Sunday, 13 January 2019

In Defence of Alex Salmond.

I have tried to avoid commenting on the Salmond matter for the very good reason that I have no idea if there is a substantive matter at all. Nobody does.

Certainly I am aware that there is an ongoing Police Inquiry (a matter to which I will return) and that it appears that it relates to allegations of some sort of  past sexual misconduct. But that is all I know.

I do not know if the allegations are true and/or, even if taken pro veritate, they would constitute criminal offending. Nobody does.

That is what even the Police are only still trying to find out.

I defend people for a living. Many are guilty. Even some of them found not guilty were probably guilty!  But it is a far from unknown phenomenon for someone to be investigated in good faith by the Police only for them to be entirely cleared  and/or for it subsequently to be called into question whether there was ever any crime at all. Don't just take my word for it, consider the couple who spent two nights in the jail before Christmas accused of flying drones around Gatwick Airport.

Now, it is no secret that I have no time for Mr Salmond but that is not the point! He is as entitled to the presumption of innocence as much as the next man and it seems to me that some of his political enemies have completely lost sight of this. An internal SNP source is quoted in today's papers as attributing the difficulties the Party is in to Mr Salmond having found himself complained about. But, with respect, that would only be the case if the complaints were well founded. And, unless there has been an outrageous breach of confidentiality, that is something the source cannot possibly know. Similarly, Richard Leonard took it upon himself in the Scottish Parliament to describe the complainers (a word I use in the technical legal sense) as "courageous". How does he know this? Has he met them? Does he even know who they are? If not how can he possibly pre-judge their credibility and reliability in this manner? If (and it is a big if) this matter should ever proceed criminally these are remarks upon which any competent defence team will undoubtedly seize. Mr Leonard should shut up. As indeed should any other politician tempted to comment on the substantive background here.

And that leads me on to my second point. No matter what a mess the Scottish Government (both political and permanent) made of the original investigatory process here, the idea that there could be a public inquiry of some sort at this time is absurd. If (again I emphasise a big if) there ever are criminal proceedings then inevitably the matters to be covered by such an inquiry would involve testimony that would also be potential testimony at any trial. What were the nature of the complaints?  Were they the same complaints as had been made in 2013? Why were they referred to the Police in 2018 but not in 2013? What has Mr Salmond previously said to third parties, not least Nicola Sturgeon, about his response to the complaints? What has Mr Salmond himself got to say about it? Actually, I'll answer that final question, because like any person under criminal investigation, he would be entitled to say nothing at all. Indeed, that would almost certainly be the legal advice that he would be given. But, never mind that, in the aftermath of such an inquiry, how could Mr Salmond conceivably receive a fair trial when much of the "evidence" had already featured in every newspaper in Scotland? Enough of the amateur Perry Masons at Holyrood. Let due process take its course. There might well be cause for an inquiry when other matters are concluded but, on any view, we are still some way from that.

And thirdly, there is another criminal inquiry, albeit not by the police but by the Information Commissioner, now underway in which, at least on the known facts, Mr Salmond has legitimate cause for complaint. How the fact a referral was being made to the Police ended up on the front page of the Daily Record?  Consider what happened here. In mid August, Leslie Evans told Mr Salmond that the outcome of the (until then internal Scottish Government) Inquiry was to refer matters to the Police and that the intention was to make that referral public. Mr Salmond then indicated that he would intend to take legal action to prevent the public element of this as he believed the investigatory process to be flawed. A matter on which he was vindicated last week, albeit not, as I read it, on quite the same basis as the challenge was commenced. Now, that original proposed challenge might have been a hopeless battle, in that the referral itself was not something that could be prevented in the civil courts and once a Police inquiry commenced matters would inevitably, at some point, have reached the public domain. But again that's not really the point! For, to head off any possibility, of the matter remaining confidential, somebody decided to tell David Clegg.  I make no criticism of Mr Clegg. It was a great scoop and if it was reprehensible for journalists to publish leaked Government information then the political pages of  the newspapers would become pretty dull places. Nonetheless, whoever leaked this, assuming they did so deliberately, almost certainly broke the criminal law. And did so for the precise purpose of damaging Mr Salmond. It will almost certainly prove impossible to establish an individual's guilt for Mr Clegg will, quite properly, protect his source. Thereafter, while only a small circle of people could have done the leaking,  it is still quite a big small circle, albeit clustered around one, or possibly two, particular people. It is an open secret that Mr Salmond's team have a principal suspect and that that suspect is not part of the permanent government. Nonetheless, even if individual guilt is not established, it is important to acknowledge what happened. And to deplore it.

