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Showing posts with label rUK. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rUK. Show all posts

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Nicola – fearlessly abseiling down the rock faces of the Union …

I have seen and heard many political performances in my life, from the 1945 general election through to April 2015, including some great ones, but I have never witnessed a flawless one – until yesterday at the Edinburgh International Climbing Centre.

The contrast between Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party and the confused, panic-stricken, contradictory, fact-free, humanity-free utterances of Tory, LibDem, UKIP and Scottish Labour politicians could not have been more starkly evident. Her calm, informed, gently humorous and profoundly human outline of the SNP manifesto and her responses to a wide range of media question could not be really be described as a performance – it was a direct expression of core values, coming straight from an intelligent Scottish heart.

This was not a contrived media persona, but the true face of a warm, vanity-free Scottish woman who patently has no fondness for the limelight or political celebrity, but who endures both as a necessary part of realising the hopes and dreams of Scots, of all ethnic origins and backgrounds who have placed their trust in her and the party she leads. Indeed, it is a trust that now extends beyond Scotland …

Gaun yersel, Nicola!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Curran’s Core Concepts on Currency!

This is my perspective as a Scottish voter, neither currency expert, economist, politician nor banker, but very definitely a nationalist, a left-winger and a professional negotiator. Read it in that context, please!

THE CURRENCY QUESTION
THE RATIONALE FOR A NEW CHOICE

PRESENT STATUS
Pre-negotiation phase, forty days and forty night to go. Scottish Government’s position based on Fiscal Commission reports (and TWO) and White Paper, Scotland’s Future.

Fiscal Commission identified four main options -

MONETARY UNION with rUK – STERLING

MONETARY UNION with EU – EURO

NEW SCOTTISH CURRENCY - Fixed exchange rate

NEW SCOTTISH CURRENCY - Floating exchange rate

(N.B. The New Scottish Currency options includes either using sterling (‘the pound’) as the new currency or designating a new Scottish unit of currency (e.g. ‘the groat’)

The currency option can be presented alternatively as -

Monetary union with rUK – the pound

Monetary union with EU – the euro

New Scottish currency, floating or fixed – the groat

Continuing to use the pound, floating or fixed – the pound on sterlingisation)

The recommendation of the Commission was -

MONETARY UNION with rUK - STERLING

The Scottish Government declared this to be its choice of currency arrangement and announced its intention to negotiate the terms of monetary union with rUK after a YES vote.

The UK Government has declared this option to be totally unacceptable, in a variety of forums and statements from the PM, the Chancellor, senior advisers and Better Together leaders.

PERSPECTIVES
This UK position can be viewed by the Scottish Government from two main perspectives, and response options developed accordingly.

Perspective One
It is not an outright rejection, but a referendum campaign tactic to influence the Scottish electorate into voting No (the UK’s primary objective in the pre-negotiation phase)

If this fails as a referendum tactic and there is a YES vote, the tactic is converted to an anchoring statement aimed at enhancing UK negotiating team’s response to the Scottish Government’s opener of a currency union.

Perspective Two
The UK Government really means it: they will not - under any circumstances - accept a currency/monetary union with an independent Scotland.


PRE-NEGOTIATION PHASE:

THE CURRENCY QUESTION: THE RATIONALE FOR A NEW CHOICE

RESPONSE OPTIONS
On both Perspectives One and Two, the same three responses are available -

Hold currency union position till the referendum

or

Adopt a new  plan of Scottish currency/sterlingisation and withdraw plan to negotiate a currency union

or

Adopt a new plan of Scottish currency/sterlingisation but reiterate continued willingness to negotiate a currency union

TENTATIVE EVALUATION

Move to  Scottish currency under sterlingisation plan – withdraw plan to negotiate a currency union

POSITIVES
Immediate media brief, maximum publicity, most supporters happy, many non-SNP YES people much happier. Electorate in the main probably relieved and supportive.

Scottish currency perceived as greater independence, more Scottish control.

Control shifts to SNP Government (no longer dependent on negotiation - anticipates control after YES vote and independence)

Opposition on backfoot, panicked, reactive. Immediate plans activated to prepare for Scottish currency, civil service briefed, etc.
 
NEGATIVES
Presented as a retreat by UK, ‘fallback to Plan B’, cave-in under pressure, etc.

New attack on alleged negatives of Scottish currency option - expert negative arguments (e.g. Carney) mined for negative critical analysis

Share of national debt occupies centre stage, claims of  reneging, defaulting, etc. 

Spotlight on the new institutions and regulatory framework cited as potential weakness.

Pegging to sterling categorised as powerlessness, dependency.

TENTATIVE EVALUATION

Adopt a Scottish currency-sterlingisation plan but reiterate continued willingness to negotiate a currency union

POSITIVES
As under previous option, but with advantage of being seen still open to preferred option, flexible, displaying concern for rUK interests and relationship.

Even if UK cautiously enters currency union negotiations, powerful Scottish fallback already in place.

NEGATIVES
Potential of frustrating expectancies of YES supporters and non-SNP parties already on board for Scottish currency.

Danger of pressures building to force Scottish Government to abandon negotiation on currency union. Uncertainty for those contracted to new Scottish currency institutions.

SOME PREVIOUS BLOGS

17th February 2014

30th March 2014

16th November 2013

30th April 2013

You will also find an abundance of video clips on the currency argument, from every conceivable perspective, on my YouTube Channel – simply enter search term ‘currency’ in box

 

Friday, 16 May 2014

The New West Lothian question–the status of Scottish MPs in Westminster after a YES vote

Baroness Jay has put the cat among the pigeons with her Lord’s Committee views on the status and rights of Scottish MPs after a YES vote in the negotiation period up to independence in 2016. The YES pigeons are fluttering agitatedly, and huffing and puffing about unelected Lord, etc. instead of addressing the issue properly, something that is long overdue from both YES and No camps. (I can’t stand Baroness Jay or unelected Lords, but somebody had to say something half-intelligent about this issue, and she has at least stirred a stagnant pot.)

