Monday 30 October 2017

Lessons from Catalonia.

I could write at length about the differences between Scotland and Catalonia. Particularly about how one is a historic nation forming a voluntary part of the world's oldest democracy, The other, on the other hand has never, ever, been an internationally recognised independent country and belongs to a modern state which has within living memory been a fascist dictatorship. Most particularly of all however, that  the former, without a written Constitution, has to make the rules up as we go along while the latter has an overwhelmingly popularly adopted written constitution that sets these rules.

But that's not the point I want to make. The point I want to make is about nationalists here not being bothered about the effect of their actions on people's everyday lives.

You see, what exactly was/is the "strategy" of the Catalonian Nationalists? Suppose on Friday afternoon the democratically elected Government of Spain had thrown their hand in and said "OK, you are independent." How would then even supporters of Catalonian Independence been able to pay their taxes to the "Government of Catalonia"?

Well actually they wouldn't have been, for only the Spanish Government has the administrative machinery to receive and process all major taxes duly paid, through the Agencia Estatal de Administración Tributaria. (The Spanish HMRC).

And how would pensioners or benefit claimants of the most enthusiastic nationalist bent have been able to receive their pensions or benefits? Well, actually, only the Spanish Government has the ability to make these payments. Indeed I suspect only the Spanish Government even knows who is entitled to receive them.  And even if the Spanish Government did a data dump to their Catalonian successors, the latter wouldn't have any money or technical machinery to pay the pensions or benefits. Or indeed public sector wages. As, as I repeat, they don't have any money or the technical ability to receive taxes to raise that money. Indeed, initially. logically, an independent Catalonia won't even have any legally levied taxes to collect! Spain had levied taxes and the regional government of Catalonia (as part of Spain) had levied taxes but on the declaration of independence both of these bodies ceased to have any legal jurisdiction in "free" Catalonia.. All of which would take, at best, months to sort out. Which kind of puts the legitimate disquiet over a UK six week delay in Universal Credit payments commencing in to some perspective.

Instant Catalonian Independence is a nonsensical proposition. That's even before you start on the flight of Corporate Capital that was the inevitable consequence of there being an uncertain (I put that kindly) regulatory framework in an independent Catalonia. Or indeed the impact, in an area hugely dependent on tourism, of the reluctance of anybody to take their holidays where the local administration was in a state of chaos and the medical services going unpaid.

Instant Catalonian Independence is a nonsense even judged against the proposition the SNP put before the Scottish people on 18th September 2014. For that was not for Independence on 19th September 2014. It was for independence fully nineteen months later once precisely the issues I refer to above, in a Catalonian context, had had the chance to be addressed. And, don't forget, many, even on the Yes side, thought that nineteen month period to be unrealistically short.

Just as even the most enthusiastic Brexiteer didn't think we could leave the EU on the day after the referendum and is slowly accepting that even the article 50 timetable might be an unduly optimistic goal.

So why is Catalan Independence being taken seriously? I'll let you into a secret. It is not. Not by Spain, not by the EU, not by any Country in the world. Not even, really, by Catalonia. In Catalonia it is really aimed at getting Spain to negotiate about something more sensible. Although that now has clearly been a miscalculation.

The only place it is being taken seriously is by the governing party in Scotland, even their Green allies having adopted a low profile.

And why is that? Because, for many in the SNP, possibly even a majority, having a viable plan for "independence" isn't actually necessary. It is a decision to be taken based on emotion, not reason. Whether taxes could be levied, or pensions, benefits and wages paid is unimportant. What is important is, literally, a flag and a song. Which is pretty much all Catalonia proposed to start off with.

And that puts our own notorious White Paper into context. It wasn't just over optimistic. it was actively deceitful. But to the true believers that didn't matter.

Don't take my word for it, listen to the words of Mhari Black at the SNP Conference earlier this month.

"We might not know where we are going, but we sure as hell know what we are walking away from".

"We might not know where we are going".......for which she received a standing ovation.

Personally, before I set off on any journey, I want to know my intended destination. But mibbee that's just me. Who knows, next year I might go to Catalonia.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Dark days.

I recent times I have written my blog from my desk at the window of  my rather over grandly titled library. I say rather over grandly titled because while the room is undoubtedly lined by my books it is also the repository for various other junk for which a place cannot be readily found elsewhere in the house.

Nonetheless, it does have a desk and a window beyond that desk which looks out to the garden.