But my final point is this. Everybody should calm down. The Police Inquiry is not concluded and, even when it is, in a matter of this nature, any final decision is highly unlikely to be taken by the Police but rather by the Crown Office.

All of that will take time, most likely several months. And (as I have made clear above nothing should be read into this "and") if there is a prosecution it is highly unlikely matters will be concluded in this calendar year. So let's respect the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. These are both fundamental to all of our civil liberties. Not just Alex Salmond's.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Rejoin?

Happy New Year.

I have had a pretty typical Christmas. Ate lot of food, drank a lot of wine, watched a lot of telly, read a lot of books. Even had the traditional festive breakdown of the central heating at one point.

But I have also had an anxious Christmas.

For on the 21st, in between juggling last minute court commitments and last minute Christmas presents, I spoke at length to a friend who, before the Tsunami of 2015, had been a very senior Labour MP. I expressed my concern that the split between those who, on the one hand, accepted the result of the 2016 Referendum but wanted the softest of Brexits and those who, on the other, wanted to re-run the referendum in hope of a different result was slowly but steadily leading us to the disaster of a no deal departure. Those who follow my blog will know that this is not a new concern of mine.

I suspected my interlocutor would be in the "People's vote" camp and I hoped he would enlighten me as to what I had missed as to how, without control of the machinery of government, such a contest could possibly be brought about. Or indeed how the People's Voters might gain control of the machinery of Government. He didn't reassure me, for he was equally bemused as to any possible strategy that would deliver a Government based, on the most optimistic of numbers, on a hundred or so Labour MPs prepared to break the whip, allying with fifty or so Tories and sixty or so others. In a parliament of six hundred and fifty. Nor could he explain how normally rational "centrist" politicians thought that they ever might achieve such an outcome. But, with the benefit of far better political contacts than I, he was, if anything, even more fatalistic than me about the prospect of this, or indeed anything else, stopping a hard Brexit. He confessed that he kept encountering people within the "permanent" government who found it inexcusable and indeed almost inconceivable that "the Country" would be allowed to indulge in such a monumental act of self harm but yet that none of them could explain how such a thing might be stopped. For the only deal on the table, Mrs May's deal had, in his opinion, no chance of succeeding against the perverse coalition of interests: "People's Voters"; the ERG; disaster wishing Trotskyists and whipped Labour loyalists all arraigned against it. And the law of the land, already enacted, is that if there was no deal then we would leave on 29th March. Without a deal.

Now, I have said all this before but at the risk of repeating myself, the likes of Amber Rudd can say all they like about there being "no majority in the House of Commons for a hard Brexit" but, with respect, if there is no majority for any specific deal, then , starting from where we are legislatively, then there is, by logical conclusion, a majority in the House of Commons for a hard Brexit. FOR THERE IS ONLY ONE ALTERNATIVE ACTUALLY ON OFFER!!!! (apologies for shouting) and what is perceived to be wrong with that deal is not solvable in a way which somehow magically changes the Parliamentary Arithmetic. Setting aside the diplomatic obstacles to somehow getting a fix on the backstop (and, given that any fix would involve the UK Government having the unilateral right to close the Irish Border at a future time of their choosing, these obstacles are substantial), fixing the backstop still does not deliver the hard core votes of the most extreme ERGers, for they do not wish any deal. Yet, without their votes, the deal can't pass on Tory votes alone. Equally, given it would still be a deal to leave without a clear future direction of travel, it is questionable if it would deliver a hard core of Tory Remainers either. Corbyn positively wants chaos in the hope that people would embrace "socialism" as the only alternative to chaos and no deal certainly delivers chaos. While the Labour whipped loyalists will just do whatever Corbyn wants. Partly out of Party loyalty and partly out of otherwise fear for their own future at the hands of his ultras in their constituencies.

But the problem for the people who hold the key to this, the sensible, pro European, non self serving and hoping of personal survival, majority in the Parliamentary Labour Party, is this. Like the remainer Tories, they don't want to be seen to have voted for Brexit. Even more so in the current internal Party climate. Where to have done so would be portrayed by the Corbynistas as having prevented their wholly illusory hope of a General Election and even more illusory hope that, without any coherent Brexit policy,  this would be a General Election Labour might win. And it is also not lost on them that they face the irony of being caricatured as the handmaidens of Brexit, against a future portrayal that Corbyn, (Corbyn!) had somehow voted against. Not against the deal but against the whole enterprise.

But that is what needs to happen.

But it is not all that needs to happen.

