Greenland: Yes We Can

November 26, 2008

Greenland has overwhelming voted for more autonomy from Denmark in yesterday’s referendum.

Over 75% of Greenlanders backed the plan.
Just over 23% said no.
The turnout was around 72%.

I reckon that’s an impressive turnout given the dark Arctic winter days. Those in the north of the country must be coping with little or no daylight at this time.

Its a clear sign that the island is heading towards independence.

As I said in yesterday’s blog, the First Minister Hans Enoksen has a timescale of independence in 12 years time.

Others prefer a shorter timescale.

The former foreign minister Aleqa Hammond sees independence in 8 years.

And the head of the Greenland union SIK, Jess Berthelsen, sees it happen in 4 years.

The defeated unionists like the Democrats leader Jens Frederiksen and rebel Siumut politican Finn Lynge are now left arguing over the timescale and the feasibilty of independence.

Lynge in particular thinks that with only 57 000 people, Greenland cannot be independent. He said it was ‘impossible for an island with 50,000 to 60,000 inhabitants to become an independent state.’

‘There are simply too few of us to provide the personnel necessary to develop a viable state’.

The ex-First Minister Lars-Emil Johansen rejects that criticism. Echoing the slogan of Barack Obama he simply says ‘Yes We Can’.

Greenland is rich in oil, gas, gold, diamond and other minerals.

Scottish companies like Cairn Energy are keen to develop the Greenland oil and gas potential. It is now the largest oil company investing in Greenland with a total of 8 licences around the island. Greenland’s oil company Nunaoil has a 8% stake in those licenses.

Its part of the Greenland Government’s plan to diversify its economy which is currently largely based on the fishing industry.

And speed the path to independence.

The world’s current smallest states by population:

1 Vatican City 920
2 Tuvalu 11,640
3 Nauru 13,050
4 Palau 20,300
5 San Marino 28,880
6 Monaco 32,410
7 Liechtenstein 33,720
8 Saint Kitts & Nevis 38,960
9 Marshall Islands 59,070

Currently the population of Greenland would put it at no. 9 in the world.

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David Miliband: Bring it on!

September 22, 2008

The Sunday Mail is reporting that David Miliband will force a referendum on Scottish Independence if he becomes Prime Minister.

In an echo of Wendy Alexander’s ‘Bring it on!’ policy, the Sunday Mail reports that:

“Miliband’s camp believe she was right to call for an early vote.”

This is in stark contrast to Gordon Brown’s approach of denying that Wendy Alexander said she wanted a referendum, and instead await the Calman Commission’s proposals.

As Gordon Brown’s leadership looks increasingly shaky, it looks like David Miliband is already positioning himself for the role.

The longevity of Gordon Brown’s premiership is – according to which Labour source interviewed – dependent on

1. His conference performance.
2. The Glenrothes by-election.
3. The 2009 European elections

Given that the Labour conference is now upon us, there does seem to be a will among the delegates to try and provide a united front behind the Prime Minister.

There have also been reports that Labour’s own canvassing puts them 5 000 votes behind the SNP in the upcoming Glenrothes by-election. Some pre-emptive commentators are already remarking that Labour shouldn’t ditch Gordon Brown if they lose.

So will the European elections be the final nail in Gordon Brown’s Prime Ministerial coffin?

Will the Labour MPs want to wait that long?

And if David Miliband does become Prime Minister this term will he withstand the pressure – as a 3rd leader between General Elections – not to call a General Election? As I have noted elsewhere, it won’t be the first time that Britain has had three Prime Ministers in one term.

And if he does call a General Election; the way the polls are looking it will be a Conservative victory.

So, on one hand David Miliband wants to hold a Scottish Independence referendum.

On the other, it looks likely he would lose an ensuing General Election.

His willingness for a quick Scottish Independence referendum must then lead to one likely conclusion: that David Miliband has no intention of calling a snap General Election. On taking over from Gordon Brown, David Miliband would wait until the term finished in the summer of 2010 before having a (mandatory) General election.