So, for six or so months past I've been able to look out as Spring came, the trees grew slowly greener and fuller and colour slowly emerged among the flower beds.

Tonight however I am looking out in to darkness, knowing only that for nearly three months things will only get darker still.

And that kind of marks my mood about the state of our nation.

Brexit is an utter disaster. It is a policy regarded as such not just by the current Prime Minister but by every living Prime Minister. And not just by the Prime Minister but by the de facto deputy Prime Minister; by the Chancellor and by the Home Secretary. By the leader of the Scottish Tories and the Tory Secretary of State for Wales. By the vast majority of opposition Members of Parliament of all political stripe. By the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Parliament. By the Treasury. By the EU certainly but also by every one of this Country's other major allies. By almost all independent economic forecasters in this country and in the wider world. Indeed by almost anyone with an informed opinion.

And yet we are told it must be persisted with. Because we had a referendum and, to lift the nihilistic words of a different sort of nationalist, Mhari Black, in a different context this week, on one single day, by a narrow majority, the electorate were prepared to sign up to the proposition:

I've never got the outrage at the Nats wanting another Referendum. I've certainly mocked their demand that such events should happen daily until they got the right result but it would surely have been unrealistic, indeed undemocratic, to have suggested that on 19th September 2014 the SNP should have wound itself up as a political Party and accepted that their cause was done. In that same vein, I never accepted, even had we lost on that September day, that my side would have had to have given up and join "Team Scotland" (copyright A. Salmond) to make the best of (or more likely share the blame for) the economic calamity that would have followed. I argued back then for "Unionists" legitimate right to insist that we'd been right and they'd been wrong, on through as many elections as followed, at least until the deed was actually done. Somewhat ironically, having located that very blog, I recall the nationalist outrage which followed.

So I don't accept that we, the electorate, are somehow mandated in the legitimacy of the options available to our elected representatives by a vote on 23rd June 2016, any more than those victorious on that day were obliged to accept such a vote from 6th June 1975.

But, to be clear, you cannot deny the electorate forever. You have to have the courage to confront them with their own folly. That you can't have prosperity without immigration. Or, for a Country of our size, economic influence without allies. Or allies without a means of shared decision making. Or shared decision making without an arbiter over what these decisions mean. That it is a deal or it is no deal, and a deal cannot simply be dictated by only one side.

So we need politicians with bravery.  Politicians on the Tory and Labour side to stand up together to declare "THIS IS MADNESS!" even in the knowledge that, under our first past the post system, they take a risk with their own long term careers.

But I get, as much as anybody gets, the draw of what is unfairly dismissed as Party tribalism but more accurately categorised as Party loyalty.

My mother died on the 13th of April 1979 during the General Election campaign of that year. I was but a boy of twenty but my folks had both been big Labour people locally (my father had died three years before) and the Party, at that time, looked after me, literally, as family. As it has, through personal and political ups and downs ever since. I'd find it exceptionally difficult to leave the Labour Party.

And I had a similar exchange with a pro European Tory post 23rd June 2016. "Let's try and persuade Ruth to lead a new Party" I proposed, by no means entirely frivolously. "I hate this, but I'm still a Tory. And so is she." was the response. On both sides we know this. Other people, comrades on my team, colleagues on theirs, matter to us across the divide. For they are family. And blood is thicker than water. People we might hope would only feel disappointed by such a development but we fear would actually think betrayed.

But perhaps there is an alternative. We now have a fixed term Parliament and a Brexit process to be concluded within it. Would it be beyond the device of woman and man to declare, in numbers and on both sides, for free votes on that process? Impossible? Except you see that's essentially what happened in 1971 when we first decided to join the EU. John Smith ended up voting with Reginald Maudling and Tony Benn with Enoch Powell. As, today, Diane Abbott might vote with Jeremy Hunt while Jeremy Corbyn joins Jacob Rees-Mogg. On this one issue alone. And somehow, a very British way, we might yet muddle through.

For Brexit, or at least a hard Brexit, would be a disaster.  And yet unless something happens that is precisely our destination. Through personal weakness on both sides of our two major Parties, those who perceive that coming disaster only too well are currently trapped, by tribalism or loyalty, in a way proving it impossible to prevent.

Something has to give or those judged most harshly by history will not be the true believing Boris Johnsons or John McDonnells but the Commons majority who saw it all coming but, for reasons of the moment, chose to look away.