It seems unlikely to me that Brexit will lead to Scottish independence

One the 23rd June, Scotland voted 62% vs 38% for remaining in the EU, which is of course at odds with the overall UK vote of 52% vs 48% for Leave.

Since then, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government have been quick to put the option of holding a second referendum on independence on the table, but Sturgeon has so far fallen short of saying it would definitely happen, and talked about looking at all the options for Scotland to remain in the EU.

With the SNP taking 56/59 of the Scottish seats at Westminster in 2015 and forming another administration at Holyrood, with the help of the pro-independence Scottish Green Party, and with the vote to leave the EU being explicitly one of the options Sturgeon had mentioned that might trigger a second independence referendum, many are now talking about the possibility of that happening and thus of Brexit leading to the breakup of the UK.

However despite these poll results, it seems to me rather unlikely that Scotland will become independent in order to become an EU member.

The reasoning for this is simple

  • I expect Scotland to end up outside the EU, having to apply to join, if she obtains independence from the UK.
    • It seems to me most unlikely that Scotland will be able to remain in the EU as the rest of the UK leaves, it is highly speculative as to how it would work and it requires cooperation from the EU and the UK to happen, and it’s not clear why either the UK or EU would entertain the notion.
  • Voting to leave both the UK and the EU means voting for a double dose of economic uncertainty, an extra dose on top of that caused by Brexit itself. It thus seems to me that an independence referendum with that as the choice will be even harder for the SNP to win than the 2014 referendum was. Questions about how the deficit will be dealt with, what currency option will be pursued, etc will be even more stark than they were in 2014.

Additionally, I note that a recent opinion poll did not favour Scottish independence in the event of Brexit.

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Can the Scottish parliament veto Brexit?

In short: in my completely non-expert opinion, based on plain reading of the Scotland Act and the evidence used to suggest this in the first place, no.

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Initial thoughts on UKIP’s advance in the Euro elections

So UKIP topped the poll in the UK’s 2014 euro elections, returning 24 MEPs compared to Labour’s 20 and the Tories 19, with Lib Dems holding onto just 1 seat (they used to have 11).

Even with the surge of anti-EU parties elsewhere, it is unlikely this will have a big effect in the European Parliament because the pro EU parties still easily outnumber the anti-EU/EU sceptic parties there. However in terms’ of the UK’s domestic politics, and the debates about EU and immigration (the two main themes of UKIP’s campaigning) there could be a significant impact in various ways:

  • The Lib Dems, the most consistently pro EU of the major parties in Britain, who took Nigel Farage and UKIP on directly in the campaign and positioned themselves as “the party of in”, have had a disastrous result. They were lucky to hold on to their single MEP and fell to fifth place behind the Greens.  Those who believe in the EU should be concerned that the one party that was unashamedly, full throttle, pro EU got a drubbing after taking on UKIP in a high profile manner.
  • UKIP are unlikely to win more than a handful of Westminster seats at the next general election, due to the vagaries of first the post, the higher turnout, the fact we’ll be electing a government, and the likelihood they’ll fall back to at best 3rd place in share of vote. However, I’d expect the other parties to pander more strongly to the concerns of the voters who voted for them. Expect more talk of immigration controls, reform of the EU or pledges of referendums on EU membership.
  • A bigger impact may come from the reaction in Scotland to these Euro election results – Scottish politics has swung to the left of British politics generally for  as long as I can remember.  With UKIP’s perception as a party to the right of the Tories, the prospect of UKIP influencing Westminster politics may give a boost to the “Yes” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. If that boost is big enough for “yes” to win the referendum, then British politics will have the biggest shakeup it’s seen for centuries as Scotland negotiates independence. The fall out would make the next Westminster general election unpredictable.



On the Tories and future transfers of power to the EU

In his speech outlining his party’s new post Lisbon treaty policy on the EU, David Cameron pledged that no more powers would be transferred to the EU without a referendum:

Never again should it be possible for a British government to transfer power to the EU without the say of the British people.

If we win the next election, we will amend the European Communities Act 1972 to prohibit, by law, the transfer of power to the EU without a referendum.

And that will cover not just any future treaties like Lisbon, but any future attempt to take Britain into the euro.

He also pledged that any attempt to use the Lisbon Treaty’s “self amendment” clause would require approval by Parliament:

But people will rightly say that the Lisbon Treaty does not just transfer powers to Brussels today.

It allows further powers to be transferred in the future, because it contains a mechanism to abolish vetoes and transfer power without the need for a new Treaty.

We do not believe that any of these so-called ratchet clauses should be used to hand over more powers from Britain to the EU.

Furthermore, we would change the law so that any use of a ratchet clause by a future government would require full approval by Parliament.

Note that he is not pledging that power transfers arranged via the ratchet clause would require a referendum.

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So what can this new EU president do?

So now the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified, and the European Union has a new President, Herman van Rompuy. But what role does this President play?

The first point to note is that he is President of the European Council. Article 9b of the Lisbon Treaty deals with this body. It states:

1. The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof. It shall not exercise legislative functions.

2. The European Council shall consist of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall take part in its work.

3. The European Council shall meet twice every six months, convened by its President. When the agenda so requires, the members of the European Council may decide each to be assisted by a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, by a member of the Commission. When the situation so requires, the President shall convene a special meeting of the European Council.

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On the BNP’s euro election performance

2 interesting articles are linked to below, the first on the views of those who voted for the BNP in the European elections and the second looking at the BNP’s performance in perspective.

Who voted BNP and why? – Channel 4 News:

“Yet the feeling is widespread that white Britons get a raw deal. Seventy seven per cent of BNP voters think white people suffer unfair discrimination these days. But that is also the views of 40 per cent of the public as a whole.