British politics is fractured.

Sometime between February and October this year, I will have been a member of the Labour Party for forty five years. The Party I joined represented the interests of people who had little money and wanted a wanted a fairer share, allied with those of broadly liberal sentiment on social issues. Our principal opponents represented the interests of people who already had money and wanted to keep it in coalition in turn with those more generally resistant to cultural change. That is not however the political divide today. The political divide today however is between those who wish to look forward and those who want to look back. Look back not just to naval bases east of Suez, a Bobby on every corner, people knowing their place in life and the civilised world stopping at Dover. But also look back to British jobs for British workers, with local schools in local towns discharging generation after generation to work in local factories or the local presence of monolithic  nationalised industries.Both of these worlds have gone and no opportunistic political parasites from either extreme of the political divide are, in the end, going to bring them back.

Yet that was how the Brexit Referendum realigned our politics. Bringing about a coalition of different perceived versions the past that created a common objective between Jacob Rees-Mogg and (in truth) Jeremy Corbyn to go, literally, back in time. An objective they continue to share.

But, no matter whether we like it or not on 23rd June 2016 it was "the will of the people" that we leave and I have always had reservations about the consequences of not implementing that "will". Mrs May's deal does that. Having voted to leave, we will have left. But thereafter anything is possible. And, it having been disastrous to leave, why would it not be sensible to rejoin? Nothing in the Withdrawal Agreement prevents that and in truth our current opt-outs, on the Rebate, from Schengen, from the Euro, would surely still be on the table while we remained a net budget contributor.

So that's where I think the argument should go. Take the only deal on offer now but then campaign for the eventual outcome of the trade talks which are to follow to be rejoining. It is difficult to see that ever being something Corbyn personally would endorse but it is certainly something I can conceive becoming Labour Party policy. And if it doesn't? If the current cult of personality gripping my Party proves too hard to overcome? Then perhaps some other Party might be needed to take it forward. A Party that might, if Mrs May ultimately falls to a candidate of the Tory hard right, find it had other willing allies on hand. "Rejoin the Future" has a nice ring to it.


Sunday, 9 December 2018

Time to help Horatius keep the Bridge



For the last week I have been physically in Hungary but intellectually in the UK.

We've been to the opera. Twice in fact. Once to see a wonderful performance of The Magic Flute and on the other occasion to see for the first (and undoubtedly last) time, Puccini's Golden Girl of the West. Which, if it is not the worst opera written by a major composer in their prime, must certainly be on the shortlist.

But we've also been to see the magnificently restored Budapest Museum of Modern Art (picture above) and on an extended tour of the Christmas Markets. I cannot commend either too much.

Mainly however we have been visiting Andi’s folks and, since I don’t speak Hungarian, outwith these  couple of trips into central Budapest, I have been largely left to my own devices while Andi chats away interminably to her mother about God knows what, possibly me, and her dad watches 1970s US cop shows dubbed into the local language.

So I have spent even more time than usual on Twitter. Following the current dysfunctional state of British politics. And here are my conclusions. Over Brexit, there are only two intellectually coherent camps. There are the hard brexiteers. Sure, much of their short term argument is dishonest, presumably on the principle that the end justifies the means, but, like the Scottish Nationalists, to whom they bear such a marked resemblance, they believe that any interim pain will be worth it for the long term gain. To continue that analogy, they aren't even entirely clear what that long term gain would be but they do genuinely believe it will be there. Thus their strategy is clear. Run out the clock. We are leaving on 29th March and they have the metaphorical points on the board in the form of The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.  Like Clive Woodward's England, what does it matter if the ball is messily retained by the forwards for months on end (to be fair, with Woodward's England, it only seemed like months) in a spectacle few would want to pay to watch? Wait for the 81st minute and then kick the ball into the crowd. Victory will be their's. They know what they are doing.

And so to the second coherent argument. That of Mrs May and her principal public partisan, Rory Stewart. I have a huge regard for Rory Stewart, who I first met during an earlier referendum. He is no lackey. Had it not been for his principled opposition to British policy in post 9/11 Afghanistan and indeed his opposition to the complete folly of the second Iraq War, he would surely be much higher up the ranks of Government than he currently is. So, when he allows himself to be called to the colours, it is not out of blind loyalty, it is out of conviction. He makes no pretence that the current deal is perfect. No agreement could be which both respects the result of the referendum and yet wants to protect as much as possible of which we already have, (an "already have" which, let us not forget, is still the personally preferred and informed option of almost all senior politicians in all four of our major Parties). No such deal will ever be perfect. But Rory asks the simple question "If not this, then what?" And no-one answers. For no one else has a coherent answer.

