May’s approach to Brexit negotiations

May’s stated objective is to get the best deal for the UK from Brexit, so she would obviously do only what is necessary to achieve her aim.  But is that the way it has turned out?  Here are some thoughts on May’s “strong and stable” approach from the point of view of achieving that objective, remembering that this is what Scotland faces in 2019 as part of the UK.

Back in July, whilst the EU cracked on with preparing, May lost time starting two (competing) Whitehall departments from scratch.  Then in the Autumn, when the High Court ruled that Article 50 was outside prerogative, May could have got on with the job with an Article 50 Bill – but appealed instead, wasting more time.  May was lucky the Supreme Court said only a Bill was needed and didn’t insist on input from the devolved administrations as well, but it was a huge, needless, time-wasting gamble.  Had May just got on with preparing the Article 50 Bill, it would have been passed by Christmas.

She claimed not to want show her cards, using that as the excuse for not giving any information to the public, but then she made her Birmingham conference speech when she just couldn’t resist telling the party faithful how clever she was going to be.  In that speech, she declared (a) a March date for Article 50, (b) no ECJ jurisdiction and (c) no freedom of movement.  So several cards fully shown?

Come this April, instead of “getting on with the job”, she wastes almost two months of the Article 50 two years schedule with a needless general election, in clear contradiction of her excuse for refusing to sanction a Scottish independence referendum, though, I suppose, only needless if you ignore the possibility that as many as 30 Tory MPs (her majority is 12) could end up in the chokey for fiddling their election expenses.  Three times she could have “got on with the job” but instead we get two needless new departments, a needless appeal and a needless general election.  Again and again, under the cloak of her “getting on with job” rhetoric, May is diverted and wastes time that should be spent preparing for negotiations with the EU.

But the EU27 have not been wasting time.  Note the news that the EU27 have agreed a common approach to the negotiations.  This didn’t come about by accident.  Compare with the UK, where May hasn’t got, and hasn’t even attempted to get, an agreed UK approach among the four UK administrations.

And in addition to all this, she has contrived to lose key people like Sir Ivan Rogers, the EU Ambassador, and two of her senior Downing Street advisers, and appointing idiots like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox to key positions in the administration has been the expected unmitigated disaster.  Combined with this is the aggressive attitude that has characterised May’s whole approach.  May’s attitude has been one of “they need us more than we need them” so they’ll jolly well have to do as they’re told.  Insults and threats have been the order of the day from the moment the result of the referendum was announced, further poisoning the relationship with Europe even before negotiations have really started.

This is not strong and stable leadership but the reverse, but people might nod along because it is called “strong and stable leadership”.  The truth is that if the UK had not wasted time with two new departments, a needless appeal and a needless election, they would be in a better position than now with more time to prepare for what they want to achieve and how they want to go about it.  More preparation would have helped to prevent the outcome from the now infamous dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker where it was obvious that May had precious little idea of what was required, but a hugely inflated sense of what she could achieve.  Only May is to blame for these delays, pushing the UK Government into a situation which it is supremely unqualified to cope with.  With this level of incompetence, what are the chances of an acceptable Brexit deal with the EU?

May is acting like a dictator and, like all other dictators, she has either to get a successful outcome in every situation or she has to have the authority (or the muscle) to override any and all objections.  She’s not there yet, but do you want to bet your future on the way she’ll eventually go?

This is the person that the Tories want you to support at GE17.  This is the standard of government that you can expect from a May-led Westminster administration and remember the Tories also want to make even the local elections all about Brexit and this Westminster administration.  This is what we need to reject before any more of the incompetence creeps over the border and infects Holyrood.

Be warned.  Vote Tory and you are voting for a continuing “strong and stable” Brexit shambles.