On the MPs question, there are mixed messages coming in both directions, and the conflicting arguments are many.

 

The Scottish Government's position, as I understand it, is that since the UK remains in existence after a YES vote till March 2016, representative government continues, and the SNP will field candidates for the election and take up seats - if elected - until Scotland becomes independent in 2016. They will continue their present practice of abstaining from Westminster votes on purely English matters, e.g. NHS, education (effectively The West Lothian Question).

There is some difference of opinion in the wider YES campaign over this position. I am inclined to think they shouldn't, for reasons that oddly are shared with the No camp (see below) but I haven't made up my mind yet.
Other parties plan to field candidates from Scottish constituencies.

TWO CRUCIAL ARGUMENTS

1. UK remains in existence after a YES vote till March 2016, representative government continues, and therefore constituents cannot be left in a representative vacuum. It would be a denial of democracy for them to be unrepresented.

There are various problems with this argument. Firstly, the Scottish Government will be negotiating with the UK Government, but a UK government effectively acting as the rUK Government on behalf of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How can SNP MPs who may well be part of the Scottish Government negotiating team sit across the table from them and at the same time be part of UK Government?

One answer to this is that the totality of Westminster MPs is not the UK Government (the Tory/LibDem Coalition), it is the UK Parliament, and therefore SNP MPs have the right to participate in the UK Parliament while the UK still exists.

2. The 2015 election would represent a democratic distortion if Scottish MPs from the SNP and the Scottish Labour, Tory, Green, and LibDem parties, from a country that had just voted to leave the UK and was negotiating its exit terms, was allowed to influence - perhaps crucially influence - the selection of a UK Government that one year on (2016) became the rUK Government? For example, what if Labour was elected only because of Scottish votes?

The other astonishing proposal, currently being discussed in Westminster, is that Scottish Unionist MPs elected in the 2015 general election (SNP MPs will vacate their seat in 2016) should be allowed to retain the seats (despite having no constituents!) and salaries and perks for the full life of the 2015 rUK Parliament.

However, a ancient Union is not dissolved without there being complex questions such as these to be addressed. Not the least of the problem is that the Scottish Government, the Scottish electorate and the Scottish media have been discussing these matters for several years and are highly aware of the complexities and the argument, but the rest of UK, having been in denial over the possibility of a YES vote for years, are just now beginning the appreciate the magnitude of the change that may occur, and are approaching the issue in a Ladybird Book of Politics, naive mode, not unmixed with astonishment, resentment and pique - emotions not conducive to grown-up politics, which will be vitally needed if there is a YES vote.

But at the moment, the No Campaign is still significantly ahead, the polls vary quite radically, and the outcome is unknown. 124 days is a short time, yet a week is a long time in politics, the world is a deeply unstable place, and there are always. as Harold Macmillan said "Events, dear boy, events ..."
.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Ius Naturale – the Referendum and pre-negotiating positions

THE REFERENDUM

Some of the ideas here come from a two-year old blog – I’ve pulled out the essence that I believe is still pertinent.

The Act of Union was a treaty between two independent kingdoms. It doesn't take two to end a treaty or an agreement, it only takes one, either by negotiating the terms of exit - or unilaterally. The ius civile and the ius gentium are undoubtedly relevant, but so is the ius naturale, especially after 300 plus years. If the UK Government wilfully misunderstands this, and continues to act like the Romans in decline, then the Scots will become less civil and move towards acting naturale - take note, gentlemen ...

Independence is a beautifully simple concept, and needs no complex definition - it means a nation doing its own thing, in every aspect of its affairs. Full fiscal autonomy doesn't need Ming Campbell's version of the Steel Committee to tell us what it is - it's independence in everything except the ultimate sovereignty of Westminster, foreign policy and defence, the nuclear deterrent and membership of the EU and the UN.

If you really expect us to blow our negotiating hand in advance of the referendum outcome on the detail of the negotiation that will inevitable follow, dream on, UK. But by all means set out what you see as the detailed agenda for that negotiation, and we'll let you know what we think of the items that might be up for discussion. Most of them are self-evident as heads of negotiation – have a read at Scotland’s Future if you’re as bereft of ideas as you appear to be.

And lastly, Alistair Darling, David Cameron, George Osborne, Alistair Carmichael – and Gordon Brown(?) - if you want to go down in history as statesmen, rather than as pompous windbags, you might consider addressing the issues in an adult, statesmanlike fashion. Try and act in the spirit of the ius naturale. The Roman Empire first began to negotiate seriously when it was near to collapse - maybe the UK can make a better job of it in similar circumstances ...

We know what side you're on - the UK's side - and you know what side we're on - Scotland's - and England's and Wales's and Northern Ireland's. Talk calmly about the issues that lie ahead and stop your ridiculous posturing and grandstanding - it cuts nae ice wi' Scots. Frankly, it gie's us the boke ...

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Magnus Gardham and the currency question

I thought Magnus Gardham would have let his non-story of yesterday die quietly to avoid further embarrassment. But no, today he unwisely tries to justify it, to give the wee thing legs ...

Putting our money where its mouth is

It should not fall to me, a voter with no background in journalism or politics to offer the political editor of the Herald some basic concepts from The Ladybird Book of Politics, but sadly, it seems necessary.

