Sunday, 4 December 2016

Nobody has a clue

For the entirety of my adult life, somebody has had a clue. By somebody, I mean one or other of our major political Parties. And by a clue, I mean a clear way forward, even if you don't personally agree with it.

The fag end of the 1974-79 Labour Government didn't have a clue, but Mrs Thatcher did. The fag end of the long Tory supremacy which followed didn't have a clue, but Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did, Yet when Brown finally inherited not only the Premiership but the financial crash, it was clear that having weathered the latter, he didn't have much of a clue as to the way forward either. Although the odd centre right coalition that followed at least sort of had. I might even grudgingly conclude that until September 2014 the SNP in power in Scotland at least had a little  bit of a clue, even if the proposed solution, Independence, was pretty clueless.

Today, nobody has a clue.

The Government kind of treats Brexit as if it was some sort of natural disaster, rather than an event the Tory Party's own hubris as to the state of public opinion brought about. It's not that we, the public, are left to guess as to whether they seek a hard or soft Brexit. It's increasingly clear that they genuinely don't know themselves. And even if they called it one way or another? What would be the consequence? They don't have a clue.

As to my own Party? Well, even if you write off the bizarre Corbynista view that people are voting for far right racist Parties because the centre left isn't left enough, you are still left (sic) with the question of what our line would be if possessed with less deranged leadership. It can't be the case that we write off the leavers as irredeemable racists. Even if that was true, which it isn't, who would that leave to vote us into power? So what would be our line if, by some act of God, Corbyn was swept away and replaced with........well whoever? Dan Jarvis, Yvette Cooper, Keir Starmer, Liz Kendall or even, as a less deluded Corbynista, Clive Lewis? As I wrote in an earlier blog you simply can't reconcile that part of our our historic electoral coalition which says "Refugees welcome" with that different part which demands "Local Houses for local people". No-one can. And in the absence of being able to do that? We don't have a clue.

And so to the Lib Dems. I was well pleased they won in Richmond Park. But so what? Come a big election they might well peel off "liberal" voters from us. And indeed probably even pro European voters from the Tories. But can they win from an effectively standing start, never mind the tribal antipathy their call from 2010 to 2015 still evokes in certain quarters? Patently not. And if they can't win? They haven't got a clue either.

I was impressed by the insight of Blair's New Statesman interview. on the importance of the centre. I say that as someone who was never his greatest fan to start with who still regards the Iraq War as a colossal strategic error. Nonetheless,  his kind of mildly left of centre politics is clearly as good as it is ever going to get in the UK. Even then, his electoral triumphs came about in specific circumstance. Seventeen years of Tory Government leading to a willingness on the part of the electorate to tolerate almost anything else while the scars of 1992 had finally persuaded my own Party to sign up for that "almost anything else".

But how does the Centre get to go before the electorate now, today, in 2016 or 2017 or even 2020?There is certainly a movement out there that is signed up for cultural liberalism and a pro European future. Chukka Umunna is in it. and Anna Soubry. And Nicky Morgan and Liz Kendall.  And indeed obviously Nick Clegg and, now, Sarah Olney. It even includes Caroline Lucas on its left flank and George Osborne on its right.

But so what? We live in a democracy. What matters are elections. And Movements don't win elections, Parties do. And under first past the post, Movements, unless they capture a Party, have no way into the game. Even Momentum get that.

And how do we get out of that situation? Nobody, as Blair himself kind of conceded, has a clue.

And so to Scotland. There is clearly no majority for the economic and cultural suicide that would be independence. But how, politically, do the rest of  to come to terms with that? It's increasingly clear the Nats don't have a clue about what to do about this dilemma. But, equally, the rest of us have no idea either as to what to do in response. My Party doesn't just agree with the Tories on the fundamentals of constitution, we also agree with them that there is much wrong with Scottish public services. But that's as far as it goes. When it comes to solutions we are miles apart. Just as nationalism is a philosophy with no traditional left/right ideological dimension, neither is unionism,  So it is not just the Government of Scotland that is in a condition of policy stasis, it is the opposition as well. And the solution to that is? Nobody has a clue.