Trumpety, Trump

Was it only 11 days (as I write this) since Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States.  Somehow, it seems like much, much longer.  Since the inauguration, he’s been more sworn at than sworn in.  More column inches (or should I say centimetres as a good European, before it becomes a Brexit offence), have been written about him, in both print an electronic media, than any other president in history, most of it unfriendly and some of it downright abusive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think much of him myself.  He doesn’t seem like the sort of guy normal folk could be friendly with.  Not the sort you’d meet in the pub for an after work drink.  Not the sort you’d invite to your Hogmanay party, unless, of course, you were Theresa May, who was desperate to invite him to a party she was throwing at Buck House, just as soon as she persuades Queenie to do as she’s told and open the door.

No, what concerns me is why Trump’s getting so much attention in the media.  You’d almost think the MSM had something to gain from it.

But wait.  In the last two weeks, how many stories have you seen about foodbanks, how many about cuts to someone’s Social Security benefits or sanctions imposed by DWP on some jobseeker who was a minute late for an appointment.  How much publicity has there been about the plan to close 24 Jobcentres in Scotland, 8 of them in Glasgow, and others all over the UK, leaving great chunks of the country with perhaps only one Jobcentre and thereby forcing claimants to travel many miles to appointments, increasing the cost and time taken for the claimant, not to mention the chances of being delayed and then sanctioned by a Jobcentre rep with a target to meet.  Even Brexit is not getting the treatment it was getting before the great Trump storm hit the headlines.

What we have seen is a shedload of anti-Trump rallies being held all over the UK, many with large numbers attending.  What demonstrations have we had about foodbanks, benefit cuts or sanctions during this time.  What demonstrations we had before Trump hit the headlines, have had much less publicity and, perhaps as a result, have been smaller.  It’s a pity that folks seem to have more interest in demonstrating against a situation in another country, which they can’t really change, and less in demonstrating against situations in their own country which they have at least some chance of affecting.

We all know that Trump’s election influence what happens in the UK, particularly as Theresa May appears to be happy to offer everything and sign up to any deal Trump suggests in her panic to get something to show that Brexit is not going to be the disaster many have suggested.

So, all those involved in writing, talking or demonstrating against Trump might like to wonder whether they’re being encouraged by the MSM to forget about domestic issues that are a bit of an embarrassment for the UK Government and spend all their collective energy in other ways to let the government off the hook.

Think on it.

Who spent the money?

With the publication of the GERS figures, somewhat earlier than usual (does that mean they are even less accurate than normal?), we have the usual Unionist orgy of doom-laden descriptions of the “black hole” in the Scottish finances, clearly demonstrating that Scotland couldn’t possibly support itself without the help of those nice people from Westminster.  All of this is pretty standard stuff and probably by now is pretty much ignored by many Scots.  However, there are a couple of points which all the Unionists have failed to notice, probably because thinking of doom-laden statements tends to occupy so much of your time that you probably haven’t the time to read the report and think of what it really says.

Firstly and something which has been mentioned by many, GERS says more about the failure of Westminster than it does of the failure of Scotland.  Westminster have had over 300 years to make sure that Scotland, as an integral part of the UK (you will notice that I didn’t say “valued part of the UK”), has a strong economy and, using their own figures, they appear to have failed.

Secondly and perhaps less thought about, is this.  Every year, the Scottish Government gets a grant from Westminster through the Barnet Formula to finance the responsibilities that Westminster have generously allowed it to have.  This is a fixed proportion of total UK Government spending on these devolved responsibilities, though the actual amount reduces year on year as UK Government spending is impacted by the current austerity drive.  This grant represents the maximum amount that the Scottish Government can spend, because they are not allowed to spend more than is allocated via the Barnet Formula.  Despite that, the so-called black hole seems to be forever increasing.  Why is this?

If the amount allocated to the Scottish Government is a fixed proportion of UK Government spending on devolved matters and the Scottish Government cannot spend more than that, who is responsible for the extra spending that causes this black hole to get bigger.  Obviously, it can’t be the Scottish Government, so who else makes spending decisions for Scotland that could affect the Scottish deficit?

