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.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

What's Corbyn up to?

At the end of the Second World War, there was a massive displacement of peoples. Millions of Germans were displaced from East to West but so were millions of Poles, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians and, in lesser numbers, minority populations from across the former Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. There was then, in the War's aftermath, further displacement of millions as the old overseas empires broke up, most notoriously during Indian Partition.  And then, of course there were the Jews.

Each in time settled elsewhere, a good number of the Jews in the USA but the vast majority in Israel.

And, be in no doubt, that displaced other people. Golda Meir's famous slogan "A land without people, for a people without a land" had one significant drawback. It wasn't true.

During the establishment of the State of Israel, some 800,000 Palestinians left the territory Israel initially encompassed, most of them with little choice in the matter.

And, yes, not long after 1948 a similar number of Jews left Arab countries to move to Israel, many of them also far from voluntarily.

The point however is not "whataboutery". It is this. All of this was a very long time ago. And pretty much everywhere else the world has moved on.

Sure, the initial post war platform of Angela Merkel's CDU might have included the "right of return" of Germans to Pomerania and Silesia but it hasn't been their policy for more than fifty years; certainly there might have been a small terrorist war in the Alto Adige/Sud Tirol in the 1970s with reunification with Austria its objective; perhaps the wilder fringes of Hungarian politics might, even now, seek the recovery of Transylvania but essentially it is accepted that people should now have the right to live where they ended up after the tides of war receded. And equally accepted that they don't have the arbitrary right to live elsewhere. Pakistan and India might have continuing border disputes but neither suggests the right of their current citizens to "go back where they came from". That would not be a recipe for peace, it would be a recipe for war.

So, this seems to be accepted in every part of the world. Except one.

 Refugees come under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which defines refugees as those forcibly displaced from their place of birth. Palestinian "refugees" however, uniquely come under the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine, which defines these refugees, I repeat uniquely, as not only those in the former category (few and far between since they'd need to be at least 70) but also their decedents in perpetuity. The reasons for that have little to do with Israel and everything to do with letting the wider Arab world off the hook.

And this is where support for a fair deal for the Palestinians has to meet the hard reality of what a fair deal would involve.

It certainly involves the right to their own state on (broadly) the pre 1967 borders. And, unless otherwise agreed,  the withdrawal of all Israeli West Bank settlements. It also involves some sort of dual jurisdiction in Jerusalem. But it can't possibly involve the "right of return" to a Country in which the vast majority of those asserting this "right to return" have never as much as set foot. For that, in reality, involves the end of Israel as a Jewish state and the consequent displacement of Israelis who have never lived anywhere else.

Now this is where the the Arab/Israeli conflict slips into our own politics. If you are arguing for the Poles to accept the right of the Germans to return to Pomerania: the Romanians to accept the right of the Hungarians to return to Transylvania; the Pakistanis to accept that right for Hindus; or indeed (much more recently) the Croats for Serbs, then your demands would be consistent. But I know of no-one who is making that argument. If however you have chosen to single out one particular small Country for this particular obligation, then you have to ask yourself why.

And here I might surprise you. I don't think it is necessarily as simple as crude and overt anti-Semitism. It is because you are attracted to permanent lost causes. Because causes which are not lost involve inevitable compromise in their solution. And you would then be "tarnished" by accepting that compromise. As, for some on the respective extremes, peace in Northern Ireland "tarnished" those prepared to live with it. As peace with Israel "tarnished" Sadat and possible peace with Palestine "tarnished"  Rabin. As, but for the unique figure of the great hearted Mandela, the end of Apartheid always threatened to "tarnish" the ANC.

And also because "success" might show the heroes of your cause to have feet of clay. As, regrettably.  has been the case all too often in Latin America.

Take Gaza. Once the Israelis withdrew, it could have modelled itself into what a wider Palestinian state might have become. A democracy (at least of sorts) able to call in economic support by morally blackmailing the rest of the world. Proof that, in one small part at least, a two state solution was a viable end game. But then of course it might instead have collapsed into the sort of corrupt, theocratic or authoritarian regime that exists (sometimes in a combination of more than one feature) in much of the rest of the middle east. So how much more convenient that there was to be no such attempt? That the chief "achievement" of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was to allow a place where rockets would be launched randomly into Israel and border protests organised for little more purpose than hoping (and regrettably often succeeding) in provoking Israeli over reaction. No compromise but no sell out either. No tarnish. Just the excuse for continued grievance. Applauded from afar by those with little politics than continual grievance themselves. No matter what needless misery that might entail for those more directly involved.