There is a fundamental  difference between the position of the devolved Scottish Government setting out its policy - and effectively its opening negotiating platform for an independent Scotland after a YES vote - in a White Paper, and a UK Government publishing a White Paper for implementation through its majority in Parliament. In the first context, setting out a "definitive position" on policies defines a negotiating position and a set of beliefs that underpin it: in the second context, it is simply the intention to legislate using a Parliamentary majority.

In his first few paragraphs, Magnus Gardham shows that that he understands this, yet he chooses to reject the reality because it does not suit his story or his agenda - that the Scottish Government is in some way misleading a gullible Scottish electorate over the currency. He might have taken some account of the calm, and faintly amused reaction of Brian Taylor of the BBC (and others) - a man who does understand politics - at the farrago of nonsense thrown up around Colin McKay's entirely unexceptional statement - that no one can guarantee the position of the UK Government or UK Treasury in negotiations after a YES vote, especially since that Government may well change in 2015, halfway through the most complex set of negotiations British politicians have ever undertaken in centuries.

If Magnus Gardham hopes to make the contribution to the great debate on Scotland's independence that some of his journalistic contemporaries are already making, he must outgrow his fondness for conspiracy theories and great unmaskings of secret policies and hidden beliefs, and buckle down to some real journalism in the 300 or so days left to us.

I may add that it is patently evident to anyone who can rise above the adversarial pre-negotiating macho talk that the de facto rUK governments (of whatever political colour) who take part in the negotiation will agree to a sterling-based currency union because it makes eminently good sense.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The role of negotiation in Scotland’s progress towards independence

It rarely surprises a professional negotiator when politicians and media professionals betray their ignorance of the processes of negotiation – after all, professionals in many fields – the law,  diplomacy, industry and commerce - where one might expect some level of negotiating skill, or at least a basic understanding of the principles to be a prerequisite of effective performance seem to manage to function with this gaping hole in their skills set.

This happens often because they confuse others techniques – persuasion, selling, joint problem solving, debating skills, etc. – with negotiation. When there is some negotiating understanding, it is at the most rudimentary level, a kind of antiques fair bargain hunting haggling. It goes without saying that understanding of negotiating strategy and structures is usually totally absent.

The Scotland, Barroso and the EU debacle is a case in point. Much has been made by unionist critics of the SNP’s constant assertion that Scotland would remain a member of the EU, now qualified – as they see it – by Nicola Sturgeon’s recent statement that negotiations would take place. The Better Together take on this, aided by the failure of various news programmes and interviewers to have done even the most basic homework on the issue, is that acknowledgment that negotiations would take place is a volte face and evidence that the original assertions were without foundation. This flawed analysis is compounded by their repeated assertion that negotiation means acceptance that failure to reach agreement would mean Scotland out of the EU.

A few facts -

Scotland is currently an EU member as part of the UK's membership.

After a YES vote in 2014, Scotland would still be a member of the EU since it would still be part of the UK. The referendum vote does not in itself bring about Scotland’s independence – it simply opens the door to negotiations with the UK to bring about independence, backed by the mandate of the Scottish people. The UK will remain until those negotiations are completed (2016 at the earliest.)

A YES vote in 2016, as well as triggering negotiations with the UK government, would also set in motion parallel negotiations with the EU (as well as many other negotiating interfaces with countries and organisations affected by Scotland’s imminent independence).

During these negotiations, Scotland would still be part of the UK and part of the EU under its UK membership.

At a point in time when the crucial negotiating agenda has been successfully addressed, although many other items would remain under discussion for years, Scotland’s independence will be formally confirmed, it will become an independent nation state and the new state of rUK will be formed by default.

rUK will also be compelled to enter into parallel negotiations on its EU membership at least from Scotland’s independence day, although the likelihood is that the UK would have opened parallel negotiations from the date of the YES vote in the Scottish referendum.

Let’s nail the nonsense about failure of negotiations meaning that breakdown would occur and Scotland would be out of the EU …

Broadly, negotiations between parties can by classified as one of five types -

1. Negotiation between independent parties to reach a specific limited, one-off agreement

2. Negotiation between independent parties to create a new relationship for a limited period

3. Negotiations between independent parties to create a new, ongoing open-ended relationship

4. Negotiation between independent parties in an attempt to redefine the terms of an existing relationship

5. Negotiation between parties to bring an existing relationship to an end.

(Another broad distinction can be made in dispute negotiations, that of conflict of right and conflict of interest, that is a dispute over claimed existing rights or an attempt to establish new rights. For example, a dispute over alleged breach of contract is a conflict of right, and a dispute over an attempt to redefine the terms and conditions of a contract e.g. a wage increase, is a conflict of interest.)

The first two types above characterise most commercial negotiations – one-off deals, deals delivered over time, short-term employment contracts, etc.

The last three are the ones that concern us in relations to Scotland’s independence. The Act of Union was type 3, the negotiations over the terms of Scotland’s EU membership will be type 4, and the negotiations over Scotland’s independence will be type 5.

With regard to the EU, type 4 is the one that interests us - negotiation between independent parties in an attempt to redefine the terms of an existing relationship.

LOCKED RELATIONSHIPS

Many type 4 negotiations can be described as locked relationships from a negotiating perspective, that is to say, relationships that are expected to continue over time, and where negotiations that result in deadlock or failure to agree do not threaten the ultimate continuity of the relationship.

For example, most successful marriages – and relationships - have their share of disputes and their negotiations over the years, but always against the expected continuation of the marriage. The annual terms and conditions negotiations in large employers and local government take place against the base assumption that however difficult and protracted the negotiations, however serious the industrial action that may result from failure to agree, agreement will ultimately be reached, and no one seriously doubts that the relationship will continue.