For all you who said Westminster, award yourselves a gold star.  Westminster makes the majority of decisions that affect Scottish spending reported in GERS.  If Westminster decides to spend more on defence (did someone mention Trident), Scotland has to pay a part of that.  If Westminster decides to go to war (did someone mention Iraq or Syria), Scotland has to pay their share.  Fair enough, you might say, as these things affect the whole country.  But if Westminster decides any expenditure at all is in the national interest, such as London Crossrail or the upgrade to the London sewerage system or the high speed train link from London to Birmingham or the London Olympics  (is there a trend here), then Scotland has to pay a share.  Strangely, it appears that a London based government always thinks that money spent on London benefits the whole country, but doesn’t feel the same way about money spent on other parts of the country.

So, all in all, it’s obvious that the majority of decisions affecting Scottish spending are made by Westminster and if Westminster decrees, then Scotland must pay a share whether they want to or not.

So you decide.  Is the current so-called black hole in Scotland’s finances the result of the Scottish Government’s profligacy or Westminster profligacy?  I don’t think it’s a hard choice.

Respect, the Referendum, and the Union

Ever since the result of the independence referendum was known, the unionist mantra has been to demand that Yes voters, particularly the nasty SNP types, should respect the result.

“The Scottish people have spoken”, they say, “so you must respect the will of the Scottish people “.

However, it soon became clear that the Unionist argument would have been more accurately expressed as “you respect the result of the referendum because somebody should”.  Because ever since the result was known, the Tory government and the unionist media have shown clearly that they have absolutely no intention of respecting the result, a result obtained by Scots making a judgement between two offers, one for independence and one for remaining in the Union.   Unfortunately (for us), the Union offer turned out to be smoke and mirrors. In fact, it was so smoky and mirrored that it gave smoke and mirrors a bad name.

Only hours had passed when David Cameron, a signatory of the now world-famous Vow, had announced his intention to introduce EVEL, the well-named scheme to deprive Scots MPs of the opportunity to vote on bills which supposedly only apply to England, but, as it turns out, also includes bills with a knock-on effect on the Scottish block grant.  This was followed by the infamous Smith Commission, which reduced the concept of “Home Rule” to the ability to design street signs and little else.  Scottish Labour, presumably on the instructions of their bosses in London, were particularly keen on making sure the Scots got nothing.

Worse was to follow when the Scotland Bill, (very) loosely based on the outcome of Smith, came before Westminster.  Tories, and often Labour too, few of whom could be bothered to attend the debates, would turn up at each division to vote against any sensible increase in the powers being offered to the Scottish Government.

In the meantime, in May 2015, we had an election to the UK parliament.  Respect the result of the referendum, the Unionists said.  It’s time to move on, they said.  Scots voters, obviously so impressed by the concept of “respecting the referendum result”, turned out in numbers and elected 56 SNP MPs out of 59, leaving the Unionist parties, Labour, Tories and LibDems with a rump of 1 MP each.  Funnily enough, no one in any unionist party suggested that we should respect the result of the General Election.  The SNP haven’t got a mandate, they bleated, because they got less than 50% of the vote (true, it was a mere 49.97%).  The fact that the Tories got elected in Westminster with only 37% of the vote seemed to have escaped their memory.  For Unionists, the will of the Scottish people should only be respected when they get the right answer.  Otherwise, they should be ignored … because they’re just … WRONG … obviously.

Now, to bring us right up to date, we had the Scottish Parliament elections just a few days ago.  Respect the result of the referendum, the Unionists said.  It’s time to move on, they said.  However, once again, Scots voters chose to ignore the siren calls of the Unionists and voted for a third term for the SNP with an increased number of constituency votes and an increased  share of the votes.  For a variety of reasons, including the so-called tactical voting effect and the virtual collapse of the Labour vote, on this occasion the SNP did not get a majority in Parliament, despite their increased vote share.  The collapse of the Labour vote allowed the Tories to overtake them for second place and the kudos of being the official opposition.  This allowed the Tory media, including the BBC, to claim the election as a triumph for the Tories and a disaster for the SNP and allowed an overexcited Ruth Davidson to claim that she had a mandate to say no to a second referendum, despite the huge difference in the number of MSPs and share of the vote..  In all the excitement, many people didn’t even notice that the Tories had  a lower vote share than Labour, 22% to Labour’s 22.6%.

