The West Lothian question and the elephant in the room

Scotland may have voted narrowly to remain within the UK but the concessions promised by David Cameron to keep the country together have opened a real can of worms. At the heart of the growing debate on a new constitutional settlement for the UK is the so-called West Lothian Question – the power enjoyed by Scottish MPs to vote on issues which concern only England and Wales. This contentious subject, named after the constituency of MP who first raised the issue in 1977, Tam Dalyell, has acquired even greater potency since devolution and the creation of a Scottish parliament. It has also ruptured the uneasy alliance between the two biggest pro-unionist parties as Labours fears that if it won the next General Election with a narrow majority, it would be unable to pursue some of its policy agenda without the votes of its Scottish MPs.

The Scottish referendum campaign, besides stirring great emotions north of the border, has raised the broader question of just how best this country should be governed. Far less power is devolved to parish, town and county councils than to their equivalents in many other democracies. However, press reporting on this issue has conspicuously ignored the elephant in the room – the European Union.

The Campaign for an Independent Britain feels that it is pointless to discuss devolving powers down from Westminster when so much power has been sub-contracted to Brussels. Any move to take democracy down to a grass roots level will be no more than window-dressing unless we have the right to govern ourselves. While English people may resent the voting power of Scottish MPs in issues that do not concern them, at least the Scots are our own kith and kin; at least some voters in these islands have actually given them a mandate to speak as their representatives. How many of the UK electorate voted for Angela Merkel? Or Matteo Renzi? Or Viktor Orban? Not one. Yet these foreign heads of state can do far more damage to England by voting in support of unhelpful legislation in the European Council than any number of Scottish MPs in Westminster. What about the European Commission? Not one of these men and women were elected. All were appointed to their posts by their respective governments. Is it right that these unelected overpaid bureaucrats should have more power than our own elected representatives?

CIB believes that it is vital to ensure that the EU dimension is not excluded from any discussion about a new constitutional settlement. Unless this is the case, we may find that the EU, through its malevolent supporters in our Parliament seeks to hijack the debate for its own advantage by reviving the issue of regional assemblies. Thanks to the superb campaign led by Neil Herron, the North East, the only “region” in the UK to vote on the creation of a regional assembly, rejected the idea comprehensively. This was a great blow to John Prescott, but it did not see the abolition of the regional structures already in place, such as the Regional Development Agencies, which remained in place until 2012. Calls for greater powers for our larger cities need to be watched closely for any hidden agenda to bring back these assemblies by the back door.

There is a strange irony in reviving the constitutional debate inasmuch as what is in effect a demand for more levels of government comes at a time when trust in politicians at all levels is at rock bottom. This is not to ignore the genuine proposals to bring power closer to the people, such as Douglas Carswell’s book The end of politics and the birth of i-democracy or the Harrogate Agenda of Dr Richard North. It is significant that both these men are also supporters of EU withdrawal. It is also significant that the country which has most successfully brought power closer to the people, Switzerland, has twice voted not to join the EU. While the imbalance in favour of England means that it would be impractical to replicate much of the Swiss Federal system of government, the message is pretty clear:- if we want a political system which is fairer for all voters in the UK as a whole, let us have less politicians, not more, and let us start by ridding ourselves of those least entitled or qualified to have a say in the UK’s future – in other words, let us withdraw from the European Union..

GMB Union puts pressure on Miliband over EU referendum,

From the Herald, Scotland

Ed Miliband is facing growing pressure after the leader of the UK’s second biggest union called for voters to be offered a referendum on the European Union.

Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB, said the public should get a say on EU membership.

His comments follow warnings by Len McCluskey, the leader of the UK’s largest union, Unite, who told The Herald earlier this month that Mr Miliband’s refusal to offer a vote could cost Labour next year’s general election.

The calls intensify pressure on the Labour leader as his party holds its annual conference in Manchester.

Mr Kenny said: “I think people should have the argument about Europe. I think Labour should offer a referendum on Europe. I have always thought that they would.”

He warned that the issue could “hurt” Labour at the general election.

Mr Kenny said that the European Union of which the UK was currently a member had changed considerably in recent years – and that voters should get a say on the future.

It was time to have a discussion about “what the public’s views on the European Union are,” he added.

Mr McCluskey warned that Labour could lose the next general election if it did not offer voters an EU referendum.

He predicted that the party’s political opponents, including the eurosceptic UKIP, would paint Labour as unwilling to trust voters.

In an interview with The Herald he said: “He is going to be portrayed as somebody who is afraid of asking the British people their views, and we think that is tactically dangerous for him.”

Asked if the tactic could lose him the election, he said: “In a tight election, it could do, that is exactly right. That is our view. Which is why we would prefer to take a position of saying ‘let’s call a referendum’.

Mr Miliband has said that Labour will not hold an EU membership vote unless there are proposals to transfer greater powers from London to Brussels.

The move was designed to draw a line under the issue following arguments from some within Labour that the party should meet Mr Cameron’s referendum pledge – or risk being punished in May’s poll.