(The UK’s often rocky relationship with the EU may be described as a locked relationship over the decades, as Scotland’s relationship with the UK under the Union has been for over three centuries. In fact, the process leading to devolution and subsequent modifications to the devolution settlement can be seen as negotiation in a locked relationship.)

The negotiations over the ultimate terms of an independent Scotland’s EU membership will be conducted while Scotland is still part of the UK and an EU member, and will be in a locked relationship context.

No serious observer or commentator envisages an EU without Scotland in membership, nor can anyone seriously believe that negotiating difficulties and disagreements could result in an independent Scotland being denied membership.

The EU is in a constant state of negotiation with its member states, often on hotly contested topics. Only in the case of the UK’s confused and contradictory relationship with its EU membership, driven largely by a deeply divided Tory party, has there been any real threat of breakdown of the relationship leading to exit.

However, the negotiations between Scotland the the UK government after a YES vote will be of type 5 - negotiation between parties to bring an existing relationship to an end.

Whether the negotiations are successful or they fail, the end result will be the same – the exit of Scotland from the United Kingdom. I am confident they will succeed, and that we will enter into a new and more productive relationship with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and of course Europe, Scandinavia and the world.

POSTSCRIPT

One of the relatively few commentators to talk calm, good sense on this issue throughout has been Iain MacWhirter. Here is his Newsnicht contribution, a voice of sanity and reason after the political posturing by the Better Together front men and women.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Scotland in NATO - the core arguments against

1. NATO is a nuclear organisation, committed to the possession and first-strike use of Trident nuclear missiles.

2. NATO is comprised of 28 members countries, but controlled by three of them - the U.S.A, France and the UK. Of the three, the U.S.A. is the dominant controlling entity.

3. Any proposal to NATO by the 25 non-nuclear states can be vetoed by the Big Three - the U.S.A, France and the UK. (This is my practical interpretation of the complexities of the NATO consensual decision making structure where each member country remain sovereign and has right of veto - other interpretations are possible. Please advance them if you have them)

4. Neither the consent nor the involvement of the 25 non-nuclear members is required - nor would it or could it be sought - to authorise a nuclear strike launch. Only the President of the United States, the President of France and the Prime Minister of the UK have the launch codes. No prior approval by the democratically elected bodies in these three countries would be sought prior to launch. (This is my practical interpretation of the complexities of the NATO nuclear command structure - other interpretations are possible. Please advance them if you have them)

5. The time elapsed from launch order to the missile striking its target is dependent on the location of the nuclear submarine at the time the launch order is given, but it is typically 25 minutes.

6. Any member country of NATO by definition is approving the possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction by being a member of NATO, regardless of their stated non-nuclear policy. Any member country is therefore responsible for the consequences of such an act, even though they play no part in the launch decision process.

7. The Scottish National Party's policy proposal - which is effectively the Scottish Government's proposal - to seek membership of NATO for an independent Scotland on the condition that the UK (rUK) accepts the removal of Trident is simplistic and unrealistic, and is recognised as such by any objective and informed political commentator.

It is being presented to the SNP membership as a deal breaker, i.e. no Trident removal, no Scotland in NATO. If presented as such in the negotiations after an independence YES vote, it will be rejected out of hand by the UK (significantly influenced if not controlled by NATO and America). 

But despite the manner of its presentation to the SNP membership, it will not be a deal breaker - it will simply be an opening position in negotiation. The scope for movement by the UK(rUK) is to negotiate -

i) an immediate disarming of Trident warheads (approx. 2 days) which could be reversed in as short a time.

ii) an extend timescale for removal of Trident submarines and decommissioning of the nuclear aspects of the Faslane base - a minimum of 10 years, probably extending to 20 years - effectively never.

iii) the acceptance that an independent Scotland will provide 'safe havens' for any NATO nuclear-armed submarines and nuclear-powered submarines in perpetuity.

It is conceivable that rUK would seek a long-term lease of the Faslane base, or even seek to negotiate the base and relevant area as rUK sovereign territory, thus allowing the Government of an independent Scotland to claim that Scotland is a non-nuclear nation.

ANALYSIS AND COMMENT

The implications of this dangerous and far reaching proposal (Scotland's NATO membership) are of such significance that it is unacceptable that it should only be discussed and voted on by a few hundred  delegates from one political party. Once adopted by the SNP as policy, it will then be the official negotiating entry position in 2014 after a YES vote. It will not be submitted to the Scottish Parliament for approval - if it were, it would be carried by the SNP majority.

The Scottish electorate could not question it until May 2016 at the Scottish Parliamentary elections, by which time the negotiations on this item might either be concluded or at a crucial stage. A change of the power balance in Holyrood or a change of government could result in a chaotic situation under such circumstances, dependent on the voice of the electorate.

The electorate should at least be consulted now. Relying on university polls some years old (The Mitchell Report) or ephemeral opinion polls conducted with an under-informed electorate on this crucial topic is democratically unacceptable.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The SNP, NATO and the end of a dream of a nuclear-free Scotland

I thought this comment and my reply warranted being pulled out on to the blog. The comment, from someone I respect, resident in America, whose commitment to a vote for independence and a nuclear-free Scotland is unquestionable, gives me the opportunity to crystallise my present position.

BLOG COMMENT AND REPLY

  • J. R. TomlinSaturday, July 21, 2012

    I am fairly rabidly anti-WMD, but I suppose I disagree with you in this. This IS something that should be debated and debated before the referendum campaign.
    It is the SNP's strength, not its weakness, that it can look at policies and bring them before their conference for open debate.

     

  • MoriduraSaturday, July 21, 2012

    Undoubtedly it should be debated, Jeanne - and it will be. Whether it can be categorised as open is another matter. It's backed by the party's strategist and defence spokesman, Angus Robertson. It's backed by Alex Salmond, the party's Superman. Dissenting voices are few, and muted (or being muted!) The party leadership simply can't afford to lose this vote, and they won't.