His strategy must then be to become Prime Minister, hope for a Miliband bounce – that may be likely given how unpopular Gordon Brown has been in recent polling, although Miliband’s own poll ratings suggests otherwise – and pursue a quick Scottish Independence referendum; as the Sunday Mail puts it:

“It would give Labour control of the timing and wording of the vote because the referendum bill would be passed in Westminster.”

The control of the question may be critical to the outcome. (Although since the question has never been asked of the Scottish electorate it remains to be seen; we have only opinion poll evidence for this.)

Miliband must then hope that his carefully worded referendum question pays off in his favour and the Scots back the Union. He must also hope that the margin is conclusive and so derails the SNP.

He could then turn his attention to the Conservatives before the mandatory election of 2010. At which time he may have done enough for Labour to be re-elected.

There are a lot of hopes, ifs, buts and maybes in that strategy. Labour need to decide if David Miliband is really a better option than Gordon Brown. Gordon Brown’s strategy seems to be ‘keep going and eventually we’ll turn our fortunes around’. If Gordon Brown leads Labour to disaster in 2010, would this speculative David Miliband strategy be any better?

2010. Given that it is the SNP’s intention to hold an independence referendum in that year, it means that David Miliband’s ‘bring it on’ position must mean that he would have to be Prime Minister in 2009, otherwise how could he implement such a proposal?

And one last thing. How will David Miliband’s Scottish Independence Referendum sit with the Calman Commission and Liberal Democrat and Conservative partners? They have already endured Labour’s disdain at the hands of Wendy Alexander. The new Scottish Labour MSP leader, Iain Gray, says he is in support of the Calman Commission.

All of this just emphasises how divided and forlorn the Labour Party currently is.

Brown or Miliband? Calman or Referendum?

Labour needs to decide soon.

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Glasgow East and Independence

July 26, 2008

There has been a lot of talk regarding the Glasgow East by-election win for the SNP.

Most commentators seem to agree that it says nothing about the support for Scottish independence.

I disagree:

One report in the course of the campaign struck me.

It said that SNP activists were extremely encouraged by the number of Labour voters in Glasgow East – whether they switched or not – who wanted Scotland to be independent.

It also said that Glasgow East constituents gave the highest percentage of ‘Scottish’ as nationality on their last census return forms:- 96 % ; compared to only 4 % who thought of themselves as British.

People vote for political parties for a number of reasons.

For Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to assume that people who vote for them don’t want an independent Scotland are living in cloud cuckoo land.

(The reverse that all the SNP voters don’t want independence is true as well. Only a vast vast majority want independence! In the Glasgow East election for instance they no doubt picked up votes from unionists wanting the discredited London Labour Government out.

If unionists really believe that the SNP is a single issue party then they would need to believe that all the SNP voters want independence.

If not, maybe those who have actually read the SNP manifesto and discovered it wasn’t just one page long with the single word ‘Independence’ then maybe they would realise that a referendum is probably the best way of finding out true public opinion.

Of course, the convention given by unionists is that the SNP need at least 50% of the Scottish MPs in Westminster or a majority of MSPs favouring independence in Holyrood to make independence happen.

Whichever happens first – by weight of numbers or by referendum – is fine by me!)

Ah but what about the polls they say – clutching to some selective polls that says that Scots don’t want it.

Equally nationalists are just as guilty of clutching to their polls that say Scots do want it.

As with most polls on independence it depends on how the question is phrased. Here’s a guide to the poll results.

The truth is until that question is asked formally in a referendum we won’t even have a real measure of public opinion to go on.

Look at the dodgy polling results for Glasgow East for instance.

The last one from Progressive Scottish Opinion only four days before the result put Labour on 52% and the SNP on 35 %.

As you can see that poll was utter rubbish, given that the SNP have just won the seat!

