Eyes north to Greenland

November 25, 2008

Today is the day of Greenland’s referendum on wresting more powers from Denmark, in a move that is seen as a precursor to full independence for the Arctic island.

Greenland flag

A yes vote would see key economic powers move from Copenhagen to the Greenland Parliament and decrease Greenland’s dependence on the annual block grant of 472 million euros it receives from Denmark.

Greenland would also take control of its oil resources and mineral wealth, although the current referendum deal leaves the possibility of a Danish share when annual oil revenue exceeds $12.6 million. Estimates say north east Greenland might have around 30 billion barrels of oil and gas. Climate change is making access to those resources much easier and cheaper. One report quotes a Greenlander looking forward to having a wine industry in the near future!

Greenlandic would be recognised as the country’s official language. It is spoken by the vast majority (around 50 000) of the population.

There are only around 57 000 people in Greenland. Around 39 000 are eligible to vote in the referendum.

A ‘yes vote’ is widely expected. It is said that about three quarters of the voters are already decided on voting for more autonomy.

The expected change in autonomy will then be implemented on the 21st June 2009; the day instigated a few years after devolution in 1983 as the National Day of the country. It also voted that same year to leave the EU in a referendum, having previously joined as part of Denmark.

The First Minister of Greenland, Hans Enoksen, supports the ‘Yes vote’.

He expects that with more fiscal autonomy the demand for full independence will increase.

“Agreeing on self-rule is the only road forward,” he said, pointing out that “the Greenlandic people have wished for many years to be more independent.”

He set out his timetable for full independence:

“Greenland will be independent in 12 years … for my 65th birthday.”

Other politicans share this broad timescale. Lars Emil Johansen, one of two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament, says he dreams the day will come by 2021, in time for the 300th anniversary of Denmark’s colonisation of Greenland.

“Of course we can be the masters of our own destiny and fly on our own wings”

His advisor Hans Jakob Helms agrees:

“Home rule was a compromise,” Helms said. “It’s a simple fact that home rule has reached its limit and there’s a need for more room for self-government.”

Around 300 years of a political union? The parallels with Scotland and the rest of the UK are striking. And similarly to the planned 2010 referendum in Scotland, the Greenland referendum is also non-binding. However the Danish Government will respect the wishes of the Greenlanders.

And like Scotland, Greenland has its own Unionist doubters of independence.

The Greenland Democratic Party are against further devolution – they are campaigning for a ‘No vote’ – and against full independence:

Palle Christiansen, the political spokesperson of the Democrats, who are part of Greenland’s opposition, warned against hurrying the process, noting that ‘self-rule brings with it more than just oil revenues.’

Christiansen cited the administration of judicial affairs as just one area which would incur major costs on the Greenlandic government.

And a minority of members of the Siumut Party have openly dismissed talk of independence, much to their party’s disgust:

“Greenland will never be an independent state,” Finn Lynge recently stated, much to the dismay of his Siumut party, which is part of the government coalition and strongly in favour of a “yes” vote in the referendum.

Its not great times for the government coalition. It may be falling apart under scrutiny from the Greenland Audit Commission, which might result in the referendum result becoming a springboard for a subsequent snap General Election in the country.

“There are only between 50,000 and 60,000 of us living here in geographically and climatically extreme conditions. With such a tiny population it is impossible to provide the human contributions needed to turn Greenland into a modern and independent state,” Finn Lynge said.

Greenland has many social problems like alcoholism and a high suicide rate.

“No one can build an independent state on heavy drinking”, Finn Lynge has stated.

So will the Unionists win the day?

Will the credit crunch and the example of their neighbour Iceland’s financial troubles persuade the Greenlanders to vote against further powers for their Parliament?

We’ll all need to wait and see.

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Republicans and Hurricane Gustav

September 1, 2008

Hurricane Gustav makes its way steadily to Louisiana.

As New Orleans is being evacuated and response teams are put in place, it strikes me that this time George Bush is learning from his mistakes over Hurricane Katrina.