And that's even before we turn to world events. What to do about not just Syria but the wider Middle East? Nobody has got a clue. Turkey? Not a clue. North Korea? Not a clue. The refugee crisis? Not a clue. Putin? Not a clue. Trump? Not a clue.

So, bring on 2017. Where nobody has a clue.

It is said that politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Here's hoping. But how might that vacuum be filled? I haven't got a clue.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Past is never the Answer

They call it the rustbelt for a reason.

Just before the EU Referendum I wrote a blog, Voting against Now, in which I sought to explain the anger that was driving Brexit among, particularly, white working class communities.

I wrote then.

"If you look at those areas of “the Country” which voted Yes and are looking like voting Leave, they share one thing in common. A legitimate feeling that while “elsewhere” prospers, their own location and indeed personal circumstances do not.

And that is, for the avoidance of doubt, a legitimate feeling. The affluence of the “white working class” is at best getting no better, following a period, starting after the war and continuing until perhaps thirty years ago, when a year to year improvement in circumstance, marginal but noticeable, was expected as the natural order of things. Just as, with the benefit of hindsight, that improvement happened marginally but noticeably, it equally ceased to happen marginally. But it is certainly noticeable now. And to compound the resentment of that experience, the relative affluence of others in our society has, over that same thirty year period, visibly improved; whether catching up from behind in relation to the general circumstance of ethnic minorities and “immigrants” or pulling further away in front in relation to a distant metropolitan elite.

And overwhelmingly, those standing still, or sometimes worse, are people who used to “produce” things. All sorts of things from coal brought to the surface to iron turned into steel; from tiny buttons to ocean going ships and things of all sorts and sizes in between. Different things in different places but with a common culture. Industrial work that often depended on brawn rather than brain but which nonetheless, for the long post war boom, had more or less guaranteed availability. Work which brought with it honest reward that fuelled a local service economy: shops, cinemas, social clubs, that was visibly there not as an end in itself but rather as support to allow the primary “producing” purpose of the place to function.

In many, many places this world has gone. It hasn’t changed or modernised. It has just disappeared. The same things are (generally) still produced, obviously, but they are not produced here. They are produced in India or China or wherever. Produced by different producers, working in harsher conditions and crucially at a much lesser level of personal reward. 

And what’s left, too often, is little more than the service economy that once enjoyed only a support role. As Shirley Williams famously described it, an economy based on people selling hamburgers to each other."

All of this could just as easily be applied to the events across the USA this past week. Or, actually, not across the USA, for it should never be lost sight of that Hillary actually won the popular vote, but rather across a handful of large but ultimately critical midwestern states.

Now, the immediate reaction to this is that we must find some way of reconnecting with these voters and, of course, in a democracy, building a winning electoral coalition is what the whole business of politics is about.

But the problem for the left is that in many areas conceding what is demanded simply isn't economically possible. while in others, to concede it would cease to make us "the left" at all.

To deal with each of these in turn, globalisation might be halted or at least slowed isn't going away. The BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China aren't going back to their previous existence of isolated or essentially agrarian economies, neither willing or capable of competing with the west in advanced manufacturing. And the MINT countries, Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey are only one of many acronyms for other countries not far behind on a fast track to development.

What is the answer proposed anyway? Import controls and a decline in world trade leading to higher prices and drastically reduced growth? Greater international rivalry for resources that could only too easily slip into something worse? Really? Is that how the dog is to be wagged by the tail? And anyway, even if this was all undertaken, would this make this discontented section of the electorate happy? No, for none of it would ever recreate, in world terms, the advantage they once enjoyed. You might as well fight a British General Election on a promise of returning us to being the workshop of the world while Britannia once more ruled the waves. Getting elected on such a manifesto wouldn't ever, conceivably, make it happen. That will be the ultimate lesson of Brexit where many seem to have believed they could vote for just that. Similarly, no amount of shouting about making America great again will ever make it as great as it once was. For the world has moved on.