Breaking news.  The appointment of Ken Macintosh as Presiding Officer slightly reduces the gap between the SNP and the rest, but makes no material difference to the current parliamentary challenge for the SNP.

Breaking news 2.  Very impressed by my (new) local MSP, Clare Haughey, who took the oath today with calmness and aplomb.  A great start.  She’ll do Rutherglen, and the Scottish Parliament, proud. Gon yersel, Clare.

So what have we learned about the attitude of the Unionist parties post referendum.  We know now that the Unionist desire for all of us to “respect the will of the Scottish people” and move on only applies when the Scottish people give the right answer and, in any case, only applies to the Scottish people.  So, it applies for the referendum result, but doesn’t apply when the Scottish people deliver an overwhelming mandate to the SNP, such as in the 2015 and 2016 elections. It only applies to Scots   It doesn’t apply to anybody else.  So when Unionists totally ignore the promises made about what would be delivered following a No vote, this is not disrespecting the will of the Scottish people, this is just … politics?  Others might describe it more like taking the piss, but I wouldn’t use such phrases myself.

Do we think they’ll change?  Does anyone think they’ll change?  Of course they won’t.  Only independence can take us away from the malign influence of the Westminster Tories, and it can’t come soon enough.

 

Oh what a lovely war

Here we go, here we go, here we go
Here we go, here we go, here we go-o

But perhaps the chanting was all that was missing from the ‘debate’ at Westminster last Wednesday. We had the ohs and ahs from the terraces (or the benches) when someone, most often someone from the home team, executed a clever (verbal) manoeuvre; there was the usual barracking of players on the away team by the more numerous home support, the away team captain Jezza being especially singled out for treatment; and the crowd responded to near misses at either end with huge roars of appreciation.

Not unexpectedly, the balance of play favoured the home team.  They had more of the ball and their play showed a greater degree of organisation.  By contrast, the away team were so disorganised that sometimes you would almost have got the impression that some of the players were kicking in the wrong direction.  Indeed, Benn, one of the away forwards, was applauded by the home support for one particularly impressive intervention, which only served to put the away team on the back foot, much to the dismay of Jezza, the captain.

At this point, I ought to say that the group of Scottish players on the left wing of the away team certainly demonstrated much more skill and cohesion than the rest of the team, but unfortunately, despite it looking as if they could cause the home team some problems, their contribution was limited as they saw so little of the ball during the game.

All in all, it was no surprise when the home team eventually triumphed, though the 66 penalty misses by the away team contributed to the scoreline having a much more one-sided appearance than seemed likely at the start of the game. The home crowd certainly appreciated the victory, celebrating it with cheers and applause, though, thankfully, no foot stamping, as recent comments seem to suggest the main stand at the Westminster arena may be in need of some very expensive restoration.

To get back to the real world, we had a debate about whether Britain should join in the assault on Syria, where nobody listened to anything anyone else had to say, where everyone had made up their mind in advance, and where the result, that we had decided to join the game of seeing how many people we could blow up, some of whom (hopefully) being terrorists, was a foregone conclusion, especially after Corbyn allowed a free vote and it became obvious that a significant number of Labour MPs would vote with their Tory bedfellows.  The excitement that greeted the result seemed at odds with the seriousness of the action that the result permitted, but the Tories particularly obviously felt that they had saved their leader from going down in history as a Tory leader who had failed to start a war, or at least join in someone else’s.

So now we can expect the media to be full of reports of the successes of our ‘brave lads’, no doubt with a count of numbers of terrorists killed, though whether the count will be detailed enough to identify those terrorists who were under 5 years old can only be, at the moment, the subject of speculation.

Still, Cameron will be pleased.  He’s got his diversion from problems at home and he no doubt expects that no one will notice the continued, or even increased (war has to be paid for, you know), austerity and even if they do, they’ll think it a price worth paying to ‘keep us safe’ and to increase the sales, and profits, of the arms manufacturers, not to mention reminding everyone that Britain is still a world power who can murder Jonny Foreigners with the best of them.