U.S. shocked by Scottish Independence?

October 2, 2008

The Scotsman has published a story saying that the U.S. would be shocked by Scottish Independence.

It is a rather shoddy piece of journalism. It mentions a ‘Sir Christopher’ leaving the reader to try and work out exactly who he was. (Sir Christopher Meyer?)

It also quotes Lord Kerr, former U.S. ambassador:

“If it were to happen, people would be stunned.”

I am more stunned at that statement.

The very nation who declared Independence from Britain in 1776 stunned at another nation’s independence from the UK? Half of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were either Scots or of Scots descent.

Anyone who looks at maps through time would see a gradual decline in the (British Empire) red countries around the world.

The map of the world in 1920

In fact, anyone who looks at a similar map today would need to strain pretty hard to see red. Apart from the British Antarctic Territory the rest of the red would be placed on small islands mainly in the Atlantic Ocean.

Today's map of the world

Islands like the Falklands (claimed by Argentina) and Gibraltar (claimed by Spain) and the British Indian Ocean Territory (claimed by Mauritius and the Seychelles). Places that without British sovereignty would be in territorial danger by other countries.

Pretty much everyone else from the 1920s map shown has declared independence from the UK.

So why looking at today’s map would anyone by ‘stunned’ by Scotland’s independence?

Sure, Scotland may have had a large hand in creating that Empire, but that imperial past is long gone. Its out of date.

Just like the Treaty of the Union.

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Conservatives and the Union

September 30, 2008

Just a couple of days after Gordon Brown was nicking SNP policies and passing them off as Labour policies in his conference speech, now the Conservatives do the same.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has just announced the Conservatives will introduce a freeze in Council Tax in England.

Of course, this successful SNP policy in Scotland was opposed by the Scottish Conservatives in the May 2007 Scottish election.

They argued for a reduction in council tax for pensioners instead.

Just how will they take the new Conservative policy in England?

And there is the rub.

No matter how much David Cameron says he believes in the Union, the Scottish Conservative Party and the UK Conservative Party are becoming more out of sync.

Of course, with devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland policy divergence between the Scottish branch of the Conservative Party (and for that matter the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party) and its UK counterpart is only to be expected.

And the longer devolution makes policy decisions that are only applicable to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the greater this policy divergence will become.

So it seems to me that it would be better for the Conservatives just to have done, and liberate their devolved partners and instead become the English Conservative Party.

This case applies more to the Conservatives who only have 1 MP in Scotland, and 3 MPs in Wales; than Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

That would leave the English Conservatives room to strongly argue the case for an English Parliament, or even ending the Treaty of the Union altogether.

It already has been the most dominant of the main parties giving proposals to try and answer the West Lothian Question. For example here and here and here and here and here are just some of the Conservative proposals. Yet English votes for English matters may just bring about the end of the Treaty of Union anyway.

And ditching its support of the Treaty of the Union could make an English Conservative Party the main party of Government in England for decades to come.

David Cameron may be against Independence for Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales now, but if the planned 2010 referendum in Scotland doesn’t end up with Scotland leaving the UK, he may find that Labour will once again regain control of the UK purely because of its Scottish and Welsh MPs.

And if the West Lothian Question has not been answered by then, the pressure on his party to change position may become unbearable.

Surely taking a long-term view it is better to change now whilst ahead in the polls and in a position of strength?

Right now, their professed support for the Union in words isn’t backed by their actions.

For example, their plans for a high-speed rail network that only goes as far north as Leeds.

Now David Cameron may say that he will run the line up to Scotland at a later date – he doesn’t say when – but I doubt it will convince Scots voters.

Again, a high-speed rail link was SNP policy, but obviously they planned for the service to go between Edinburgh and London.

The Conservatives need to come clean on their view of the Union:

They need to back up their words with actions.

Or will they steal another SNP policy? Independence?