But will Hurricane Gustav make the Republicians reassess their stance on climate change?

John McCain has at least made encouraging noises in the direction of tackling the situation. Then he goes and appoints as his Vice Presidental candidate a woman who believes that global warming is not man-made and has an appalling environmental record in her home state in Alaska.

A clear sign that he is pandering to the hard right of the Republican party.

This just smacks of a continuation of the Republican environmental policy instigated under George W. Bush. The defining environmental policy of Bush’s government was a refusal to sign the Kyoto agreement that introduced emission targets.

So do I think the Republicans will reassess their stance? I suspect not directly.

What may make the difference is that these Hurricanes affect the oil price in the United States, as they cut off oil production in the U.S. gulf coast.

Unfortunately, it may take a few of these hurricanes before America finally gets the message on climate change. By that time the global oil price could have sky rocketed and the U.S. may well have made more environmental damage by drilling for oil in environmentally sensitive areas in its lust to keep its oil price low.

As climate change becomes more pronounced, hurricanes and other weather phemonema will get more dangerous.

How many of these extreme hurricanes will New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf coast have to endure before Republicans take the environment seriously?

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Georgia and the oil hungry Crocodile

August 10, 2008

In my last post I suggested that it wouldn’t be in Russia’s best interests in the region if South Ossetia was independent.

Paradoxically though they are right behind the South Ossetians in their bid for independence.

Its not really a genuine wish for their self determination. A genuine South Ossetian state that wasn’t pro-Moscow like Georgia would be another nightmare for Russia, opening up tensions in its own ethnic Caucaus regions.

Its nothing more than the old divide and conquer strategy.

That’s why the Abkhazia and Ajaria independence movements are also sponspored by Russia. Purely to destabilise Georgia, nothing less.

If it was only about South Ossetia then why are Russian planes bombing Georgian cities? Military tactics or an excuse to bring Georgia to its knees?

Russia does not like Georgia’s pro-Western stance. Their attempt to join NATO.

Georgia is seen as the epitome of an former Soviet republic embracing Western philosophy.

The New York Times has this appraisal:

“It’s scarcely clear yet how things will stand between the two when the smoke clears. But it’s safe to say that while Russia has a massive advantage in firepower, Georgia, an open, free-market, more-or-less-democratic nation that sees itself as a distant outpost of Europe, enjoys a decisive rhetorical and political edge.

In recent conversations there, President Saakashvili compared Georgia to Czechoslovakia in 1938, trusting the West to save it from a ravenous neighbor.

“If Georgia fails,” he said to me darkly two months ago, “it will send a message to everyone that this path doesn’t work.”

During a 10-day visit to Georgia in June, I heard the 1938 analogy again and again, as well as another to 1921, when Bolshevik troops crushed Georgia’s thrilling, and brief, first experiment with liberal rule.”

“You should understand,” Mr. Saakashvili said, mocking the Europeans who urge forbearance on him, “that the crocodile is hungry. Well, from the point of view of someone who wants to keep his own leg, that’s hard to accept.”

The Georgian President’s analogy of Czechoslovakia in 1938 when Hitler invaded – on the pretext of liberating German citizens – was also reinforced by the Swedish Foreign Minister:

“Attempts to apply such a doctrine have plunged Europe into war in the past… And we have reason to remember how Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of central Europe,” Bildt said.

“We did not accept military intervention by Milosevic’s Serbia in other Yugoslav states on the grounds of protecting Serbian passport holders,” he added.

Poland and the Baltic States are also on the side of Georgia in the conflict:

“The EU and NATO must take the initiative and stand up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy in the east of Europe,” leaders of the four countries said in a joint statement.

“The Russian Federation has overstepped a red-line in keeping the peace and stability in the conflict zone and in protecting Russian citizens outside its own borders,” the statement added.