  • The party is in "Let's avoid dissent on everything until after independence - then everything will be alright" mood. But it won't be. There is a growing blandness in the party's approach and what they risk is not the loss of core activists campaigning and voting for YES (like me, in or out of party), but the increasing body of the uncommitted saying "So if so little will be different after independence, why not stay in the UK?" Without their votes, there will be no independence.

  • If the party votes to join/stay in NATO, I might see independence in my lifetime, but I will never see a nuclear-free Scotland. Trident decommissioning and removal will be at least 10 years away, perhaps 20 - and that means never – it will disappear into very long, polluted NATO/rUK grass.

  • Sorry to see you on the wrong side in this Jeanne, but at least you've got loads of company. I will be looking for a realignment on the Scottish Left (there is no such party - yet ...)

  • regards,
        Peter

  • Monday, 16 April 2012

    Changing the policy on NATO – who, us? Whatever gave you that idea?

    I haven’t blogged much over the last few weeks because I’ve had nothing to say that wasn’t being said better by others, mainly professional journalists. Since my raison d'être on political blogging has been to fill the gaps and attempt to correct the misrepresentations or inaccuracies of the media, I’ve been kept busy for four years.

    But things have changed quite a lot, and although the unionist propagandist nonsense continues, and indeed has fallen to new lows, there have been notable balancing contributions in the print media, often of outstanding quality, e.g. Gerry Hassan, and on radio and television.

    There is a highly vocal sector of SNP support to whom this improvement seems to be invisible, convinced that there is a deep, dark conspiracy in the media to deny the SNP the oxygen of publicity and to misrepresent the facts as nationalists see them.

    For them, the arch conspirator is the BBC, with BBC Scotland infested by hostile presenters and news readers, all of whom are fifth columnists for the Labour Party or the Coalition, or at the very least, fellow travellers. For those locked in this McCarthyite mindset, even the present or former occupations and professions of their spouses and close relatives become evidence of the conspiracy.

    What can I say that I have not already said at length? I have been highly critical of specific instances I saw as unfair media reporting, and I have spent a lot of time and effort dissecting them and commenting. But this is light years away from the allegations of institutional bias levelled at the BBC. It is deeply hurtful to professional journalists and interviewers trying to do the job they are paid to do and that society needs them to do. It is highly counter-productive, breeds a completely understandable resentment among press and media professionals, and is fact calculated to bring about exactly the kind of negative image of the nationalist movement that it claims to detect.

    It betrays a total failure to understand the role and function of professional journalists, interviewers and presenters, and exhibits all the worst features of stereotyping behaviour – selective scrutiny of reality, seeing and hearing only things perceived as negative and attributing them to an entire group or class.

    I must emphasise that this is not SNP Party behaviour, and the party’s professional communicators and press office under Peter Murrell have a highly-developed understanding of their roles, do a superb job and are highly alive to the need to maintain open and cordial lines of communication with the media.  For them, much of this is an embarrassment and a deflection from their main thrust. In fairness, in a very small way, I also probably give them the odd minor headache and prove to be a pain in the arse.

    All of this behaviour has been evident in the lead-up to the NATO story which has now engulfed the Party. Up to the weekend and even into Monday, when the story began to really break, there were still party supporters claiming that it was a storm in a teacup – just another nasty rumour planted by the usual suspects to attack Scotland’s defence policy. Party contemplating change on anti-NATO policy? Certainly not! But interestingly, a high proportion of those denying the claim were also highly sympathetic to the idea of an independent Scotland joining NATO.

    After yesterday’s Scotsman, last night’s Newsnight Scotland and today’s press and media - with senior party figure, Scottish academics and spluttering generals past and present taking sides - they will have a hard time pretending that nothing is happening.

    NUCLEAR WEAPONS and NATO

    The wisdom of the Glesca Barras – soapbox orator, c. 1950:Ye aye ken when politicians are up tae something – they slide away fae ye when ye ask them a direct question …”

    First, a confession … I am opposed to NATO, and have been for a long time, but I had a brief period a few weeks back when I felt that I should treat the NATO issue as I do the monarchy, as a republican – a price worth paying, a compromise worth making for the sake of the greater goal of independence. It was a very temporary lapse – an aberration. I am utterly and totally against Scotland joining NATO.

    Why is it an issue now? Some SNP supporters, in denial over the possibility, are saying that it isn’t an issue at all, and the whole thing has been got up by the usual suspects, and the Party is contemplating no such thing. In their minds, this is just another manifestation of the wider attack on the SNP’s defence policy for an independent Scotland. There is no doubt that there has been such an attack, ill-co-ordinated, contradictory, and factually deficient in many instances.

    Why? Because defence policy is the core issue – the root of the United Kingdom’s hostility to Scotland’s independence.

    It is an issue that has been the elephant in the room up to now, because the electorate is largely indifferent to it.

    It has already been admitted that UK defence chiefs have been sedulously ignoring it, in the hope that it would somehow go away. They are now faced with the reality of an SNP majority government, a referendum date,  a well-co-ordinated YES campaign and a chaotic and leaderless unionist NO campaign.

    They are totally unprepared for the collapse of their nuclear strategy and almost certainly the end of the UK as a nuclear power. They are in a blind panic, running about in all directions.

    But amidst all their distortions, misrepresentations, conflicting and unsupported allegations, they have identified one thing that to any objective observer of recent events is almost certainly true – a significant body of opinion exists within the SNP, within the ministerial group and the strategic planning team for the referendum that the SNP policy of non-membership of NATO is not sacrosanct, and that the policy could be changed.