But, of course, this is almost as nothing as the second element of being "left behind" it is suggested we must appease, the anger of native born white men. How can the left ever "understand" that without ceasing to be a left at all. If you asked anybody on the left, anywhere in the world, what their basic belief is then they would start with greater equality. Equality between the sexes, equality between the races, thanks to many brave modern pioneers, equality between those of different sexual orientations or physical abilities. And, yes, equality between all those contributing to our communities, no matter where they were born. It is not accidental that the most long lasting achievements of UK Labour Governments include, right at the very top, The Sexual Offences Act 1967, The Equal Pay Act 1970, The Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. There can be no compromise on any of this. Our side is correct in our world view and anybody on the other side isn't just otherwise minded. They are wrong. When Labour notoriously lost Smethwick in 1964,  Harold Wilson didn't try to "understand" why we'd lost the white working class vote, he described the racist winner as a "Parliamentary leper". He was right to do so.

So, if progressive opinion, is to rebuild a winning electoral coalition perhaps we need to move away from the assumption that we start with a class based politics and instead look to a politics which divides between those who want history to continue to go forward and those under the delusion that somehow voting for "a flag" can turn somehow turn it back.

Of course, in the US, the Democrats have been here before, most noticeably when they decided that the tolerance of racial segregation was a price they could no longer pay in order to hold on to the "solid South". They built a new coalition then and in a nation which, no matter what Trump does, will continue to be ever more diverse, they'll can do so again.

Perhaps in the UK we need a similar rebuilding exercise with regard to our own progressive coalition.

I finish with one of Obama's favourite quotes from Dr. King. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." That didn't change last Tuesday.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Immediate Extract.

After nearly a year, the Independence Camp outside the Scottish Parliament has finally gone. It has been an eyesore throughout but, tellingly, the residents were too typical of a section of their rank and file for any elected SNP politician to feel able to say a single critical word about it. For its entire duration.

It was nonetheless removed at the instigation of that rather obscure institution, the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body, on which the SNP is quite properly represented. And from whose actions, as far as we know, they didn't dissent. So, it is fair to assume that the saner wing of the Nats also got that this sort of thing does their own cause no favours. Even if, for internal Party reasons, they were too scared to say so publicly.

But here is an interesting question? Why did the removal take so long? And here is the interesting answer. It didn't need to.

When Lord Turnbull granted the order for eviction on 28th July he also granted an order for "immediate extract"*. The legal significance of this is simple. The camp could have been removed at any point after 28th July notwithstanding any appeal being outstanding.

I only realised this** when having a look at the Inner House*** decision on the appeal when they reaffirmed that grant of immediate extract. And that is turn is why the Campers could be removed last Friday despite their stated intention to appeal further to the Supreme Court****.

It is thus far from clear why this wasn't then done back in July or early August.

But in some ways that's not the point. The public and the members of the Scottish Parliament itself were left under the impression that the camp had to be put up with until the appeal process was concluded. It's not even clear that members of the SPCB themselves knew the true position. If they did, it certainly doesn't appear in any of their published Minutes.

So, the Corporate Body allowed the Camp to  remain for three months longer than they were legally required to. Without the Parliament being told. While causing  the continued use of  public money on contesting an appeal which, had they already been removed, you do wonder if the campers would have persisted with.

As I say, somebody might want to investigate why. That's all.


*Immediate extract is only ever granted if requested by the petitioning party and specifically so that they can act even if there is an appeal. Indeed, asking for it almost implies that  you anticipate a potential appeal.

**In the original version of this blog I said I didn't think Lord Turnbull's 28/7 judgement was on line but I've since been directed to it by @bbcphilipsim This doesn't mention the immediate extract however so that must have been pronounced at the advising. It was definitely granted however as it's referred to in the Inner House decision.

***For non-lawyers, the Inner House is our highest domestic civil appeal court.

**** This is actually going nowhere as it requires leave of either the lower or the higher court. Which they'll never get. That's not however relevant to my central point.

Saturday, 22 October 2016


Apparently the Nats want another Referendum. Which they are entitled in their own mind to have because of a rather vague statement in their 2016 Scottish Parliament Manifesto. An election at which they actually lost their absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament. I know.

The one good thing is that their White Paper last week conceded that, in order to have a Referendum, they would need constitutional authority from the UK Parliament, Scotland having voted to remain in the UK as recently as two years ago.