Let's start with the "Peoples' Voters". If I thought for a minute that we could just re-run the original vote and that, this time, my team would win by a landslide, then the Peoples' Vote would have no greater advocate than I. I really, really want to stay in, with a commitment that would make Michael Heseltine look almost eurosceptical. Only there is no evidence at all that this outcome would be the inevitable result of a Peoples' Vote. . Choose your opinion poll and sometimes we win. Indeed on balance we are currently more likely to win (just). But, two things. That was also what the polls said before 23rd June 2016. And even if we do win? To settle the matter it would have to be decisive. To pose a far from hypothetical example, suppose, this time, my team this time triumphs 51/49? Who would actually have won this double header? So, onwards to a "best of three" penalty shoot out? And that's even before we look at the simple practicalities of how we actually hold such a Peoples' Vote prior to 29th March? Or indeed what the question would be. This is not a serious proposition.

And then we have the "EFTA"ers. I'm for this as the least worst option for our future relationship with Europe. But Mrs May's deal is not about our future relationship, which is what any ultimate EFTA deal would be about. It's about the terms on which we leave NOW. Now being by the end of March. For that, let me just repeat, is the law. The transitional provisions baked into the deal settle nothing in that regard. They just guarantee there would be a transition. And in terms of that guarantee, it is this deal or no deal. And as to the importance of that transition?

This has been the week of Priti Patel's observation that if there is disruption to our food chain then the Irish won't be exempt. Given British/Irish history this was, to put it mildly, best left unsaid,. It is however  undoubtedly true. Let's be frank. In the event of a hard Brexit, the Irish might up end up with empty supermarket shelves and have little choice about it. For much of their fresh food would then have to cross two customs boundaries.  Except that, unlike the Irish,  we do have a choice. And while this potential food shortage is a choice the Irish didn't choose for themselves, it is one, for ourselves, that Ms Patel actively favours! For them in the form of a punishment but for us in a bizarre form of reward!

And then finally we have the Labour Party. To what end? I am a member of the Labour Party. I may have mentioned that previously. So, if I confess I have no idea what our policy is, then I defer to no less informed individuals in trying to explain it to me. Our "policy" appears to be a General Election. During the campaign of which election we would have no policy at all other than an inexplicable "better" deal on leaving. Albeit that we couldn't explain what that better deal was and the vast majority of our candidates wouldn't actually want to leave at all. But this apparently would be all right on the night. Anything's possible, I suppose. Particularly if you ignore the MSM and assume the electorate will gain their information entirely from Novara Media. Except the Jews of course. Who can just fuck off altogether.

So, back to where I started. There are only two serious options and they in the end both turn on a question their partisans both agree on, if they agree on nothing else . It all rests on whether Mrs May survives. If she does, then in the end her deal will pass. If she doesn't, then we will be left with the only other coherent option. A hard Brexit. Possibly even embodied in the person of her successor as Prime Minister.

And thus finally I come back to Rory Stewart. During the week he was described somewhere as Horatius charged with keeping the bridge. Suggesting that he was faced with a hopeless task. Forgetting that Horatius, although does not actually keep the bridge, does in the end win the day. It is a poem I knew in childhood and thus, like such poems it never entirely leaves you. Although I confess to a bit of internet research to refresh my memory.

But that done, I remember the words of Spurius Lartius provided by McAulay.

"Lo, I will stand at thy right hand and keep the bridge with thee."

Time others stepped up to that plate.












Sunday, 18 November 2018

Deal or no Deal?

I am very annoyed we are leaving the European Union and wish that could be stopped.

But I am very annoyed about a lot of things. The current league position of St Mirren; Legal Aid pay rates; the weather. Me being annoyed about them really doesn't matter. They are facts of life and I just have to live with them. And so, at this point, is Brexit.

That need not have been the case. In the aftermath of the referendum, there could have been a re-alignment of the centre of British politics. Or a Party could have stood at the 2017 General Election on a platform of reversing Brexit or at least re-running the Referendum. But none did and the one which came closest, the Lib Dems, made little or no progress. Or public opinion could have so fundamentally changed that Parliament and Government felt emboldened enough to disregard the referendum result altogether. But that hasn't happened either.

Two big things have however happened. Firstly, as authorised by the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 the Government gave notice under Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union that we were leaving, setting that process starting and, secondly, by passing the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the date of our leaving as set by the terms of Article 50 (29th March 2019) was encompassed into domestic law.