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Settling the Act of Settlement

September 27, 2008

According to new reports Gordon Brown may be preparing to ditch the Act of Settlement, the centuries old English law that bans Catholics from being King or Queen. It was later included as Article 2 in the Treaty of the Union when Scotland lost its independence.

A move that has championed by Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond.

Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, said: “I welcome these moves. The Act of Settlement is an 18th-century anachronism that has no place in a modern 21st-century constitution. The SNP first raised the issue over a decade ago, the Scottish parliament united in 1999 to call for this long overdue reform, and I hope the prime minister follows through in early course.”

This is one of latest policy u-turns Gordon Brown has done, frequently stealing SNP policies in the process.

Cynics interpret that this is Gordon Brown’s attempt to try and shore up the Catholic vote for Labour, as its suggested that Catholics are leaving the Labour Party in droves. A blatant piece of electioneering to try and secure a fourth term when the policy will be put before Parliament.

Critics of the move suggest that ending the Act of Settlement may start a movement towards the disestablishment of the Church of England. The UK monarch is Head of the Church of England, and gives an Oath of Ascession to “maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government” in Scotland.

As a result the Church of Scotland is not a state church, as in England. It is entirely free and neither the Westminster or Scottish Parliaments are involved in the Kirk’s appointments.

The question is – how could a Catholic monarch be either the Head of the Church of England or give the Oath of Ascession to Scottish Presbyterianism?

Both would doubtless need to change.

It would see the separation of the Church of England from the state, as the Church of Scotland is.

And although, it is possible that a Catholic monarch could promise to uphold Presbyterianism, and leave the Oath of Ascession unaltered, its far more likely that a new Oath of Ascession would be more inclusive and tolerant to all religions.

Or even scrapped altogether.

For me, I would like religion and the state to be separate.

The Act of Settlement must go. It is an outdated discrimanating law. Not just to catholics but jews, hindus, muslims etc.

And agnostic and athetists. I’d much rather have an athetist monarch personally, I think that would be even-handed to all religions!

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Iain Gray wants pact with Conservatives

August 18, 2008

According to The Scotsman, Scottish Labour MSP candidate Iain Gray wants Labour to ‘team up’ with Conservative at Holyrood to try and beat the SNP.

Iain Gray
Scottish Conservative logo

They already have joined forces in the Calman Commission at Holyrood.

Currently the favourite to take over as leader, Iain Gray is the right wing candidate of Labour and has a strong pro-Westminster affliation.

Yet it is Westminster that is probably most against the plan.

Can they afford to have a pact with the Conservatives in Scotland and try to attack them in Westminster?

Wouldn’t that be another case of double standards?

And how would the few remaining disillusioned socalists react to such a pact? Or the trade unions?

For all that, I think for Labour Iain Gray’s idea of a pact with the Conservatives is worth considering.

For one thing, it is difficult to put a cigarette paper between Conservative and Labour policy these days. James Purnell’s draconian green paper on Social Security reform came from a Conservative think tank and went even further right in ideology than the Conservatives, for instance. Gordon Brown inviting Margaret Thatcher for tea and biscuits in Number 10 shows the Labour mindset.

For another, a pact with the Conservatives might finally lead to a coherent Unionist position in an attempt to argue for the continued existence of the union between Scotland and England. As I have argued before in The Tipping Point the lack of a coherent message means that as everyday passes the case for the union collapses among the electorate.

A Labour – Conservative pact might be the only way to save the Treaty of Union.

Whether it can save Labour in Scotland remains to be seen.

Westminster clouds the issue

June 7, 2008

Brian Donohoe, the Ayrshire MP – who controversially wants even more rain in the West of Scotland! – quoted here, has been recently explaining his views on why a list MSP should get less money than a constituency MSP in the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking on STV’s Politics Now show he argued that it seemed to him that the list MSPs do less work than their constituency colleagues, and there should be a two-tier system of MSPs in all but name.

One thing is striking about these comments. Mr. Donohoe has never been a Member of the Scottish Parliament; either as a list or constituency MSP. He is in no position to give an informed comment on these matters.