It would, nonetheless, we are told. be an "outrage" for this to be denied.

But clearly a denial, giving cause for yet more gripe and grievance, is precisely what they are hoping for. And I kind of get that. The "success" of the Easter Rising was a result of a British reaction in its aftermath. If the rebels had simply been sentenced to imprisonment for the duration of hostilities then one suspects subsequent history might have been very different.

Lessons thus have to be learned.

So what options are available to our "other" Government beyond straight denial?

Well, firstly there is the questions of mandate.

Had the SNP been up for another Referendum they could simply have stated in their 2016 Manifesto: "If re-elected we will hold another Independence Referendum".

Even I wouldn't deny that in such circumstance the UK Government would have to have conceded to this demand.

But of course they didn't.

So, perhaps, the opening position of the UK Government should be that if any Party (or combination of Parties) secures a Holyrood majority on such a platform then "of course" a Referendum could be held.

The procedure for this is quite simple. Nicola resigns on a point of principle, and assuming no-one else can secure a plurality of votes to become First Minister within 28 days, then a fresh Scottish Parliament Election would follow (s.46 of the 1998 Act). Alternatively a two thirds majority of the Scottish Parliament could simply vote for a dissolution to see if that is what the country wanted (s.3). Ruth would undoubtedly vote for such an election. So would the volunteer if she was told to.

So, Section 30 powers might be granted from Westminster, perhaps even in perpetuity, to any Holyrood First Minister elected on such a clear platform to hold an Independence Referendum. Within, obviously, a fixed period for the introduction of Referendum legislation after such a hypothetical election victory. Over to Nicola to see if she could secure it.

But there is another option. In 2014, Scotland voted by Local Authority area.

Now, had the flag eaters done 6% better in 2014, that would have given them victory. But it would still have left large parts of Scotland dragged out of the UK against their will. The Borders voted 67% No. Dumfries and Galloway 66%. East Lothian 62%. South Ayrshire 58%. Edinburgh 61%. Only when you get to South Lanarkshire 55% and Fife 55% would a 6% gain have given the Nats a narrow victory.

So, perhaps the price of a Section 30 should be that we vote again on this basis but with only those Local Authority districts voting to form an independent Scotland becoming part of it?

The Nats would surely have no problem with this? "Free" Scotland would surely immediately become a social democratic nirvana, with austerity abolished and the population hugely enhanced by the talents of the refugees welcome to flock there from all over the world? The Brains could sleep easy in their beds while the long term unemployed could stay in bed all day without worrying about their giros arriving as expected. At least until the money ran out. In time, the rest of the country would inevitably see the sense of this arrangement. Surely? The only problem meanwhile might be other Scots demanding entry to "Free" Scotland. But, following the example of the German Democratic Republic, walls could inevitably be built until other local referendums were held and the entire volk re-united in a spirit of amity.

Now, and this is he sad bit. In-between, the UK would really need to be contiguous. So the poor souls in the North East (Aberdeenshire 60% No: Aberdeen City 59%) might just have to suck it up. For on that 6% swing there is a Nationalist firewall around the Forth. Hard luck folks. If the worst came to the worst, maybe you'd perhaps have to consider joining Orkney and Shetland and fu.....going away to join Norway.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Empress has no clothes.

You may have noticed that I've not been doing much blogging lately. Partly it is simply that I've been very busy at my work but it's also that I've just been very depressed about the state of the world with no desire to depress myself further by putting why down on paper.

But the events of the past few days prompt me to say something about the state of Scotland's polity.

Much has been written about post truth politics but in Scotland it seems to me that we are drifting into post reality political reporting. It obviously suits political journalists to talk up the prospect of a second independence referendum, it's story, but that should not be at the expense of pointing out the absurdity of the proposition on offer.

That proposition is simply this. If the UK Government proceeds with a hard brexit then a second referendum will/may be called so that Scotland can remain in the EU. But no it can't. For simple reasons of timing.

Mrs May has indicated the intention to trigger Article 50 next Spring. Now, that might not happen then, I readily concede that*, but since the cause for this second referendum is apparently to be that triggering then, even if it is delayed, my observations as to what follows still stand but only at a later date. So let's take the Prime Minister and indeed the First Minister at their stated intent.