The average British voter is more likely to think that discrimination afflicts white people than Muslim or non-white people. And only seven per cent of the public think white people benefit from unfair advantages, while more than one in three think Muslim and non-white people receive unfair help.

Thus the BNP is tapping into some very widely held views, such as the desire to stop all immigration, and the belief that local councils “normally allow immigrant families to jump the queue in allocating council homes” (87 per cent of BNP voters think this, but so does 56 per cent of the public as a whole).

Yet, depending on how the term “racist” is precisely defined, our survey suggests that the label applies to only around a half of BNP voters. On their own, these votes would not have been enough to give the BNP either of the seats they won last night.

There are two telling pieces of evidence that suggest wider causes of disenchantment. Seven out of 10 BNP voters (and almost as many Green and Ukip voters) think that “there is no real difference these between Britain’s three main parties”.

But perhaps the most startling finding came when we tested anecdotal reports that many BNP voters were old Labour sympathisers who felt that the party no longer speaks up for them. It turns out to be true. As many as 59 per cent of BNP voters think that Labour “used to care about the concerns of people like me but doesn’t nowadays”.

What is more worrying for Labour is that this sentiment is shared by millions of voters, way beyond the ranks of BNP voters. Overall, 63 per cent of the British public think Labour used to care about their concerns – and only 19 per cent think it does today.”

(bold emphasis added)

The myth of the far right surge – Spiked Online

“The BNP’s share of the Euro-vote is certainly up – but not by much, from 4.9 per cent in 2004 to 6.2 per cent in 2009. In this election, everything was reportedly in the BNP’s favour: a recession, a political crisis, a voting system that favours smaller parties, an election that is routinely used to deliver protest votes because it is not taken seriously, and the kudos of being the one vote that was sure to get up the noses of the political establishment. Yet the BNP still barely registers in British political life except as a bogeyman to be employed by the big parties to scare us down to the polling booths. In fact, the number of votes the BNP received actually fell in the two regions where it won seats compared with the 2004 Euro elections: by almost 3,000 votes in the north-west and by around 6,000 in Yorkshire and Humber. It was the collapse of the Labour vote that allowed the BNP to win seats.

While there is little to suggest that the BNP can make a major impact on political life more generally, the fact that such a pariah party can have any success at all is indicative of the increasing isolation of the mainstream parties. As the Conservative shadow defence spokesman Liam Fox put it, ‘all politicians should be asking themselves “How did we allow this to happen?”’. The answer is that all the mainstream parties can offer is a managerial approach to solving society’s problems. There is so little difference of principle between them that they spend an inordinate amount of time jockeying for position in the febrile atmosphere of the ‘Westminster Village’ in an effort to differentiate themselves. It is no surprise that voters have chosen to give the political elite a kicking at the ballot box, if they could summon up enough enthusiasm to vote at all.

It is this loss of legitimacy – not the highly unlikely prospect of neo-fascist electoral success – which is central to the handwringing. The only way that Nick Griffin and friends will gain more support is if bankrupt mainstream politicians continue to have nothing more to offer than ‘at least we’re not the BNP’.”

(bold emphasis added)

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On the UK’s Euro election results

The BBC summarises the results here. The main headline results are of course that UKIP pushed Labour into 3rd place, the BNP won 2 seats and Labour was pushed into 2nd place in Wales by the Tories. The last time Labour failed to be the most popular party in Wales, David Lloyd George was the Prime Minister.

Certainly this is a truly dire result for Labour, an encouraging result for UKIP and a worrying boost for the BNP, but it seems to me there is more going on than that.

Consider the votes for the “established” parties. The Tories, Lib Dems, Labour and, (in Scotland and Wales) the SNP and Plaid Cymru, collectively got 60% of the vote.

40% has gone to UKIP, the Greens, the BNP and a myriad of small parties and independents. In 2004 (summary here), the “established” parties collectively got 66.6% of the vote. If you take just Labour + Tories + Lib Dems the percentage of the vote in 2009 was 57.1% vs 64.2% in 2004. Clearly people have become a lot less inclined to vote for the established parties in these elections.

Also, if we sum the votes for the parties that advocate withdrawal from the EU, that is UKIP + the BNP + NO2EU + the English Democrats + the Socialist Labour Party + United Kingdom First, the total is 27.1%, almost as much as the Tories achieved. Add the Tories’ votes, and you have a clear majority (54.8%) voting for parties that are either EU sceptic or outright anti-EU.

Now, consider the Tory vote itself. The Tories will of course be glad to have “won” this election and to have pushed Labour into 2nd place in Wales. However, they polled fewer votes than they did in 2004. The Labour vote has collapsed, with many voters just staying at home and the rest migrating to fringe parties. This election is thus more a rejection of Labour than it is an endorsement of the Tories. The Tories clearly have some way to go to gaining the electorate’s trust, though at least they can say their vote has held up well compared to Labour and the Lib Dems as the electorate sidle off to non-mainstream parties.

However, a word of caution must be raised, since the turnout, at 34.2% is very low, lower than the 38% achieved in 2004 and lower than the turnouts for general elections. Indeed this is the prime reason for the BNP’s success – in both the regions where it won seats, it polled slightly fewer votes than in 2004, but the lower turnout enabled them to obtain seats as their percentage share was boosted. A high turnout might well have prevented the BNP from gaining any seats. A general election in Britain would clearly see a different picture, more like the picture in the local elections, where Labour were hammered and the Tories obtained 38% of the vote and the Lib Dems held steady.

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