So, is Corbyn an anti-Semite or just someone perpetually attached to hopeless causes? Probably a bit of both. In support of the former conclusion, he could for example have promoted the equally hopeless cause of the Kurds. Or the Burmese Muslims. But he has notably not done so. My principal problem however is that, under Corbyn, Labour itself has become a hopeless cause and I increasingly wonder if that is not his hope but his objective.

He's not so stupid as not to appreciate that failure to enjoy any meaningful poll lead in current circumstance bodes disaster when the Tories get their act together, as, inevitably, they will. And he must realise that the determination of some of his allies, at least, to provoke a formal split would be a lunacy that might finish off the Labour Party itself.  He surely realises that the current anti-Semitism problem is not one of his opponents' making but rather one of his own. And that, whatever its rights and wrongs, it is electorally toxic and can only be resolved by his compromise.

But perhaps he genuinely doesn't care? Had we won on the 2017 Manifesto, we  couldn't possibly have delivered on the public spending and public sector wish list that underpinned it. Compromise (and disappointed outrage) in government would have been inevitable. Never mind that, we'd have needed to sort out Brexit. Tarnish would have been inevitable. So perhaps he actually wanted to lose? Perhaps he actually wants to lose again.

For, of course, there is no need to compromise from the position of permanent opposition. You will never be tarnished.






Sunday, 3 June 2018

In praise of a happy ending

As those who follow me on twitter will know, I was a great Partisan of Susan Calman on Strictly. She went much further than anybody predicted and brought joy to a nation as she did so.

Anyway, when she got to Blackpool a galaxy of literary stars were rounded up in her support and photographed among them was the author Jenny Colgan.

It was, I confess, for that reason alone, having exhausted a Sunday newspaper some weeks later that I was drawn to an interview with Ms. Colgan. In that she commented that her real breakthrough novel was a book entiled "Meet me at the Cup-cake Cafe" about a woman who seizes the "opportunity" of redundancy to open a cafe where she bakes and sells her own cakes and, after various trials and tribulations, finds true love.

Andi is a mug for such tales and I thought it would make her a good Christmas present. Unfortunately it was unavailable in the late night garage on Christmas Eve, so Andi had instead to make do with a bunch of flowers and a puncture repair kit. And a bag of logs as a stocking filler. I told her it was the thought that counts. I'm not entirely sure she believed me.

Anyway, it turned out I'd have been wasting my money for, a couple of Sundays back, at the start of the good weather, I was sitting in the garden and had truly done the papers to death, so decided I would read a book. Only problem was that Andi's boy was back from Uni and in occupation of the spare room where my books are all kept.

But Andi's books are in a bookcase in the hall! So I had a rummage there and, eccola, there was the very legendary volume. And, on the principle of any port in a storm, I decided to give it a wee read.

And I loved it. Now, to be clear, even if you had known nothing about the book in advance, it would have been clear to you very early on that it would not end with the heroine dying of consumption penniless in a garret, or seeing all her children slain in a pitiless religious war, or even being sold as a wife at a fair.

No, from about five pages in, you knew this would be a book with a happy ending. The pleasure was just in seeing how it got there.

You see, people like a happy ending. That's why they had to have one final episode of Car Share. It couldn't, just couldn't, have ended as it did last year. The public wouldn't have stood for it! And if there is a man in the entire Country who knows what the public want, it is surely Peter Kay.

Now, you'll wonder where all this fits in to a political blog. Here's where. Really successful political projects promise a happy ending. Whether it was Attlee offering a new Jerusalem or McMillan you never having had it so good, or Blair, not so much New Labour as a New Britain or (even) Thatcher proposing a return to a more ordered way of life, all of these platforms were built on optimism about not just the country but the fate of its individual citizens.

Today, nobody is offering that. The Brexit riven Tories offer a future offering nothing certain except uncertainty; my own Party offer"struggle" (possibly mainly with each other) and, the SNP,  post Growth Commission, a country where Enver Hoxha's famous exhortation "This year will be tougher than last year, but next year will be tougher still", looks like it would replace Nemo me impune lacessit as the National motto.