Othes warned that offering a vote could tie Labour’s hands unnecessarily after next May, and leave it fighting another lengthy and difficult referendum battle just months after the Scottish independence vote.

Mr Miliband’s stance appears to have the backing of business leaders.

Earlier this year Sir Michael Rake, the chairman of the CBI, told the Prime Minister that his decision to offer an In/Out referendum was causing “uncertainty” for business.

But others within the Labour movement are pressuring for Mr Miliband to perform a U-turn.

John Mills, who gave £1.5m to the party last year, is also putting money behind a lobbying campaign, Labour for a Referendum.

While many Labour MPs still believe UKIP party still poses the greatest threat to the Conservatives, there is increasing concern about the party’s growing popularity in some Labour-held seats.

Mr Cameron has previously said that he would campaign for the UK to stay in the EU.

He has also pledged to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with Europe before the 2017 vote.

But reports suggest that the Conservative leader could change his stance – and announce that he will back a Yes vote only if the UK gets a good enough deal from Brussels at his party conference next week

Quittez, s’il vous plait

Once the Scottish referendum result is known and digested, focus will inevitably turn to another referendum – on whether we should leave the EU. Much depends on how much wool can be pulled over the electorate’s eyes. It is becoming blindingly obvious that no meaningful renegotiation is possible, and if voters can see through any attempt by David Cameron (or whoever) to convince them otherwise, a vote for withdrawal looks to be a real possibility.

But what of the rest of Europe? A recent survey by the German Marshall Fund has found that 26 of the other 27 member states want us to stay. Is this is motivated by a real sense of affection for us? More likely that as a net contributor, it’s because of the money we put in the European pot, or perhaps a fear that UK withdrawal would undermine the whole European project. It is hardly surprising that Poland is particularly keen to keep us on board given that so many of that country’s nationals are currently resident over here.

However one country would prefer that we withdrew – France. Admittedly the majority supporting our withdrawal was only a slender one, but fifty or so years after General de Gaulle vetoed our entry on the grounds that we would not fit into the new Europe, it seems that his countrymen still acknowledge this same truth. We are square pegs in the round EU hole. It’s about time our own politicians recognised the truth of this piece of French sagesse.

Latest immigration figures make a mockery of Cameron’s pledge

The latest immigration figures have laid bare the impossibility of David Cameron fulfilling his commitment to cut net immigration to 100,000 per year by 2015. According to new figures from the Office for National Statistics, 560,000 people migrated to the UK in the year ending March 2014, up from 492,000 in the previous 12 months. Two-thirds of the increase is accounted for by immigration of EU citizens. 28,000 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens immigrated to the UK over the same time period, up from 12,000 in the previous 12 months. Overall net migration (new arrivals less departures) rose to 243,000 from 175,000 the previous year, the Office for National Statistics said.

Besides the deluge of Central and Eastern European, the Eurozone crisis has resulted in large numbers of young people moving north from countries like Greece, Spain and Italy to seek work. Youth unemployment, according to new data from the Italian national statistics office ISTAT, stood at 42.9% in July, while it remains at over 50% in Spain and Greece. IN such a dire situation, it is no surprise that young people are leaving these countries. While we may not be members of the Eurozone, the principle of free movement of people is causing us to suffer from its failings. Indeed, it is becoming patently obvious that there is no way we can ever get a grip on immigration unless we leave the EU altogether.

Lessons from Scotland

Alex Salmond is not a popular figure south of the border. There’s a good joke currently doing the rounds that sums up English sentiment towards the SNP Leader. His colleagues, so he story goes, decided it would be a worthy gesture to name a railway locomotive after him. So an official went to the National Railway Museum at York, to investigate the possibilities. “There are a number of locomotives at the NRM without names” a consultant told the official, “but they are mostly freight locomotives.”
“Oh dear, a freight locomotive is not very fitting for a party leader,” said Sir Humphrey. “”How about that big green one, over there?” he asked. “That one has already got a name” said the consultant. “It’s called ‘Flying Scotsman’.”
“Couldn’t we rename it?” asked the official. “I suppose for Alex Salmond it might be considered,” said the consultant. “That’s excellent”, said the official, “So that’s settled then. How much will it cost? Remember we can’t spend too much, given the expenses scandal!”
“Well”, said the consultant, “”Why don’t we just paint out the ‘F’.”

Of course, it’s only a joke and, for the record, Flying Scotsman is being repaired. It’s in pieces in Bury, Lancashire at the moment and is currently painted black, but the Salmond-led Yes campaign is doing somewhat better, After consistently lagging behind in opinion polls, supporters of independence are running neck and neck. It is possible that Scotland may break away to become an independent country – well, sort of, Salmond does not want real independence. He doesn’t want Scotland to be ruled from London but for some strange reason is happy to be ruled by Brussels.

Whether or not Scotland votes to secede from the United Kingdom in six days’ time, Scottish politics will never be quite the same whatever happens . For those of us who didn’t expect the Yes campaign to come anywhere near achieving its object and who want to ensure that our “out” campaign does produce a vote to leave the EU, there are some very interesting lessons to be learnt.