Polls are wrong a lot of the time. Its a fact. If they weren’t we wouldn’t have expensive elections in this country – we’d just phone up a few hundred folk in the constituency and then appoint the appropriate MP, MSP or councillor. No need for hustings, election budgets, PR etc. but just a small dent in the phone bill.

Glasgow East shows that there is now no safe seat for Labour even in its west central Scotland heartlands.

The fact that residents considered themselves Scottish not British, and that many Labour supporters favoured independence made switching to the SNP all that easier.

For that reason alone, given a bit of good fortune and a SNP impetus to change things for the better in Glasgow East, it gives the nationalists a great chance to secure the seat in the next Westminster election.

Labour must now fear a domino effect in Scotland that could decimate them politically.

One of the reasons the SNP wanted a referendum in 2010 was to show just how well they could govern Scotland. Now that was a prime reason for the vote switch; a popular Scottish SNP Government versus an unpopular London Labour Government.

Now that the SNP have succeeded in Glasgow East, a former Labour stronghold held since 1922, it shows just how popular this SNP Government is.

Part 1 of the plan accomplished.

Part 2 is the referendum.

And all this unionist claptrap of neverendums is just that. Claptrap!

They quote Quebec as a place of neverendums. Quebec has had two referendums for independence in its entire history. Once in 1980 and again in 1995. That’s it. Neverendums? Claptrap!

They quote John Mason when he said “When you are asking someone to marry you, sometimes you have to persist.” on his view on referendums – if – and thats a big improbable if – the SNP lost the 2010 referendum.

What do they think he was going to say?

“Oh well, we’ve lost a referendum, might as well disband the SNP!”

Cloud cuckoo land again by the unionists.

All that would mean is that the SNP and the other independence parties would need to try harder to convince people.

The issue might be kicked into the long grass for a while, but the political football will always return to the field of play so long as there are nationalists on the park.

But that’s all conjecture.

Right now, the nationalists are cruising the political match, banging goals in for fun. Unionist team captain Gordon Brown has done nothing but score o.g.s!

Glasgow East has seen another unionist red carded and time is running out.

The Scottish Labour Party

June 22, 2008

Some time ago I wrote a blog about The English Labour Party which explained the anglocentric nature of the British Labour Party at Westminster.

The Scottish Labour MPs are seen as largely out of touch with matters in Scotland. It looks like all they want to protect is their little Westminster clique and their large salaries.

Yet the Scottish Labour MSPs are here in Scotland all the time. They see the rise of the SNP at first hand.

The fact that Gordon Brown is a hindrance to them cannot be overstated. His popularity as Prime Minister was recently polled at Labour’s lowest ever poll for a leader, lower even than Michael Foot – the previous lowest – who led Labour in the disastrous election campaign of 1983.

So even though Wendy Alexander’s U-turn on holding a Scottish Independence referendum was unexpected; it was an entirely sensible attempt to put some distance between an unpopular Prime Minister and his “Scottish mafia” of Westminster MPs and the Scottish Labour MSPs.

For a while Gordon Brown’s denial then Wendy Alexander’s reinsistance of the referendum policy, it looked like the Scottish Labour MSPs had finally had the courage to stand up to Westminster.

Stories were circulated that the previous Labour First Minister, Jack McConnell, had wished that he had picked fights with Westminster. Maybe if he had then we wouldn’t have had the spectacle of Patricia Hewitt, then the UK Health Secretary, brought up to Scotland to help in the Scottish Parliament elections of 2007, forgetting poor Jack’s name twice and having to be told by journalists of his name.

And that’s the problem with Westminster. Its run like it still owns the British Empire. It has no idea that the political world has changed elsewhere.

A Scottish Parliament. A Welsh Assembly. A Northern Ireland Assembly. “We’ll cede Johnny Foreigner that but we’ll still control the diamond mines and spices” is pretty much their attitude. Except in Scotland’s case for diamond mines read oil.