Article 50 is triggered and Nicola decides immediately and without waiting for the detail to go for a second poll. For the sake of the argument to follow, both of these things happen in March 2017, meaning the UK is to leave the EU in March 2019.

Well, first of all Nicola would have to get legal authority for a second vote in the form of a s.30 order passed at both Holyrood and Westminster. We know what this involves because we've been through the process as recently as 2012. The Scottish Government conceded the need for a s.30 on 25th January 2012. The UK Government had indicated a willingness to consider such a request earlier that same month. At the time there was a genuine desire on both sides to reach a deal but, nonetheless, it took until 15th October for the deed to be done. Crucially, it was done largely on the terms the nationalists wanted, chiefly I suspect because our side thought there was little real prospect of us losing and just wanted to get on with it. This time that deal will not nearly as readily be done as I suspect there will be real issues over the question and the franchise and the timing. To posit but a few, if Yes/No was inappropriate as the Brexit choice then would it still be acceptable in a future independence referendum? If the choice now involved a hard border (an inevitable consequence of a Scotland in/ UK (hard) out of the EU) then shouldn't Scots living in England get a vote, given that this would inevitably impact on their right to remain and work in the residual UK? Should EU citizens in Scotland still get a vote as they did in 2014?

I say this just to indicate that, even if the UK Government is willing, the s.30 process will not be a dawdle. But let's concede that it will take no longer than 2012, So that there is a section 30 by January 2018. Then we need an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The 2013 Act was introduced on 21st March 2013 and became law on 18th December 2013. Now, the delay in introduction might be shortened this time but the Parliamentary time is dictated by the Parliament's established procedures so it is difficult to see legislation before the the end of 2017. But in some ways that doesn't matter because this being Scotland, the vote would need to await the better weather (sic) anyway. So not before May 2018.

And then in the event the flag-eaters won? Well, Scotland would not become independent immediately but remain in the UK until the "details" had been sorted out The September 2014 vote anticipated "Independence day" being in March 2016, a timescale many even on the Yes side thought to be hopelessly optimistic, but let's just apply that same nineteen month period to a May 2018 vote. Independence in January 2020. Until when we'd still be part of the UK. And have left the EU nine months before.

So there is simply no timescale that allows Scotland to vote to remain in the EU. We could certainly vote in anticipation of (attempting) to join once independence was a reality but that is as good as it could possibly get.

Now, neither Nicola nor the people round about her are stupid. They know all of the above as readily as I do. They have nonetheless attempted a gigantic confidence trick both on their own rank and file and, more importantly, on the electorate.

My question is this however. Why have the press fallen for this? Why haven't they pointed out that the Empress Nicola has no clothes? Over to you, ladies and gentlemen.

Important postscript! I've just realised I've actually given the Nats an entire year! The earliest there could even be legislation is December 2018 and a referendum the Spring of  2019! By which time we'd already have left.

*For what it's worth I think the Courts will rule that the Government requires a parliamentary vote before triggering article 50.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

A journey

One of the best things about blogging is that you don't have to work to a deadline in the way that those who write for a living inevitably do.

If you are contracted to write a Thursday newspaper column then it is highly unlikely (!) that your editor would welcome an approach that "it is not quite finished, could it appear on Friday instead"? Similarly, writers of longer narratives, fictional or non fictional, still have deadlines to meet to satisfy the requirements of pre booked printers or seasonal publication.

And even among those of us who write professionally but only secondarily to another function, there are equal deadlines. In my trade, dates by which writs must be drafted,  warranted and served to avoid a statutory time limit. Dates thereafter by which documents: Defences; Lists of Witnesses; Notices to Admit must be lodged for fear of the client's case otherwise going by default.

Never mind the even tighter deadline of a profession, at the sharp end, still largely conducted orally. You can only ever ask a witness a question while they are actually in the witness box. Stories are legion of adverse judicial decisions premised on questions that witnesses ought, sometimes needed, to be asked but which the lawyer engaged thought of or re-remembered only too late. Or, worse still, which the lawyer only appreciated should have been asked when they got the judgement. The deadline had gone.