Now, Parliament is of course sovereign and it could repeal or amend the latter piece of legislation. And never mind the question of withdrawal of the Article 50, the terms of the article itself provide that, with agreement on both sides, the actual exit date can be postponed, if necessary indefinitely.

But there is simply no majority for such legislation in the current House of Commons. The Tories, even the most "remainery" of Tories believe that, unless it is re-run, (a point to which I will return) the result of the referendum must be respected. Putting the most innocent of interpretations on what the Labour leadership are up to, that is also there stated view. That is what both Parties said in their last General Election manifestos and there is nothing to suggest that, even if there were another General Election, they would be saying anything different. And, in any event, there is not going to be another General Election because there is equally no majority in the House of Commons to bring down the current Government and even less likelihood of that Government voluntarily submitting its fate to the electorate.

But there is also one other given. A (literally) handful of Tory nutters aside, everybody agrees we need to leave with a deal. For the avoidance of doubt, that "everybody" includes Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab. They just don't want the deal the Government has negotiated and believe, no matter how deludedly, that a different deal could be done. But, crucially, that "everybody" includes pretty much all of the Parliamentary Labour Party.They also would prefer a different, "better" deal but, unlike the fantasists on the Tory benches, are surely sanguine to the fact that had a "better" deal been available, Mrs May would surely have done it. There simply is no deal that is as good as our current deal but, for good or ill, the will of the electorate is to reject that and the stated position of both Government and opposition front benches is to respect the will of the electorate.

So what other options are there?

Well, in theory, there is a second referendum. But the theory simply does not match up with reality. What would the question be in that referendum? Mrs May's deal or remain would clearly be the preferred option of the remainers but that would undoubtedly disenfranchise that not insignificant section of the electorate who want neither. And Justine Greening MP (although just about nobody else) has suggested a multiple choice, transferable vote, referendum but that begs the question of how many questions? And if it was just Remain, Mrs May's deal or no deal, what way would Boris and Dominic Raab vote? While if it was Remain, Mrs May's deal or "neither", how would victory for the last option leave us any the wiser?

Anyway, how and when would this referendum take place? The process couldn't even start until Mrs. May's deal had failed to win Commons approval in mid December.. Even if a Commons majority could somehow be cobbled together, it would require Primary legislation. It couldn't possibly be held any earlier than the very eve of 29th March. With no idea what would follow from any result except a simple remain. It would inevitably have to come with postponing the 29th March departure if only, in a worst case scenario, to allow us more time for no deal. And there is no Commons majority for postponing 29th March! It is a chimera, an illusion, a hopelessly lost cause.

There is of course one other option, a different deal. Not the fantasy different deal of Johnson, Raab and the Pizza five but one the EU might actually agree to.  Its main partisan is Nick Boles MP, who wants EFTA. That's fine. EFTA is my own second choice. But how would that possibly be achieved either? International treaties are the domain of Governments, not Parliaments. But how do we get to this Government that would negotiate EFTA? It couldn't be led by Mrs May. It wouldn't be led by any Tory Brexiteer successor to Mrs May and it couldn't command a Commons majority if led by a non Brexiteer Tory successor to Mrs May. At least not without Labour support, which, shall we say, under a Corbyn leadership, it is never likely to enjoy. Matters would be as gridlocked as at present with the one remaining constant, that fixed date of 29th March.

The truth is that starting from here, on 18th November 2018, and without changing our potential exit date, we now have a binary choice. Mrs May's deal or no deal.

It's a terrible deal, much worse than we currently have, full of things which, even within its own terms, could be much improved. But it is the only deal in town and it is still a far, far better deal than no deal. It keeps the Irish border open, it stops Kent and the Pas-de-Calais from becoming lorry parks. It removes the very real threats of disruption to life saving medicines and indeed basic food supplies.

Best of all however, it leaves open the question of whether our future relationship with Europe lies in being further apart or, once again, closer together. A question which could then be answered in calmer, more considered, time.

I'll be astonished if, ultimately, it is not backed, albeit with gritted teeth, by all the Remainer Tories. It should be backed as well by all Remainer Labour MPs. For there is, in truth, no alternative and simply protesting otherwise demands more than protest. It requires process. And the time for process has long gone.




Monday, 22 October 2018

Marching?

Preface. One of the advantages of being a mere blogger rather than an actual journalist is that you don't have to work to a deadline. Nonetheless, some time that means, having written most of your blog, you can run out of time without consequence. As I did on Sunday when Dr Who and Strictly, followed by a box of Legal Aid accounts to be done, meant my blogging had to be abandoned. So the reportage of this has been lost. But I hope not the underlying argument.

