Sunday 26 June 2016

Will Scotland veto #Brexit?

Map of EU referendum voting results, by area; blue represents 'Leave'.
A Romanian friend, living and working in London, asked me today, 'is the Scottish Parliament going to veto ‪Brexit‬?' This post is my answer.

Yes and no.

Under the Scotland Act, which is the legislation which frames the powers of the Scottish Parliament, the Westminster Parliament cannot pass any act which affects the governance of Scotland without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.

So in legal theory, yes, the Scottish Parliament does have the power to veto Brexit - and ALL the parties in the Scottish Parliament (even the Scottish Conservatives) campaigned against Brexit, so if it comes to a vote there will definitely be a majority.

The problem with this legal theory is that because the United Kingdom doesn't have a written constitution, there's nothing to stop the Westminster Parliament overturning the Scotland Act. There's just an agreement that they won't.

If the Scottish Parliament did veto Brexit, the Westminster Parliament would then probably repeal the Scotland Act. At which point we're really in uncharted territory.

Back in the 1970s, when it looked completely impossible for the SNP to get a majority of the Scottish MPs, it was widely agreed by people on both sides that if the SNP ever did get a majority of Scottish MPs that would be enough to declare independence. Now, of course, they do have.

So Scotland could now just make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, and if Westminster tried to repeal the Scotland Act I think we probably would. But that, too, would be a really messy situation. It could get as bad as civil war.

I think the threat to veto Brexit is a hardball negotiating tactic. It really depends on whether the Westminster parliament wants Brexit or not. The SNP government in Scotland does not intend to allow Scotland to be taken out of the EU and is prepared to play hardball.

There are three possibilities:

1: Westminster could agree to support Scottish independence if we don't veto Brexit; Scotland becomes independent and stays in the EU, while the rest of the UK leaves (and maybe Northern Ireland rejoins Ireland, but that's another potentially bloody mess). This is a good outcome for Scotland and for the pro-Brexit faction in England, but as I say could get REALLY nasty in Ireland.

2: Westminster actually doesn't want Brexit and will use the excuse 'Oh, we couldn't start Article 50 because the nasty Scots wouldn't let us' (I actually think this is quite likely because there isn't a majority for Brexit at Westminster either). Scotland doesn't become independent and the whole of the UK remains in the EU. That sounds like the best outcome but it probably isn't because it would lead to violent anti-Scottish feeling in parts of England, and I fear that would get very nasty.

3. Westminster seeks to repeal the power of the Scottish Parliament to veto #Brexit, and Scotland declares independence. Again, there's a serious risk of trouble in Northern Ireland and I think there would probably be a lot of anti-Scottish rioting and violence in places in England. As I said before I think there could even be civil war.

If there were a big majority for Brexit in England the sensible thing all round would be a friendly separation, England and Wales leave the EU and gradually diminish into a bankrupt and irrelevant basket case of a country, while Scotland remains in an EU which will probably not have a very bright future itself (because as well as destabilising Britain, Brexit has destabilised Europe).

But the truth is that while Scotland had a convincing majority for Remain, England did not have a convincing majority for Leave. It was, across the whole country, a matter of around 2%. So after people have had a month or two to calm down, England as a whole might actually be grateful for Scotland vetoing Brexit.

Even that isn't a great situation, because the rest of the EU is going to be utterly and rightly pissed off with the UK for creating this mess. But it might mean the UK would, for the time being, stay together and stay in the EU.

Friday 24 June 2016

And so we begin again

The last - very negative - referendum is over, and it ended in the triumph of Hate over Fear. It was a referendum fought between neoliberals and xenophobes, a contest which pitted blatant racism against doomsaying. A campaign - on both sides - of the most extreme dishonesty and bad faith we have seen in my lifetime.

But from its ashes arises a new referendum.

Let's make this one positive. Let's make it about welcoming, about looking outwards to the world and talking about how Scotland can contribute to making it a better place.

The future is uncertain - that's true. It's uncertain whatever choice we make. But let's build a campaign that's positive. That's about what we can do, not what we can't. That's about how much Scotland has to give, not what's in it for us.

Let's say something positive.

Friday 3 June 2016

On a Difference of Opinion

One of the things the Better Together campaign tried to convince us of during the independence referendum campaign was that there was no significant political difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK in general, and England in particular. That always struck me as a tendentious proposition, but it's only in the last couple of weeks that I've run the numbers and discovered quite how false it was.

YouGov's startling remain/leave map is one of the pieces of information which started me investigating; the other was the claim by a Twitter user (I've forgotten whom) that Scotland wasn't really any more left wing than England.

Now, of course, what counts as 'left wing' depends on your standpoint; the particular Twitter user with whom I discussed this believed that Labour were left wing, and that the SNP were not. The Political Compass disagrees on both points, and I'd tend to trust the Political Compass as a fairly neutral observer on this. In any case, the question is not whether one party is or is not 'left wing' in an absolute sense, but whether one position is more (or less) left wing than another.

For the purpose of this exercise I am counting as relatively left:
  • Class War
  • Green Party
  • Labour
  • Respect
  • RISE
  • Scottish Green Party
  • Scottish National Party
  • Solidarity
and as relatively right:
  • British National Party
  • Christian Peoples' Alliance
  • Conservative Party
  • National Front
  • Scottish Christian Party
  • UKIP
Other parties, for example the Liberal Democrats and the Womens' Equality Party, are treated as centre. That is not a rhetorical ploy. If you assigned the Liberal Democrats as right, for example, it would change the absolute numbers but it wouldn't alter the fact that the Scottish and English polities are systematically different.

On the basis of the classification above, in the 2015 General Election a startling 75% of Scots voters voted for parties of the left; only 16.59% (11.78% of electorate) voted for parties of the right. Even taking non-voters into account, 53.75% of the whole Scottish electorate voted for parties of the left.

In that same election, only 35.9% of English voters voted for parties of the left - only just over a third. By contrast, 55% of English voters voted for parties of the right - amounting to 36.34% of the electorate.

There were substantially more non-voters in England than Conservative voters - thirteen million to ten million. If, as I suspect, many of those non-voters are essentially left-leaning but feel unrepresented by the existing parties, then England is more left wing than the election suggests. But even so, only if all the non-voters in England are left-leaning and all the non-voters in Scotland right leaning would Scotland and England be politically similar.

We're not. We started from different places and have evolved in different ways under different influences. So let's put this 'all one nation really' nonsense to bed once and for all.

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