But that's my day job.

Blogging's only deadline is when you press the "Publish" button. Then it's too late to recant. But if the blog is never finished, if the Publish button is never pressed? Who ever knows what you might have been going to say? Unless it's Wikileaks, I suppose, but I don't think it's very likely they'll be remotely interested in hacking into my "drafts" folder.

However, because there is no deadline, there is a distinct advantage to blogging. So long as, by the time you finally finish, your topic is still.....topical, you can take as long as you like to write it. When it is finally published your audience will be none the wiser whether it was written over three hours or three months.

Unless you confess that yourself. Which I readily do here. For this is a blog which started off weeks past to reach one conclusion and in the end has reached more or less the complete opposite.

It's about Brexit.

A month or so ago, I started to write a blog, "this" blog I suppose, on that topic.. Focussed on the Greek Referendum of May 2015. You may recollect that event. The Greeks had elected a populist left wing Syriza Government on the completely false premise that they could expand Greece's already wholly unsustainable levels of public debt and yet remain in the Euro. The EU, essentially the Germans, had demurred and had said to the demagogues in the Greek Government that they couldn't have their cake and eat it. There was a deal that involved cutting public expenditure (and embracing much more economic reform that Syriza had been elected expressly vowing to oppose) while remaining in the Eurozone. Or there was a departure from the Eurozone. These were the only options.

But the Greek Government deluded, if not themselves then certainly their electorate, that they had a third option. They would have a referendum! Which they did. And in which, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Greeks voted for the Germans to pay their pensions.

You will recall this didn't end well. The Greek banks were immediately forced to close their doors. People couldn't get access to even their Greek Pensions, never mind the turbo charged German ones they had voted for. It was made clear that either the Greek Government capitulated or their cashline machines would re-open only with Drachmas coming out. At a grossly devalued value to the Euros originally deposited. Within a fortnight, the Greeks had been forced to sign up to a much worse deal than had been on offer before their "game changing" Referendum. Their Government had learned that this wasn't a game.

And when I started to write this blog three weeks ago I intended to reach the same conclusions about our own referendum June past. That people had been offered a false option of retaining the advantages of membership of the European Single Market while shrugging off the downside (as seen by many) of free movement of people. That in reality we had voted for an outcome that was no more on offer to us than, a year past in May, a different outcome had been on offer to the Greeks. And once the dust had settled our referendum vote would have been no more decisive than theirs

Except that in the interim three things have happened. Well, three have happened and a fourth has perhaps been realised by me.

The first is the polling that was done on public opinion post Brexit on the relative desirability of each option in a free movement/single market trade off. Here it is.

No surprise? Well, actually, it was not so much a surprise to me as a wake up call. And promoting perhaps a very grudging nod to, of all people, Nigel Farage. For Farage is probably entitled to the credit, if that's the right word, for realising that the road to victory for the Leavers was not through the esoteric subject of Westminster Legislative Supremacy or even through the Brussels waste and bureaucracy so beloved Boris Johnson in an earlier incarnation. Rather, Farage saw that success for his cause would lie through the way in which the existing EU impacted on the everyday lives of ordinary working class people; through unrestricted (essentially) East European immigration. Which they perceived as responsible for restricting employment opportunities, undercutting wages and overloading public services in education, health and, perhaps above all, social housing.

Now I can rehearse, indeed have advanced, all the counter arguments. I won't bore you with them again.

Except perhaps we weren't dealing just with appeals to the head. Appeals to the gut featured as well. In much the same way as it had been while arguing different nationalists to a standstill on economic realities in September 2014, there was always a fall back for them. In 2014 it was "I don't care, I just want my country to be 'normal', even if that involves living in a cave". In 2016 it was: "I don't care, I just don't want all these people who are not English/Welsh/Scottish living here."

(The numbers might be a bit smaller in Scotland but anybody denying the sentiment here as well is deluding themself.)