Again from the New York Times:

“Marshall Goldman, a leading Russia scholar, argues in a recent book that Mr. Putin has established a ‘petrostate,’ in which oil and gas are strategically deployed as punishments, rewards and threats.

The author details the lengths to which Mr. Putin has gone to retain control over the delivery of natural gas from Central Asia to the West.

A proposed alternative pipeline would skirt Russia and run through Georgia, as an oil pipeline now does.

‘If Georgia collapses in turmoil,’ Mr. Goldman notes, ‘investors will not put up the money for a bypass pipeline.’ And so, he concludes, Mr. Putin has done his best to destabilize the Saakashvili regime.”

Already we are seeing problems with the oil supply.

Azerbaijan has now cut off their oil exports through Georgia.

And it is now reported that Russian jets have bombed the main oil pipeline that runs through Georgia to Turkey .

Here’s an old map showing the oil routes in the area. There are two oil pipleines shown in Georgia. The largest oil pipeline (on the map as planned) is now in place and runs straight through to Turkey. Its run by BP and is the one that is reportedly bombed.

Oil routes in Georgia

And wouldn’t Russia like the Georgian oil pipelines in their control!

You have got to feel sympathy for the South Ossetians, their capital Tskhinvali lying in ruins.

I’m reminded of the attributed words of Calgacus, the Pictish warrior, who said of the Romans attempting to invade what is now Scotland:

“They make a desert and call it peace.”

Wedge Politics

June 21, 2008

Alex Salmond has been accused of using wedge politics over Scotland’s oil revenues.

He has asked the UK treasury for a slice of the unexpected profit that the treasury has gained, given the high oil prices recntly.

Wedge politics is issuing controversial issues to split the opposition support.

In this case, for example, the wedge issue would be oil.

Many people around the UK have been complaining about the high price of oil. The SNP have suggested a fuel duty regulator – as the Treasury earns more money from the high oil price, it cuts other fuel dutys on oil slightly, thus giving our oil-dependent economy a bit of breathing space.

This idea has been taken up by several Labour MPs, chief among them Stephen Ladyman – mentioned before in this blog on The English Labour Party – the former Transport minister.

The other idea Alex Salmond has been promoting has been an oil fund for Scotland, much like the Norwegian model – again mentioned before on this blog Arc of Prosperity. This idea is not new, and again Labour MPs were supportive; Malcolm Wicks, UK Energy minister, speaking in October 2007:- “If you could replay history, the idea as in Norway of building up a national [oil] fund is actually quite an attractive one.” Of course now that Alex Salmond has once again raised the issue, the Labour Party is trying to backtrack on the issue.

The idea of an oil fund was first suggested by Gavin McCrone in his report of 1974. See my blog End Game for more on that.

Wedge issues or not, they prove that it is not just the public that is swayed by sensible ideas. Even opposition MPs can be swayed.

Wikipedia has these four aims of wedge politics when used against other political parties:-

1. A debate, often vitriolic, within the opposing party, giving the public a perception of disarray.
2. The defection of supporters of the opposing party’s minority faction to the other party (or independent parties) if they lose the debate.
3. The legitimising of sentiment which, while perhaps popularly held, is usually considered inappropriate or politically incorrect; criticisms from the opposition then make it appear beholden to special interests or fringe ideology.
4. In an extreme case, a wedge issue might contribute to the actual fracture of the opposing party as another party spins off, taking voters with it.

I would suggest that here only the first point is valid, although in this case the Labour Party were already perceived to be in disarray before the oil issue. Various disastrous election results and the ill thought 10p tax issue has already proved the point.

Politics like this have always happened the world over. The name Wedge politics and its formalising as a political technique, is based on an Australian immigration issue of 2001.

At the time, Australia was the target of shipbound asylum seekers. A distressed ship’s passengers were picked up by the Norwegian ship MV Tampa and 460 asylum seekers boarded.