    It seems likely, given the nature of the arguments (as I see them) for this change of a thirty year policy that this opinion is also held by the First Minister. Since Alex Salmond is the most popular and strongest democratic political party leader in the United Kingdom, and perhaps in Europe, those opposed to a change of policy can only take heart in the fact that he is also a supreme pragmatist in strategic and tactical terms, and will very carefully weigh the arguments and the pressures for and against such a change.

    THE RATIONALE

    Let’s dismiss immediately the idea that membership of NATO is attractive to the SNP strategists because they are enamoured of NATO and believe it is vital to either Scotland’s defence or its place in the world. The wish to change policy is driven, in my view, by the following SNP judgments and considerations -

    1. The non-nuclear stance of the SNP is a central tenet of belief of the Party, and cannot be questioned or abandoned at this time without a potentially disastrous split and total loss of credibility.

    One doesn’t have to go further back than the recent Spring Conference to hear it reiterated in resounding terms from senior party officials, to be greeted by rapturous applause from the membership, without a single dissenting voice. (That is not to say there is no one in the party that is pro-nuclear deterrent – they simply have the sense to keep schtum in public.)

    2. A referendum YES vote is a mandate to negotiate the terms of independence. Negotiation means mutual modification of ideal objectives and mutual concession. If NATO membership is defined as negotiable by the SNP negotiating strategists, it would provide a high-value bargaining chip, and could be conceded in return for important concessions from the UK team.

    Negotiating note: Professional negotiators enter a negotiation with their objectives and desired  outcomes categorised and ranked on a scale of importance. A clear distinction must be made between goals that are negotiable and those that are not – the deal-breakers.

    The removal of nuclear weapons after independence is non-negotiable – it must happen. However, an objective can be categorised as non-negotiable, i.e. a deal breaker, yet allow negotiation on the manner, timescale and terms on which that crucial objective is attained. In other words, the objective can be achieved at the ideal level or on a spectrum ranging all the way to the minimum level of achievement. For example, nuclear weapons must be removed the day after independence (unrealistic) or within ten years of independence (a betrayal!)

    3. The American Presidential election will take place on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. The Oval Office will be occupied by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for the next four years, which will carry Scotland past the Referendum and up to a possible independence date. Exactly how either possible incumbent will view NATO is impossible to determine, but it is safe to say that neither will be happy about a non-nuclear Scotland and the loss of the weapons bases and Trident, and they will be even less happy about an rUK forced to abandon the nuclear deterrent. A Scottish commitment to membership of NATO could mitigate US hostility in the lead-up to independence and thereafter.

    The possible attitudes of the US to Scotland’s non-nuclear stance and its membership status in relation to NATO could range along a spectrum from American isolationism and abandonment of the US role as Defender of the West to rampant, aggressive interventionist militarism, and either extreme could be espoused by either Obama or Romney, either one of whom may prove to be a weak President in the new Administration, vulnerable to extremist within both parties.

    4. NATO has 28 member countries – United States, Canada and 26 European countries.

    The UK is a NATO member and rUK is likely to remain a member, Norway is a member - a Scandinavian country and near neighbour of Scotland, much admired and frequently cited by the SNP as a model of what independence can achieve economically and socially - and most European states, including the largest are members.

    Partnership for Peace (PfP) is a NATO program, formed in 1993 by an American initiative to attempt to create trust between NATO and other non-NATO states in Europe and the former Soviet Union. It currently has 22 member states, 12 of which are former parts of the Soviet Union, 4 states from the former Yugoslavia, EU states Austria, Finland, Malta and Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.

    Looking at the above list, leaving aside any defence or nuclear factors, a body of opinion within the SNP sees NATO as the preferred choice, partly based on economic and trading considerations and partly on just propinquity – most of them are either near to us, or countries such as the US and Canada where there are strong Scottish links in addition to trading factors. And I believe some see it as providing the seeds of a future abandonment of the non-nuclear policy. (Screams of horror and indignation from naive supporters!)

    Since an independent Scotland clearly (except to the tiny, but vocal isolationist fringe among SNP supporters who would build a wall at the border and refuse to be a member of anything not wearing a kilt) has to be a member of a defence alliance then, given the above consideration, NATO seems the obvious choice.

    NEGOTIATING DYNAMICS

    A key negotiating consideration is that a valuable trading concession, i.e. a bargaining chip, is one that does not cost much to concede, but which is highly prized by the other party to the negotiations. NATO membership can be seen from the perspective of the above arguments as just that.

    Consider the UK perspective as it is now, and as it will be post-independence to rUK and crucially, to NATO.

    Scotland has always been the postern gate of Great Britain – seen as a point of maximum vulnerability in the defence of the UK, and therefore strategically vital to control and defend. Since a nuclear-armed UK is a critical component of NATO, it is also vital to the NATO defence concept. (One key problem that this analysis ignores is that NATO was formed as a cold war defence alliance against the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. There is considerable doubt, not least in NATO, about exactly what its present role is.)

    There is another view, one expressed by Dr. Phillips O’Brien last night on Newsnight Scotland to Isabel Fraser, namely that rUK and NATO would not give a damn about whether an independent Scotland was a member or not. On this analysis, far from NATO membership being a bargaining chip, it would be a negotiating objective for Scotland from a vulnerable opening position, requiring concessions from Scotland to achieve it.

    Dr. O’Brien is a respected academic and historian at Glasgow University. I can therefore only offer the perspective of a reasonably well-informed member of the electorate, with no claim to special expertise on defence matters. Lest this seem an unequal contest, let me say that our democracy demands that individual voters like me form a judgement on the pronouncements of experts and politicians, decide who they believe, then cast their votes accordingly.