And, do you know, I kind of understood that argument in 2014, even if I didn't respect the willingness to lie to others to bring it about. If you think a flag is important then you think a flag is important. But,anyway, whether I understood it or not is not the issue. What I had to understand is that it was there. In the minds of an awful lot of people, even if not thankfully a majority. And thus you had either defeat it or accommodate it. In one referendum we defeated it. In the second we didn't. And, regrettably, we have to concede to the victor the spoils. At least for the moment.

The second thing that has happened is the Owen Smith campaign. What might, in a different reality, have been the post referendum line of "my" wing of the Labour Party. Smith started off thinking that his ace card was that Party members were overwhelmingly horrified at Brexit and that Corbyn's "lukewarm" support for Remain might thus give Smith a useful internal advantage. I'm not writing here about the Party leadership campaign in general, just about this aspect of the Smith campaign. He thus started off saying that Labour should seek a re-run of the referendum and/or, if we hadn't left the EU by the next General Election, campaign then on proposing to ignore the referendum result. The problem is that this wheeze simply did not compute when it encountered the wider electorate. They regarded it as an insult to their democratic vote just cast and indeed almost amounting to an attack on their intelligence. It became increasingly clear that it almost invited Labour Leavers to take their General Election vote elsewhere. Indeed that it was just as toxic to them as anything that might be proposed on the wilder fringes of Corbynism.

And the third thing that has happened is a single Commons exchange involving David Davis. Like everybody else on the losing side I have enjoyed the mocking question: "Yes, Brexit might mean Brexit but what exactly does Brexit mean?"

But when Davis was asked that very question in real life he answered simply: "It means Britain is going to leave the European Union."

And, at least for the moment, he is right. There is, at least for now, no buyer's remorse. There is no point in fantasies of "uniting the 48%". It is still a minority. And, anyway, who's  to say that such a development might not just impel the 52% to unite in their own way?

So, in summary, Labour strategy (no laughing up the back) must start by trying to get the best Brexit deal possible. If the British people want free trade without free movement then we must at least explore that possibility. I know, I know, that for the moment there are those at the highest level within the EU stating in black and white terms that there could never be such a deal but there are other voices too. And much the same, until recently, was being said to Switzerland but, very interestingly, it is not being said now.

For that leads me on to my realisation. Or perhaps more precisely, my recollection. Britain is not Greece. Britain is not even just any other member of the EU. It is its second largest Country both in terms of population and GDP. It is also the fifth largest economy in the world. Free trade between the EU and the UK is very much to the advantage of both. And any preferential treatment in the right to live and work here will always be a prize worth having. For while Britain will always need immigrants we do not need them necessarily from Europe. While it is no accident that free movement between the UK and central and eastern Europe has been almost entirely one way.

Equally, it is not as if the UK is a stranger to bespoke deals, even while within the EU. From the rebate to Schengen to, most noticeably of all, the Euro, the advantages of free trade with the UK has already trumped "ever closer union".

How this can/could be done already has its theorists. Recently both Professors  Tomkins  and Gallagher have weighed with contributions from differing sides of the left/right divide.

But, and here is another thought. The Scottish Referendum ended with an outcome not on the table when that process began. Might not the EU referendum have a similar outcome? For the main argument by the Remainers was never about free movement. For some, overwhelmingly white middle class people (like me), planning to retire abroad, it was an undoubted incidental benefit, but for many others it was no more than a price worth paying without having any great attachment to the principle itself.

However the main argument for the Leavers?  Here I come back to the "credit" I gave to Mr Farage earlier on. If free movement was really the key reason to leave and we might no longer have free movement? Then the arguments for retaining a top table seat where decisions are made and not simply coming to terms with their aftermath comes back into play. So, reach a deal on free movement and then, only then, there might be a case for a second referendum.

But be in no doubt, if Labour remains committed ideally to continuing membership of the EU then a deal on free movement is an essential starting point. Don't ask me, ask the electorate. Or just ask Owen Smith.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Legacy of History

While I was away I read Robert Tombs masterwork "The English and their History". It has a number of themes but one of them undoubtedly is that, whether by coincidence or otherwise, the Union between England and Scotland was shortly thereafter followed by an unprecedented growth of what was to become the largest empire the world has ever seen.