The governing Liberal Party wanted to look tough on asylum seekers, the opposition Labour Party were largely in favour of more lenient policies. With public opinion on the side of the Liberals, the Labour Party leader Kim Beazley changed tack and also favoured the tougher policies. The Labour Party appeared split and thus lost many voters.

Wedge politics have also been used in the United States, where the Democrat party managed to split the Republicans on immigration issues in 2007; and in Canada where the Conservatives try and split the Liberal Party on gay marriage policies, and the Liberals try and split the Conservatives on bilingualism.

I suspect though that the SNP policy is not formulated by wedge politics. Scratch under the skin of the SNP’s policies and they all come down to one single thing. It was highlighted in Alex Salmond’s first speech as First Minister in the Scottish Parliament.

“I commit myself to leadership wholly and exclusively in the Scottish national interest”

It’s SNP policy to stand up for Scotland. Every issue, every time.

For the unionist parties, thats a tough one to wedge.

End Game

June 2, 2008

A Teeside oil refinery will be constructed starting the end of 2009. Handily just before the proposed 2010 referendum on Scottish independence.

Not only will it process 100 000 barrels of oil from the North Sea, but its planned it will also process another 100 000 barrels arriving by tanker from other OPEC countries. 10 million tonnes of oil will be processed each year. It will be close to the Petroplus Teeside refinery which mainly produces bio-diesel. (And has a history of oilspills!)

So it seems that England is already preparing for life without Scotland. And that fact shows that the Unionist parties know the game is up.

While some may peddle untruths about Scotland not being able to survive financially after independence, this shows the reality is England is being subsided by Scotland’s oil.

The McCrone report of 1974 details the impact of Scotland’s oil on the British economy. Its now over 30 years old and was continually suppressed by the Westminster Government. Scotland only learned of it after a Freedom of Information Act released it to the general public.

Its findings are damning.

Quotes from the report:-

“Britain is now counting so heavily on North Sea oil to redress its balance of payments, that it is easy to imagine England in dire straits without it.”

“for the first time since the Act of Union was passed, it can now be credibly argued that Scotland’s economic advantage lies in its repeal.”

Scotland would end up with a “chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree”

Scotland’s “currency would become the hardest in Europe with the exception perhaps of the Norwegian krone”

“Scottish banks could expect to find themselves inundated with a speculative inflow of foreign funds.”

With Scotland taking control of its own oil it was likely that it would result in an “impoverished England”

Iain Macwhirter in the Sunday Herald writes: “There is no doubt that the Thatcher governments depended on oil revenues to pay the cost of mass unemployment. Without the £250 billion that was pumped out between 1975 and 2005, the UK would have been an economic basket case.”

£250 billion in 30 years? We have nothing to show for it! Norway has a oil fund saved away worth £350 billion. Its bailing out Iceland’s credit crunch, as I mentioned previously elsewhere in this blog. Just because they’re mates and Norway can afford it. Today, the Scottish Parliament has the tightest settlement ever given to it by Westminster, with oil prices rocketing, and the Treasury raking in an extra £4.7 billion on top of what they usually get from Scotland’s oil this year. You couldn’t make it up!

The average life expectancy in parts of Glasgow is 54. Thats the real price of oil monies going to London, not Scotland. Its the lowest in Europe, and lower than Gaza (70), Iran (70) or Iraq (67).

Yet Glasgow has been electing unionist MPs for decades, presiding over the deprivation, not wishing to stop the flow of oil south.

Maybe its because Glaswegians don’t live long enough to know better.

But with the McCrone report published, the Glasgow and Scottish public now know the truth.

The report was suppressed to prevent Scotland becoming independent, and so that the south of England could benefit from oil’s financial rewards.

This new refinery shows how much England relies on oil. Expected to be finished around 2012 it may give a little respite to the Westminster treasury struggling on without Scotland’s money and the loss of 95% of its North Sea oilfields under UN law. The refinery proves North Sea oil is not running out any time soon.

It also shows that unionists are not confident of winning the referendum.

The Union is dead. And England knows it.

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