    I have not read Dr. O’Brien’s books, nor am I likely to, and therefore can only base my assessment of him and what he says on various appearance on television and on articles such as that in the Scotsman today. My feelings about Dr. O’Brien are that he exhibits a marked tendency, displayed by many academics who operate in the area of defence, namely to almost, by a process of osmosis, absorb the values systems and core assumptions of the major military alliances and the foreign policies of the dominant countries and macro political systems they are supposed to be commenting objectively on.

    There seems to be a quite remarkable correspondence between Dr. O’Brien’s views and those of NATO and the US/UK military/industrial complex, which of course may have been arrived at by totally objective academic consideration and expertise. What I am saying is that I don’t share his most of his views nor do I accept his analysis of what might be in Scotland’s best interest.

    I also challenge his view that rUK wouldn’t care a damn about Scotland after independence, especially if it maintained a non-nuclear policy. If he is right, to date, the UK and one of its former luminaries, Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen have been behaving rather oddly, as has Lord West, et al, displaying near hysteria at the prospect on a non-nuclear, non-NATO Scotland aligned with Partnership for Peace.

    The idea that England – as Dr. O’Brien rightly identifies the real identity of rUK – would be relaxed about an independent country of 5 million people with its own defence force, and extensive coastline, major oil fields and major natural resources, non-nuclear sitting on the northern end of the mainland of Britain – the postern gate – that had not reached any form of understanding on mutual defence priorities, on access to crucial areas of vulnerability is just nonsense.

    The idea that rUK – England – and NATO would walk away in a sulk, abandoning Faslane and the nuclear submarines and weapons system to Scotland to do with what they willed, is frankly risible.

    In or out of NATO, in or out of Partnership for Peace, England and NATO would have to reach some understanding on defence and nuclear issues with Scotland, and the problem is theirs, not Scotland’s.

    One key idea in negotiation that has to be grasped early and firmly is that negotiating advantage and negotiating power does not lie in relative size, strength and visible power of the parties – it lies in the capacity to strategically deploy power at the right time and in the right circumstances. The harsh fact for England and NATO is that in vital strategic areas they need Scotland more than Scotland needs them – and they know it. Hence the panic over the defence implications of independence.

    THE PRESENT SITUATION FOR THE SNP

    Defence was always going to be the issue for Scotland and for the UK, but it has not so far been the issue for the electorate, nor was NATO membership, or so it appeared from the recent survey of 7112 SNP members by Professor James Mitchel. where they were spilt fairly evenly on the issue, but all fairly relaxed about it. Well, they ain’t relaxed anymore.

    I think it was Aldous Huxley (an almost forgotten name) who said that at the very top and at the very heart of every major religion is a tight group of people who believe exactly the reverse of the main dogma of the creed, as fed to the masses. While this is not quite true of political parties, there is an element of it in the SNP’s present posture on nuclear issues and defence.

    I know that as a negotiator, when one gets close to clinching a difficult deal a kind of terror grips the negotiating team – a fear that all will be lost if key compromises are not made. This is a point of maximum vulnerability, especially when the negotiators have a large constituency standing behind them with a highly developed expectancy based on earlier negotiating objectives and strategy.

    So here’s is what I believe -

    The SNP, nuclear weapons and NATO

    Independence is within the Party’s grasp in a way that it never has been in its history. The SNP are in power with a dominant majority, the reality of the referendum has been grudgingly accepted by the opposition, the date and timescale are known, the real arguments are well-ventilated, the unionist parties are uncoordinated and electorally threatened, whereas the independence campaign is well-organised, resourced and funded.

    But the electorate, if opinion polls are to be believed, is a long way from having made their minds up, and no one can be certain just what issues are vital to them, despite repeated polls, claiming to have the answer. One thing seems clear – defence issues only matter to the electorate in relation to jobs, and perhaps vague feelings about security. Otherwise there is apathy, except among core groups who see their personal interests affected by defence matters. The nuclear issue, despite polls showing a majority of Scots being anti-nuclear weapons, is not an intense one.

    The Party has succeeded, more or less, to defuse certain issues – the monarchy, the currency, social union issues, border issues, EU and UN membership – by a series of small, but significant shifts.

    On the nuclear issue and on NATO, I believe they are risking alienating a segment of their core support, but appear willing to do so on the realpolitik calculation that those in favour of a nuclear-free Scotland can only have it delivered by independence and the SNP, so have nowhere else to go. They are only partly right on that, in my view.

    I am against NATO membership because I believe that NATO is still dragging the baggage of its cold war role behind it into what should be a new era and a new role for it. I profoundly distrust the people at the head of NATO, their values, their world view, and their judgement. I distrust NATO because, regardless of the policies and the nuclear status of its members, NATO is committed to nuclear weapons, the concept of nuclear deterrence, and the retention of WMDs – Trident - as key strategic weapons.

    I reject the argument that says that since a country like Norway can be a member and still maintain a non-nuclear defence and foreign policy stance domestically while retaining its NATO membership, so can Scotland. I think Norway are wrong in this judgment, and that they should not be a member. I think NATO polarises the world into the old East/West cold war mentality, that its current role is ill-defined and ill-thought out, and that any country that remains a member increases the likelihood of nuclear conflict and reduces the chances of nuclear disarmament. I think the most of the members of NATO are in effect pawns of US, UK, French and German foreign policy, and when the chips are down, of US foreign policy.

    Dr. O’Brien argues that Russia, a member of Partnership for Peace has a deeply unstable, semi-democracy and could behave unpredictably at any time. Any close observer of the modern United States could reach similar conclusions and make similar predictions, and indeed many already have. In my view, the continued existence of NATO contributes to the instability in Russia, and it is viewed by deep and justifiable suspicion by a large part of the world community. It is a polarising factor.