The British Empire (for it never was and never will be called anything else) like any other great historical event had both its good and bad elements. When it was bad, most notoriously in its role in the transatlantic slave trade, it could be very bad indeed but equally, when it was good, most noticeably in its ultimate elimination of that trade not just within its boundaries but across the world, its power could be employed for great and good purpose.

And any suggestion that this was not an enterprise in which the Scots were fully engaged is nonsense. It was, I think, the nationalist historian Michael Fry who tellingly observed that the English conquered an Empire but the Scots actually ran it. There is some truth in that but we did our fair share of fighting too. Through the long "Second Hundred Years War" against France (as Tombs borrows the description) from the Heights of Abraham to the Scots Greys at Waterloo, Scottish troops were in the front of the action. As they were through the long imperial adventure of the 19th Century and throughout the long 20th Century departures which followed. Right up to Mad Mitch and the Argyll's in Aden, "Scotland the Brave" was never far away on any battlefield.

But, of course, the Empire is now in the past, fought over only for its reputation among historians of differing modern political persuasions. It has left a worldwide cultural legacy but most obviously a legacy here on the island from which it sprang.

But it also, and this is important, has left a continuing legacy on the modern economy of the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom is commonly understood to have four constituent parts: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. But in economic terms that's not actually true. In economic terms the country has five parts. The first three certainly, but more properly the final, largest, part should be divided into "Greater London" and "The rest of England".

I'm prompted to these thoughts not just by Professor Tombs' history but by a nagging unhappiness as to how last weeks GERS figures have been reported. It is certainly the case that Scotland's public spending is substantially subsidised by "elsewhere" and that an inevitable consequence of Independence would be a significant fall in living standards. But the economic reductionism of my own side's response has left me slightly uneasy. For there were two nationalist kickbacks to this. The first, the usual zoomer element who don't believe the figures published by their own nationalist government, can be treated with the contempt they deserve. But there was a second,more cerebral argument trying  to plant a tape worm in the gut of the Scottish polity. A worm we must be careful not to let flourish. "Alright, maybe we would be a bit worse off, but we would have the dignity of not living on handouts."

However, by that logic everywhere in the UK, not just us and the Welsh in the Northern Irish, but everywhere in England outwith London as well is "living on handouts".

For London, for all it is the Nation's capital, is in reality a thing apart from the nation. It is a world city, only truly rivalled in economic activity by New York and Hong Kong and boasting a cultural., architectural, historical and, yes, political legacy that puts even these other two contenders to shame. But this is not the only legacy that London enjoys. For although politically and militarily the British Empire is over, economically it still has a centre, a remaining imperial capital in a post imperial age. A centre that remains at the heart of commerce, trade, finance, simply influence, across a far wider reach than these small islands alone.  And it has a population to match, more than 50% born to at least one foreign born parent. It is a wonderful, vibrant, diverse place.

There are few people in the developed world who would not wish, given the opportunity, to visit it and many, many more, across the whole world, who have no higher ambition than but to actually live there.

But more importantly still, as that direct legacy of Empire, the post imperial capital generates wealth out of all proportion to even its substantial population. Much, much more than anywhere else in the country. And that wealth is then shared not just by those who live in London but across the country to which London itself belongs. For, and let this sink in, one pound in five earned in London, through the operation of taxation, is then spent elsewhere in the UK. But actually, that is as it should be. For, as I say, it is to the departed British Empire that London owes its modern pre-eminence.

Now, none of this is to say that this great wealth could not be more evenly distributed, across the UK or even within London itself. It certainly could and should be. Nor is it to say that such a concentration of wealth in one part of the country alone is a good thing. It certainly isn't, something recognised but never yet successfully overcome by government's of different political persuasions since at least the end of last war. Nor is it even, dare I say it, to say that, as GERS highlights, Scotland should continue, even within the UK, to be entitled to greater public spending than, frankly, more deprived parts of the country.

But it is to say this. It is not Londoners alone who are responsible for their great city's prosperity today. It is all of us. So the capital's great wealth being distributed across the Nation it belongs to is not on any view a subsidy. It is simply the benefit of being in a United Kingdom. And the legacy of history.