So, start again.

Marching


,On Saturday afternoon I went to Paisley to see St Mirren ultimately defeated 2-1 by Kilmarnock.

We were a bit unlucky but Kilmarnock are a good team so there was no disgrace in defeat. I have nonetheless still enjoyed better afternoons.

But, as I set off to the football, I did wonder if, had I lived in London and my team played there, I would have chosen an alternative Saturday afternoon expedition. Attending the People's Vote demonstration.

And, on reflection, the answer is no.

Now, I should make it clear, that I have no objection in principle to demonstrations. I have been on many, many, over my now sixty years. Most recently in Edinburgh against Trump's visit to Scotland earlier this year. Seldom did I think my presence on such a demonstration, or even the demonstration itself, would make a direct difference. About 10,000 marched beside me in Edinburgh but had it been 100,000 or even 1,000,000, I didn't think for a minute that Trump would react by immediately getting on Air Force One back to Washington D.C. For me, however, it was important to make a personal point.

Any more than I thought the Government of South Africa would ever have reacted to the wonderful "Free Mandela" demonstration in Glasgow on June 12th 1988 (a date of which I can be sure for the poster still hangs in my kitchen) by announcing Mandela's immediate release.

Sometimes you demonstrate because you think it is right to demonstrate. Not just because you know what you are against but also because you know what you are for. And that's where Saturday's event would have failed my test. Not in the former but in the latter.

I have no doubt I would have found, in the vast majority of fellow marchers yesterday, kindred spirits. Nice folk who also grow herbs in their garden, look forward to retiring to Italy or France,  and who currently enjoy nothing more than whatever features on BBC4 at 9pm on Saturday night.

For, like them,. I have believed in the European project all of my life.

In 1975 I went about Paisley fly posting for the Yes campaign, in the company of my father. My first ever experience of fly posting and his last, for he died the following year at an age far younger than I am now. But as a life long Labour man, he taught me that this was a cause greater than Party politics, not least when he introduced Ted Heath as the main speaker at a rally in Paisley Town Hall.

In 1983, I nearly became an MEP by accident. Having been told that it would be "good experience" I sought the nomination as Labour Candidate for Strathclyde West and, to my own surprise, failed to secure it by a handful of votes. Afterwards, Jimmy Allison, the legendary Labour organiser, observed that I had made a brilliant speech. "Most of these people didn't realise that you were in favour of staying in the EEC". He was right about the internal politics of the Labour Party then (and perhaps now again) but I was undoubtedly for staying in. I have always been for staying in.

So why would I have not marched yesterday?

Well, firstly, because it is an impossible demand. We are leaving at the end of March. The impossible demand is not that we have a second vote but that we have it before then. My great comrade Mike Gapes, who I first met in the window between the two historical events referred to above, suggested today on twitter that this this is how it might happen. Technically it might be possible but politically it is incredible. You might as well suggest that Theresa May resign and be replaced as Tory leader by Anna Soubry. That would just as certainly stop Brexit (actually much more certainly than a second vote) but in the real world it is not going to happen.

But, secondly, we should not underestimate the potential political consequence of the referendum result being "ignored". The assumption is that a second vote would produce a different result. I'm by no means convinced of that. It seems to me that the supposed demographic three year on advantage of more young voters (largely remain) being assisted by the....departure....of older voters (predominately leave) is far from being reflected in the polls. But even if that works? Let's be honest, the Brexit vote was about an awful lot more than the technical merits or demerits of belonging to a supranational union. It was a cry of pain by those who feel they are both left behind and, at the same time, ignored. Graft on to that a sense that they have been cheated and more conventional British politics might take a very nasty turn indeed. Think Trump, think Salvini, think Orban. First past the post is a vicious beast, normally used to crush minor Parties but in certain circumstance capable of producing vast swings in outcome once the insurgents gain a critical mass, particularly against a multi-coloured opposition. You need only consider Scotland at the 2015 election to appreciate that.

Brexit, for good or ill (actually entirely for ill) needs to be seen through. But it can be seen through on the least worse terms. And that's where I get annoyed. Not with Corbyn, whose strategy is clearly that the worst possible outcome might somehow lead people to turn to "socialism". Not with Farage or Johnson, whose politics are as appalling as they are obvious. Not even at Mrs May, the rabbit caught in the headlights.

No, the people I am most annoyed at are the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

They,like me, didn't want to leave. But they were in a position to ensure that we left on the least worst terms. Not as a few dots among a crowd of a million but each as one vote in a Parliament of 650.