Thats why at a Scottish Parliamentary election, Westminster MPs are flown in to Scotland in order to fight the nationalist threat. They still think that they’re the big shots and give blessing on their local equivalents.

Hence a UK Health Secretary not knowing the Scottish First Minister’s name. “Oh yes. I agree with – whats our chap’s name again?”. How very Empire!

Its a pity that when the dust settled on Scottish Labour’s referendum policy – well I still not sure what that is, I don’t think they are either, but it should mean they’ll abstain when the vote comes to Parliament – it seems that they are back towing the party line of Westminster.

Forget the facts that the whole episode was badly handled, a PR nightmare, and because of several U-turns a political suicide note for the Labour Party; it could have been so much more.

What a wonderful opportunity missed to distance themselves from a failing UK Government. It could have given the Scottish Labour Party a real boost in the public’s mind as not doing everything Westminster want. For once they might have looked like they stood up for Scotland.

They might have just challenged the SNP’s authority as a party that always fights Scotland’s cause.

Now they just look like lapdogs.

Political truths

June 8, 2008

Frank Field, former UK Minister of Welfare Reform, has issued this dire warning to Gordon Brown and the British Labour Party in today’s Sunday Times.

“Unless Gordon Brown wrongfoots [Alex Salmond] by addressing the English question, and by holding a UK-wide referendum before Salmond has the chance to build up a head of steam, the break-up of Britain and indeed of the Labour party looks certain.”

His solution is for Westminster to hold a referendum on the Union. Not only does he want Scottish independence and more powers for the Scottish parliament but he wants England to have a say on whether the Union is to be ended and an option for an English parliament.

Having said all this he admits at the end of the piece:-

“The complacent view on Labour benches is that this question will simply go away. Such a laid-back attitude is unlikely to be reflected by English voters, who recognise the reality that the devolution settlement was never properly thought through. This halfway house was never going to work.”

The idea that the devolution settlement was never properly thought through is an erroneous one.

It was thought through. It initially achieved its purpose. Perhaps without it the Union would be in greater risk.

Labour had been the largest party in Scotland for years. It intended that to continue. To stop the SNP’s charge, it even allowed the Liberal Democrat idea of Proportional Representation to be used in the new Scottish Parliament. It knew that in a four party state, the SNP would be unlikely to get 50% of the vote; and that the unionist parties could always join up to stop the SNP gaining power. It held back the main Treasury controls to Westminster.

Hence it was a confident George Robertson who declared as Shadow Scottish Secretary:- “Devolution would kill nationalism stone dead”.

That statement has proved to be one of the most inaccurate and foolish quotes by a politican anywhere.

Labour won in 1999 and the SNP became the official opposition.

And led to one of Alex Salmond’s quotes being one of the most perceptive and easily seen:- “Oppositions have a habit of becoming governments”.

In a democracy that is the nearest thing to a political truth.

It is also why George Robertson’s assertion must also be inherently false. Any opposition in a democracy will have the chance to govern. It is in the nature of Governments to eventually make mistakes or become tired. That will always give the opposition a chance to govern.

In 2007, the SNP became the new Government.

And similarly an opposition that demands independence, must therefore eventually succeed. Eventually that party, at some stage, will have enough of the popular vote to push through its policy.

It is also in the nature of Governments not to cede sovereignty once it is achieved. Thats why no-one has heard of an independent nation or parliament voting for its non-existence without threat or bribe. That would never be in its national interest.

(The Scottish Parliament did so in 1707 after it MPs were bribed by the English. That gave rise to the lines by Robert Burns:-

We’re bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

The Treaty of Union joined the nations of Scotland and England (with Wales and Ireland), notionally a partnership, but one overwhelmingly run by England. Scottish sovereignty by right and tradition lies with its people, and although it has never been ceded, is usually ignored by Westminster as it holds England’s sovereignty. The UK’s (i.e England’s) national interest is paramount.