Gradually the conversation was brought round to Scottish MPs in Westminster.

Michael Crow asked him why he should get the same pay as an English MP. After all, he argued, English MPs represent their constituents for everything; in Scotland a great deal of the Westminster Parliament’s responsibility has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Ah, Mr. Donohoe replied but the recent boundary changes have meant that my constituency has increased and so my workload has also increased. This obviously implied that the constituency increase compensated for the reduction of responsibility.

Besides, he argued, if a “wee wummin” mistakenly wandered into his MP office, instead of an MSP office, and complained about housing – a devolved matter – he would still write a letter to the council or whoever.

I’m sure MSPs similarly deal with any mistaken constituents’ non-devolved issues in the same way. That argument hardly stands up to scrutiny. They wouldn’t use that to justify their payscale.

Alas, Michael Crow left it at that, not bothering to argue.

He missed the obvious point that the Westminster boundary changes in 2005 meant that the Scottish constituencys were increased to bring them into line with those in England. (Previously Scottish constituencys were smaller due to the lower population density, otherwise causing very large geographical constituencys; and to compensate for Scotland being so remote from Westminster. The creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 changed this thinking.)

Now all Scottish Westminster constituencys have around the same population has their English counterparts. We are comparing like for like, no matter what Brian Donohoe says.

So, an English MP is responsible for all matters of its constituents, while the Scottish MP is only responsible for those matters not devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Of course, Brian Donohoe and the other unionist Scottish MPs would always accept this as part of the devolution settlement, but it is hardly fair to the English MPs.

How to sort this anomaly?

A two-tier system of MPs? Less money for the Scottish Westminster MPs? That would be an option.

In practice though, that wouldn’t work. It would cause resentment and virtually guarantee the breakup of the Union. Scottish MPs could also argue that they have much greater travelling distances to Westminster and need the extra revenue.

It suggests Brian Donohoe should keep out of the debate over two-tier MSPs at the Scottish Parliament, if he wanted to keep his salary intact at Westminster. A two-tier system would be unacceptable both in Holyrood or Westminster.

What about reducing the number of Scottish MPs again? This time the extra constituency population would compensate for the reduced responsibility that the Scottish MPs have.

I doubt that would work either. Not only would it again fuel resentment and probably break the Union, but it would make a mockery of the last boundary changes implemented so recently.

Also under the Treaty of the Union, Scotland is guaranteed at least 45 MPs; any number below that would break the treaty and end the union. The 45 Scottish MPs granted were in comparison to the 486 English MPs, 27 Welsh Mps and 100 Irish MPs in 1707.

Since 1922 when the Republic of Ireland left leaving Northern Ireland, the no. of MPs for England has risen from 492 to 529 (533 next election); for Wales 36 to 40; for Northern Ireland 13 to 18; only Scotland has decreased 74 to 59.

Only 59 MPs out of a total of 646 MPs (next election 650) at Westminster is already straining the Union now. Scotland’s influence in the Union has been greatly diminished and any further reduction would negate Scotland’s role being part of it.

An English Parliament would be an alternative, handling devolved issues just like the Scottish Parliament; leaving Westminster for non-devolved matters. This would be a neat solution, ending the call for English votes on English matters, and solving the West Lothian Question. Whether the union could survive a powerful English Parliament remains to be seen, however. It is struggling to survive the devolved governments it already has.

Less powerful parliaments? Federalism as argued by the Liberal Democrats, splitting England into devolved regions. The northeast of England was seen as most favourable to the idea, and was seen as a test case before extending the concept to the rest of England. A referendum was held in 2004 for a northeast Assembly. The No vote was 78%. Federalism is not wanted by England any time soon.

The neatest solution would be independence for all countries in the UK. The Westminster parliament would just become the English Parliament and all those political grievances throughout the UK towards our separate Parliaments would instantly end. We’ll all stop moaning at each other and behave like good neighbours again.

Who needs the rain?!!

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