Now, that's not to say optimism can be an end in itself. No matter how illusorily, Salmond, Tsipras, Trump and now the even more ludicrous Di Maio in Italy offer optimism without rationalisation. But there is no point in denying that they attracted or attract many to their banners for that reason alone.

And that is part of the problem. If the democratic centre fails to offer real hope then their ground is occupied by those offering false hope.

Ruth Davidson got this a few weeks back when she made a speech exhorting the Tories to, essentially, cheer up. Her problem is that, beyond the continued survival of the hapless Corbyn and his poisonous allies, they really don't have very much to be cheery about.

But, if someone, anyone, could come along offering real hope of a happy ending? The nation would be theirs. Without even a cup cake or a Gary Barlow song to assist.


Sunday, 27 May 2018

Growth

So, we finally have the report of the SNP Growth Commission.

Supposedly this was to set out the economic argument for Scottish Independence. Its publication has been much delayed and it was eventually virtually sneaked out on the Friday of a long Bank Holiday weekend. Having had a look at it, the reason for reticence is clear. Even honest Nationalists have ultimately to concede that there really isn't an economic case for Scottish Independence.

Nobody is saying it is impossible but then nobody on my side ever said it was impossible. We simply pointed out that it would involve a significant degree of economic hardship with no guarantee at all of ever even getting back, economically, to where we started. And, here, almost four years after we were attempted to be sold the "land of milk and honey" nonsense of the 2014 White Paper, it turns out that is confirmed by a document produced by the SNP themselves.

But others have made that point elsewhere so there is no point in me labouring (sic) it. Rather I want to look at what I think is to be welcomed in the document; the recognition that to date, and by that I mean not just under SNP administrations since 2007 but under the Labour/Lib Dem ones that preceded these, not nearly enough effort has been made under the devolved settlement to promote economic growth.

The Growth Commission rightly points out the asymmetrical nature of the British economy. We regularly deploy Scotland's fiscal deficit as an argument against independence without recognising that every one of the small nations in our Union has a per capita deficit at least as large as Scotland, as indeed has every region of England outwith London and the South East. And that is not as it should be. Indeed, as Andrew Wilson points out, it is not as it is in virtually any other Country in the developed world.

But this is something that Devolution was meant to do something about and yet it hasn't at all. In truth it has hardly tried.

It was not always thus. Scotland, at least urban Scotland, profited as much from the British Empire as did England and Wales, as indeed did we mutually partake in the benefits of the industrial revolution. Certainly, I share the criticism of late Thatcherism/Majorism and then New Labour that they were far too content for growth to be largely generated in the area of finance capital but when that tendency started the one part of the UK outside London that had its own indigenous financial sector was Scotland. Far from riding that wave, since 1999 we have actually seen a relative decline. And that despite technological advance which has effectively removed the geographic advantage of "being in the room".

And while we continued to bewail the lost of heavy industry that is never going to return, what has the Scottish Government done to support diversification? I am all for wind turbines but the capacity to manufacture them in Scotland falls far behind demand, never mind opportunity. And as for much of our food and drink industry, it survives (and prospers) against a barely concealed climate of hostility to its often "red in tooth and claw" (and foreign owned to boot!) capitalist model.

Then we have our new industries, bioscience, computer gaming (which currently astonishingly employs directly more than 20,000 people), distance learned vocational education? What Government help or support do they get? Do they even get asked how the Government might help?

And what could be done in many cases is bleeding obvious. Better links between colleges and industries; better basic education at school level. Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. A Scottish Investment Bank, certainly, but one working alongside private capital rather than giving money to hopeless projects already turned down by those with a nose for business.

Andrew Wilson gets this but he is not alone. Richard Leonard arrived in Holyrood only in 2016 but long before he aspired to the leadership he was the driving force behind the publication of Scottish Labour's new Industrial Strategy, sourced largely from experience he had gained working for one of the few Trade Unions with a significant residual private sector membership. Next week, Ruth Davidson will make a long trailed speech setting out her own ideas in this area. And the Growth Commission is an important contribution to this debate as well.

Andrew Wilson is widely regarded as one of the most thoughtful of Scottish nationalists but his wiser colleagues might ponder his hidden message. Independence would be very painful indeed if the UK Fiscal transfer was removed overnight, probably so painful that a majority will never vote for it. But if the need for that transfer was reduced or even eliminated? Well, that would be a very different proposition indeed. And the key to that is not more flags or more marches. It is more growth.