Sometimes though, our sovereignty is ascribed:-In the case of MacCormick v Lord Advocate 1954 (1953 SC 396), Lord Cooper stated that “The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law.”

Even arch-unionists like Michael Forsyth, then the Secretary of State for Scotland, ascribe to this view:-“we are sovereign within the Union and we can walk out any time we want”.)

Although I fully expect Westminster to throw all its might and dirty tricks to prevent Scottish independence – Gordon Brown has chillingly warned “I will do whatever is necessary to ensure the stability and maintenance of the Union” – once Scotland becomes independent I don’t expect bribery again.

The idea that Scotland once independent would willingly want to rejoin the UK must then be extremely unlikely to the point of being fanciful.

And that political truth shows another.

Independence must be in the best interests of Scotland.

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Advisory Precedents

May 28, 2008

There has been a lot of talk recently about the upcoming Referendum on Independence scheduled for 2010. Former Labour stalwart Brian Wilson has said that Holyrood has no power to hold such a referendum. That view frankly is tosh.

The proposed Referendum Question issued by the SNP in their manifesto has been carefully worded so that it meets the legal requirements of the current devolution settlement. Whilst Westminster legally retains ultimate control on Scottish independence within the devolution settlement, any Yes vote for independence by the Scottish people would surely force the matter. Not only would United Nations International Law be on the side of the Holyrood referendum result but the International precedents of the Kosovo and East Timor referenda Pro Independence results are strenously backed by the UK Westminster Government. If its good enough for Kosovo and East Timor it must be good enough for Scotland!

In practice, any Pro Independence result must be observed by Westminster. If they refuse to acknowledge the result then they not only would face International derision and sanctions but the democratic will of the people of Scotland would create such political tension to force its hand. In a such situation I would imagine the Holyrood Government would just declare unilateral independence anyway.

It won’t go that far, obviously. Westminster must observe the result. Better that and enter into negotiations with Holyrood regarding oil and gas revenues and Scotland’s share of the national debt. Under UN International Law, Scotland holds 95 % of the oil and gas of the UK. A unilateral declaration of Independence would see Scotland take at least that, perhaps 100 % and leave the UK to face a lengthy battle to get its 5% back. Also Scotland may just ignore the UK’s national debt entirely in such a situation.

Scotland and the UK don’t need to look very far for a precedent on Advisory Referendums. Denmark granted Greenland its own government in 1978, the law coming into effect from May 1 1979. Denmark retains matters of foreign policy in this arrangement.

Greenland remained part of the EU (then EEC) but it formally withdrew in 1985 after an earlier Advisory Referendum voted Against staying in the EEC. Although Denmark had retained foreign policy as part of the Greenland government arrangement, it recognised the Advisory mandate of the Greenland people. As argued with a Pro Independence vote for Scotland, it had little other choice.

This is also the precedent on Scotland remaining a member of the EU after independence. Like Greenland we would need to have a referendum on the matter if we wanted to withdraw.

Similarly, like Greenland, if such a referendum produced a No vote we would need a similar treaty like the Greenland treaty of 1984 to settle any pre-existing commitments Scotland had to the EU before any withdrawal. The EU does not lose it nations easily. There are reports that Greenland is now considering rejoining the EU again.

It may be that Brian Wilson will need persuaded of the Greenland precedent.  He has landed a job as chairman of Flying Matters; an organisation setup to promote the Aviation industry’s views on climate change. In reality, its partisan views are regularly criticised by various climate change groups. Ironically Mr. Wilson was a former Energy minister at Westminster.

It was in July 2007 that he became embroiled in a row with Greenlanders complaining that their views were ”apocalyptic green spin” when an Inuit representative, Aqqaluk Lynge, arrived to give evidence on the Stansted Airport expansion claiming the ice floes of the Arctic were being harmed by global warming, and that holiday aviation flights were one of the causes.

If Mr. Wilson wants to disdain Greenland or its precedents then his views deserve to be ignored.

Frozen out!

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