if Darling & co had advance copies like Robin Cook had of the Scott Report (into the collapse of the trial of the Matrix Churchill four).  The turning point though was Osborne’s “Sermonon the Pound” (© Iain McWhirter 2014). 

The message might have been that r-UK will not enter into a currency union with an independent Scotland, but it was delivered in such a cack handed style that reeked of attempting to bully the Scots into voting no.  It was also a message that was only delivered at that point in an attempt to put the referendum to bed early so that the Westminster parties could concentrate on the main prize – the keys to Number 10.  It did not need to be delivered at that point.  Portillo on the BBC’s “This Week” described the statement as “Economically sound…  but bad politics” & was spot on in doing so. That Balls & (Danny) Alexander backed Osborne’s stance looked even more like an attempt to bully Scotland into voting no.  Personally, I’m mystified at their stance.  Any accompanying fiscal pact to Sterlingzone would enable r-UK to limit certain taxes (which would mean an end to Salmond’s Corporation Tax pledge) and have a direct influence on the fiscal policies of a direct competitor.

That the Osborne/Balls stance lasted all of 7 weeks shows how short sighted their arguments were in the first place.  Yes, they are sticking with that stance but their credibility has been shredded thanks to “Deepthroat” (funny how we’ve not heard who that source is).  Since then we’ve had Labour re-iterate their agreement with Osborne over austerity and also seen them strive to be tougher than the Conservatives over benefits – all policy manoeuvres designed to win them votes for the Westminster elections but having the possible effect of undermining the message that we are Better Together.  Still, at least we have a Prime Minister that will move “Heaven & earth” to defend the union against those unruly separatists…  er… as long as it doesn’t interrupt his chillaxing of course.

When I originally called the referendum for “No” in 2012, I didn’t envisage that the “Better Together” camp would be as useless as “Yes Scotland” had been up to that point, though to be fair “Yes Scotland” didn’t indulge in foot shooting as sport.  I still think that Scotland will vote “No” though it won’t be as comfortable as it would have been had Better Together not lost the plot.  As we enter the final laps, the pro-Indy supporters may have the momentum, but still have it all to do to win the referendum.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Struggling Out Of The Crawling Chaos



You know, with all the praise heaped on the SNP and on to Salmond, you could be forgiven for thinking that the SNP don’t do duff election campaigns.  You’d be wrong of course, unless you’d forgotten “More Nat’s, Less Cuts” from the last Westminster elections.  Then there’s the one for the Euro Elections – “Vote SNP to keep UKIP out of Scottish Politics”.

To be fair though, the SNP really shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for an uninspiring campaign – all parties have been focused on polls in September and next May.  Every one of the televised hustings meetings spent all of the time discussing European issues filtered through the referendum.  This left the field clear for UKIP to take some votes here, break through the 5% barrier and win a seat in the European Parliament, just by focusing on free movement, or as UKIP put it "unlimited imigration".

UKIP are the undisputed winners of the Euro Elections UK wide.  Topping the poll on 27.49% of the vote and picking up 24 seats, the Westminster parties were wearing their wearying look of “oh no not again” with Farage and co.  Their taking of a seat in the Scottish contest succeeded in getting under the skin of SNP supporters who turned their fire on people who didn’t vote, on UKIP voters…  in fact on anyone but their own party.  A UKIP MEP undermines the SNP dual narrative that Scottish politics is different from UK wide politics because of the different Scottish sensibility and that Scottish People are universally Pro EU.  The first bit is true & really shouldn’t undermine that narrative that much, the second bit…  well that’s always been patiently rubbish and Sturgeon’s assertion that euro-scepticism is some sort of Right wing English disease should really be put to bed.

I also have an issue with blaming non voters for not voting.  As someone who chose not to vote 5 years ago, and couldn’t vote on Thursday, I can understand why people wouldn’t want to engage with arguments that essentially want you to vote to keep out another party without explaining why you should vote for them.  Rather than blaming these people for not voting, politicians would do better to find out why people are not voting.  Rather than look like one of the big winners, the SNP emerged as petty and frankly rather bad winners.

The First Minister probably has an eye on the fate of his Westminster…  er…  colleagues though.  Cameron’s Tories were long thought to be in for a bad night.  And so it proved, finishing third behind Labour.  Except they only dropped 4% and 7 seats from 2009, which in respect is not the bloodbath we were thinking.  Milliband’s Labour finished second, but it was a very poor second, with the London results and the Scottish results pushing then ahead of the Tories by the tiny margin of 1.47% and picking up one more seat than the Tories.  It’s more down to news management that Labour are perceived to have had a worse night than the Tories.  But both sides did not suffer the bloodbath handed to the Lib Dem’s.

The Lib Dems vote halved, their haul of MEP’s were all but wiped out, with Catherine Bearder the sole survivor for the South East region.  This was the Lib Dem’s worst result since…  well 2011’s Holyrood elections when more than half of their vote left them (both in the constituency and regional list vote).  Four years into the coalition, the Lib Dems appear to have now woken up to the disaster that has befallen their party and responded.  Unfortunately that response is in the style of Mr Bean.  The 24 hour news networks couldn’t believe their luck when Lib Dems appeared on television to critisise their leader and to call for his resignation.

The Lib Dem’s have the look of a party about to erupt into civil war, or at least they did until Matthew Oakshott was outed as the mastermind behind a series of polls that showed his pal, the former sage of the Lib Dem’s Vince Cable in the best possible light.  They also showed that the Lib Dems were on course to loose the Sheffield Hallam (of Nick Clegg) and Inverness (Danny Alexander).  Whether Oakshott’s resignation from the party lances the boil remains to be seen.  I do think that sooner or later, there will be a Labour circa 1980 style fall out between the social democratic wing and the Orange Bookers. 

What the worst leadership coup in British politics since the attempt to oust Brown in the aftermath of the last Euro Elections does tell us is that, if we didn’t know it already, Vince Cable is finished as a top ranking politician.  Now forever fated to be laughed at as the man that got so many things wrong in Government.  The brutal assassination of Consumer Focus and the sale of the Royal Mail to men that Cable himself would have described four years ago as spivs and speculators count as his… er… high points.

The Lib Dem’s were not the only institution who’s reputation took a battering.  Salmond’s attempted admonishment of Dimbleby during the results programme played well not just among pro-Indy supporters convinced the BBC’s coverage has been actively biased against their cause, but among Labour and Green supporters convinced that the BBC’s coverage has been too balanced in favour of UKIP at the expense of Labour and freezing out the Greens.  Labour’s council results were constantly talked down all through Friday, while the Greens complaint is that as a Left wing party sceptical about the direction of the EU their views have been ignored.  Salmond’s complaint was that this enhanced coverage of UKIP gave them more coverage that they would normally have received.  All are correct in their complaints as the Anglocentric media were simply obsessed with Farage and his crusaders for a much simpler time when men were men and women knew their place.  Watching Ian Hyslop’s series on people hankering after (and re-writing) the past reminds me of UKIP – hankering after a version of the 1950’s that simply never existed.

Looking forward, the Tories still have an awful lot of work to do to retain the voting share they won in 2010.  Labour still has an awful lot of work to do to convince the voters that they are an alternative government in waiting.  The Lib Dems have an awful lot of work to do not to implode.  And…  oh, yes there’s the small matter of the plebiscite in September.  The focus of the political classes can now fall on that referendum.