    I also believe that a retreat from the SNP’s NATO policy would open the way for a fudged position on the status of nuclear weapons, Trident, and the submarine bases in an independent Scotland. I believe it would provide a rationale for delay in removing nuclear weapons, or even disarming them, and would lead inevitably to more and more compromises, and in extremis to the effective collapse of the SNP and Scotland’s non-nuclear stance.

    I also believe that some in the SNP are in favour of nuclear weapons, of the concept of the nuclear deterrent, and are essentially far right in their core politics. If this debate flushes them into the open, I think that will be a good thing, however dangerous that might be. I think it would be a better thing if they were flushed out of the Party entirely.

    Many party members, perhaps most, will not see things in this way, and would abide by a conference resolution that changed the policy on NATO, in fact many have already said as much on Twitter and elsewhere.

    My position is that if the Party votes to join NATO, I cannot remain a member. I will continue to vote for the party, campaign for independence and vote YES in the referendum, but I will have to seek out other groups committed to independence and a non-nuclear, non-NATO Scotland.

    I reject absolutely the argument that all this can be sorted out after the referendum vote in the negotiations, or indeed after full independence. I believe the Party has to sort it now – and fast. To do that, they have to stop equivocating and hoping it will all go away. It might just do that for the majority – it won’t for me.

    If all of the above seems too long, not tightly enough structured, or otherwise less than perfect, I can only say it is a blog, not a doctorate thesis or a submission to a learned journal. It is the thoughts and reflections – and position – of one Scottish voter and one Scottish voice, no more and no less.

    Saturday, 24 December 2011

    UK Minus - Science and Religion, Obama – and Christmas …

    THE UK POST-INDEPENDENCE

    The UK has been understandably reluctant to consider what it will call itself when Scotland leaves the union. I have suggested UK Minus, and some refer to it as rUK. Among the speculation in the Guardian letters today, we have the suggestion Former United Kingdom (as in Former Yugoslavia). This is fine until one considers the acronym thus derived, and although it might accurately describe the reaction of the British Establishment to Scotland’s independence, I feel that it is unlikely to be adopted.

    SCIENCE AND RELIGION

    The seasonal press and media are boke-inducing at this time of year, an orgy of triviality, religiosity and sentimentalism. I look around despairingly, hoping to find a street urchin to shove up a chimney or a downtrodden clerk to oppress, but such consolations are hard to find. Unfamiliar people pop up out of nowhere – the Guardian gives over its Face to faith column to  Denis Alexander, an eminent scientist, who is director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, based at St. Edmond’s College, Cambridge. A cursory glance at the site and its publications seems to show rather a lot about religion and not too much about science, but this is a superficial judgment. Denis Alexander is the author of a book called Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose? My answer is – well, yes, we do.

    The article opens with another question -

    “Given the fact of human evolution, here is a good question for Christmas: if we last shared a common ancestor with the chimps about 5-6 million years, and humans have been gradually emerging through a series hominid intermediates ever since, then why did Jesus die? The connection of thought here might not be immediately apparent.”

    The last universal ancestor was not a chimp, but the cenancestor, which was around some 3.7 billion years ago. Around 6 or 7 million year ago was the time of the latest common ancestor, but it’s  not for the likes of me to quibble with an eminent scientist – Millennium Man was foraging in Kenya about 6m years ago, and various others hopped about until Australopithecus around 3.6m years ago considerately left footprints on volcanic ash to help Denis Alexander with his Christmas message.

    Denis Alexander rather disarmingly says that “The connection of thought here might not be immediately apparent.” Well, yes, it is, Denis – to everyone but The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, who, Templeton Prize perhaps in mind, make a different connection. For the uninitiated, I quote Richard Dawkin’s description of the Templeton Prize – “"a very large sum of money given ... usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion."

    The Templeton Foundation’s connection with right-wing causes and a certain kind of free market economics is well-documented. Its objectivity is, to put it mildly, fiercely disputed. The Templeton Prize - £1 million pounds – is enough to make any scientist consider carefully what he or she has to say about the link between science and religion. I am forced to say that, for that kind of dough, I might be persuaded to think again about my atheism and my ‘spirituality’.

    OBAMA

    I greeted the election of Barack Obama as a great event signalling a new dawn for America and for global politics. His initial attempts to reform healthcare in the US seemed to point towards a new liberalisation of America.

    In fact, he has turned into the American equivalent of Nick Clegg – all shining idealism in opposition and pre-election campaigning, and sordid expediency and retreat from principle in power, with the difference that Obama has the reality of power, but has failed to used it.

    Mehdi Hasan - Obama's abysmal record – is one of many commentators to document his bleak record in today’s Guardian, and there are many others.

    Obama is about to endorse the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) permitting indefinite detention in military – not civil – custody of US citizens who are suspected of having terrorist connections. This pernicious act will also make such detention mandatory for foreign nationals who are ‘accused’ of having links with Al Quaida.

    This makes Obama an even more illiberal president than George W. Bush. What the Obama presidency appears to show is that even a liberal, Democratic president is powerless in the face of the conspiracy of unelected power in the United States, an impotence mirrored by that of successive UK governments in the grip of a similar unelected Establishment. In the case of a good man like Obama, it is a tragedy: in the case of the Cameron/Clegg regime, it is a predictable Whitehall farce.

    But despite all of this, I am of good cheer, capable of Scrooge-like regeneration, surrounded by those I love and respect, and looking forward to another year’s progress towards the independence of my little nation.

    If Scotland must face global corruption and chaos, I want us to face it daien oor ain thing.