Some kind of  EFTA deal is clearly the solution. It is not perfect for it does undoubtedly leave us as "rule takers not rule makers". But it does preserve the Customs Union and Single Market. And it leaves us to fight another day. When perhaps the chance to (participate in) making the rules might regain its logical advantage.

The reality is that an offer of that sort has clear majority support in the House of Commons, in the governing (don't forget) Conservative Party and within the EU.

But nobody is making it.

It is time somebody on the Labour benches did.

To say "This is a deal we'd support. It is on offer. Go and get it. And, if you do, forget about worrying about the ERG, or Corbyn's unholy alliance with them, because you will have our support." Every vote, all the way.

No harm to my comrades marching on Saturday, but, insofar as they are Members of Parliament, working out the detail of that offer would have been a much more useful use of their time. I'd have happily gone to London to serve them coffee and mineral water. while they were so engaged.  But for the marching? Not so much.


Sunday, 7 October 2018

A deal changes everything.


Anybody who watched Channel 4 News on Friday night couldn't have failed to notice the belated recognition by the Irish Government that, while a hard Brexit would be a disaster for us, it would be a catastrophe for them. And that, if they played too hard ball, the British Government was not bluffing about that outcome.

The British |Government, on the other hand, will happily sell out an obscure North Western Province over whether you need an identity document to travel from Larne to Stranraer, not least because you currently need such an identity document to fly from Glasgow to Manchester without anybody being noticeably outraged.

So there is going to be a deal. And that will completely change the game.

Because, once there is a deal, it will be the only deal in town. Unless there is somehow cobbled  together a Parliamentary majority for a "People's Vote" it will be Mrs May's deal or a disastrous hard Brexit.

But let us be blunt, there is simply no way a majority for a second referendum could be constructed. It would have to start with the whole of the Labour ranks to vote to withdraw the article 50 notification to enable this "People's Vote" to take place.  Anybody, anybody, think McDonnell and Corbyn would be up for that? Me neither, So you don't even have to start on ruling out the DUP joining it's ranks. Never mind the SNP, worried about the precedent set about a "Leave" vote in a different context.

Once there is a deal, it is the only deal in town.

So let us also consider where that leaves our three major Parties in Parliament in turn faced with this "deal or no deal".

Firstly, the Tories. There are "no deal" Tories but they are pretty small in number. They don't include anybody still in the Government. But they equally don't include Boris either, who wants not no a no deal but a different deal. The opportunity for which, if it was ever on offer, would, after Mrs May brings home her deal, and, hypothetically, has seen it voted down, would depend on, either, being willing to withdraw the article 50 to allow more time for negotiation or resigning ourselves to crashing out and then trying to negotiate a way back in. Let's see how many are in that camp. Although to be fair they would potentially include the DUP.

Secondly, Labour. McDonnell and Corbyn clearly share Trotsky's strategy of welcoming the fall of France to the Nazis as being likely, through the misery resulting, to usher in "socialism" by popular insurrection. It's a view, but not a view shared by the overwhelming majority of the PLP who get what a no deal Brexit would mean for working people. Now, some will remain  fanatical in their pursuit of overturning the June 2016 vote but, by the time of any Commons division in December the majority will appreciate that this  is never happening and that, by that point,  virtually any deal is better than no deal. And vote accordingly.

And then finally the SNP. A chaotic Brexit would undoubtedly serve their cause. But not if they had trooped in to vote for it alongside Jacob Rees-Mogg.

So a deal, any deal, will almost certainly pass the Commons.

And then?

Well, first, Mrs May will be seen to have extricated the Nation from a mess of our own making. And, no matter how unfairly, reap her reward.  I might be wrong but if the Tories are not ten points ahead in the week after a deal passes the Commons I'd be genuinely surprised.

Second, Magic Grandad, on that same spread, will shortly have to appreciate the Unions having had enough of his ineffective sanctimony . And that it might be better if he returned to his previous occupations of digging his allotment while hating Jews.

Third. The justification for a second independence referendum before 2021 will be gone. 

So, a deal changes everything. Assuming, of course, that there is a deal.







Monday, 24 September 2018

Things that don't matter

I've kind of stopped the blogging.

Fair enough, for the last six weeks my life has been dominated by my holiday, three weeks in the Province of Ragusa in Sicily, wonderful, but which required two weeks of slog to clear my desk before I went and then a further week of slog to catch up on my return.

But that is not the only reason I have kind of lost interest in "the blogging". Politics is increasingly fixated on things that don't matter.

Take, firstly, the minor stushie this week when Corbyn refused to unequivocally rule out a UK Labour Government allowing a second Independence Referendum. Let's consider, just for a moment the accepted chronology here. The SNP might (big might) request "Section 30" permission to hold a second Independence Referendum before the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. But if they do then the decision on whether to allow it will be taken by a UK Tory Government. Labour's view will be irrelevant. If (big if) the SNP win the 2021 Scottish Parliament election with a clear manifesto commitment to a second referendum then that will be a big decision for the UK Government of the time but that still won't be us for at least a year. If they don't win (or don't have a clear commitment in their manifesto), then the issue goes away. The only circumstance in which the position of the Labour Party is important is if the SNP gain a clear mandate in May 2021 and the Tory Government denies them the power. Then, potentially, in the Autumn of 2021 the position of the Labour Party on this matter might be important. It is utterly irrelevant in the Autumn of 2018.

And the same goes for a "People's vote", that is a second referendum on the UK leaving the UK. How is this objective to be achieved? A referendum requires an Act of Parliament and an Act of Parliament requires Parliamentary time. Suppose even a Macedonian Commons majority, involving most Labour MPs, a minority of europhile Tories, miscellaneous Nationalists prepared to forget about other referendums (to be honest, at this point I'm given over to the absurdity of the idea but suppose anyway), what is the process? Who introduces this proposed Act as a Bill? How does it get Parliamentary time against Government opposition?  What would be the proposition put?  Most importantly, when would this vote take place given that Brexit is just over six months away and we won't know the terms of a deal (or indeed the acceptance of giving up on any deal) any sooner than November? It is shooting at the moon. Things will be resolved in the Commons and it seems pretty obvious will hinge on whether sufficient Labour MPs conclude that whatever deal  Mrs May gets is still better than a no deal and are thus prepared to back it, no matter what the position of our front bench.

Because, there will not in any circumstance be an election. The Tories have the benefit of a five year mandate. There is no way the DUP would oppose them in a confidence vote which might lead to Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister and there is no way that the Tories would volunteer to face the electorate at a time of maximum internal disarray, not least because, even if they won, it is difficult to see how that would improve things for them. Mrs May's problem is not a rampant external opposition, it is an irreconcilable internal opposition, to be fair, on both her eurosceptic and europhile flanks. How would a General Election at which Jacob Rees-Mogg and his ilk and Anna Soubry and her ilk would each remain Tory candidates progress anything?

And there is not going to be a new Party either, at least just now.  It would be fair to say that few Party members are more disgruntled with the current leadership than me. To be in a situation where the Leader can be described as a vile anti-Semite and can't sue his accusers because he would lose is an absurd one to believe to be sustainable. But it is where we (currently) are. Nonetheless when people challenge me to leave I ask them two things. Who is leaving with me and what is our position in respect of those mainstream Labour figures who won't leave? I want Pam Duncan-Glancy, Kate Watson and numerous others to become Labour MPs. I would like Anas Sarwar, Jackie Baillie, and numerous others to be in the Scottish Government. I would like Frank McAveety to be back leading Glasgow City Council. Accuse any of them of being an anti-Semite and you'd need to have very deep pockets indeed to pay the damages involved. And that's the position of tens of thousands of Party members who were in the Party before a Corbyn leadership and will still be there when his new recruits have departed back to the political fringes, or, in some cases, back under the vile racist stones, from which they emerged. And in the end the Party will come to its senses. Even genuine Corbynites will get fed up losing; those, even well to the left of me, who entered politics to make a difference will conclude you don't do that from permanent opposition and the Unions will get fed up wasting their money. It might take ten years, last time it took seventeen, but in time it will happen. My own impression possibly as soon as the next leadership contest, which might be sooner than people think.

And finally, there is not going to be another Independence Referendum before 2021. This has got nothing to do with the current internal considerations within the SNP. It is because Westminster, where the constitutional authority undoubtedly lies,  has said no and those more sensible heads in the SNP realise that the lessons of Catalonia are that "do it yourself" options have nasty consequences with no great achievement to show at the end of it.  Now, in 2020, there will be a big decision for the SNP on what to say in their 2021 Manifesto. But by then Ruth's wean will be two and we'll be in a different world. Where we'll be discussing whether, if Labour is third, which way we should jump. I may have a view at the time. But not so much in September 2018.

And so, that's why I've not been blogging. Because, in reality, there is nothing to blog about.

Unless you want to hear how brilliant are the Baroque Churches in the Province of Ragusa.