Firstly, it’s not just about economics. If there’s one area where the “Lying Scotsman” epithet does seem rather close to the mark, it’s the bravado attitude towards Scotland’s economic prospects. I’m not convinced that Salmond’s sums add up. Scotland richer if it leaves? Who is going to pay for the increased state expenditure? What about partitioning the national debt? What if there isn’t as much North Sea oil as the most optimistic predictions? What about the issue of keeping Sterling? The bottom line is that these unanswered (or badly answered questions) do not seem to be a deterrent to the Yes supporters. They brush aside pro-unionist concerns about the economic uncertainties that independence would generate Something deeper seems to motivate them – something which we will consider shortly. Perhaps therefore, any tactic by supporters of EU membership to use economic arguments to frighten us into remaining in the EU will prove to be of only limited effectiveness, especially given that supporters of withdrawal include respected economists like Tim Congdon who can make a far more reasoned case for the economic benefits of independence from Brussels than Salmond’s back-of-a-fag-packet arithmetic.

So, then, what is it that inspires the Yes supporters in Scotland? One key issue is the seeming remoteness of Westminster. London is indeed a long way from Stornoway or Inverness, but it’s not just geography. Even in the Central Belt, independence supporters feel little affinity with London. They would prefer Scotland to be governed by people they feel (rightly or wrongly) represent their own interests. “A lot of the decisions which affect us are still being decided by people in London. Can they really have our best interests at heart?” asks one independence supporter. Here, the parallels are obvious. The distance between London to Edinburgh is greater than London and Brussels as the crow flies, but the sense of being governed by remote control – by people who do not have the UK’s interest at heart is even greater. Trust in our politicians has fallen to dangerously low levels and withdrawal, besides ridding ourselves of unwanted interference from abroad, would also deliver a massive kick up the backside to our own politicians.

Closely related to this is the disconnect between the political landscapes north and south of the Border. The Tories have only one MP out of 59. In the Scottish Parliament, Tory representation is slightly higher in the Scottish Parliament – 15 out of 129 MSPs – and to many people’s surprise, Scotland returned a UKIP MEP in last May’s European Parliamentary election, but the SNP and Labour basically rule the roost. In England by contrast, the Conservatives won 298 out of 533 seats – over 50% of the total. Consequently, many Scots complain that any Tory government does not represent their predominant political ideology – in other words, they are governed by people with different objectives. Once again, there is a parallel here. In the EU we are lumped together with nations pursuing an objective – federal union – that we aren’t comfortable with. Basically, we’ve always viewed the EU in terms of trade and have never felt comfortable with loss of sovereignty. While we may regret that so many Scots feel that they are locked into an unhappy marriage in the Union, we can learn much from the Scottish Yes campaign as how to show that our shotgun wedding to the EEC 41 years ago has become an even unhappier marriages and best ended in divorce.

Where there is no parallel – at least yet – is the buzz that the independence debate has generated. Turnout is expected to be over 80%. Some people are talking of the referendum as the most important vote they will ever cast in their lifetime. Media reports say everyone is talking about it – in pubs and in homes as well as in the formal debates that have been staged. This is the big challenge for us. How can we generate the same mood of excitement in our campaign to leave the EU? “Europe” is seen as a boring subject by many. One reason for the Yes campaign’s recent rise is to link independence to other emotive issues – the perceived threat to the health service or the desire to avoid university tuition fees, for instance. Many people in the UK are still unaware of just how much the EU interferes for the worse in their daily lives. If we can generate the same link between independence and the removal of threats from abroad, the battle is all but won. The Yes campaign has sought to emphasise the positive – that it would be an exciting, fresh start for Scotland. We who seek withdrawal from the EU are excited by the prospects for our country, but how do we convey that same sense of optimism?

Of course, there has been an ugly side to the debate – the egg-throwing by some supporters of independence and accounts of intimidation of unionists – which will hopefully be absent when we begin the campaign for withdrawal in earnest, but the final parallel to make is that Scottish independence may ultimately happen by accident. The process that might drive our two nations apart was begun by people who never intended such an outcome. Devolution was meant to be a formula for addressing Scottish concerns within the context of the union. The voting formula for the Scottish Parliament was designed specifically to exclude the possibility of one party gaining overall control. However, things did not run according to the script. One thing led to another and the net result is a cliffhanger which could see the end of the 300-year union in spite of, rather than because of the action of Westminster politicians. While most of us in England hope this is not to be the case, many of the incidents that have led to us becoming semi-detached from the EU have had the same sense of one thing leading to another without our politicians being in control. Black Wednesday, which saw us expelled from the European Exchange Rate mechanism, is a classic example. Likewise, David Cameron’s commitment to hold a referendum on our EU membership came across at the time as the actions of a reluctant leader being pushed from the back. He may, as Douglas Carswell suggests, do everything he can to avoid taking us out of the EU if he remains leader, but the outcome may ultimately be out of his control. A sense of inevitability may overwhelm his best laid plans. We can but hope.

The European Arrest Warrant and the King Family – A letter from Rev. Philip Foster

Rev Philip FosterTo:- Simon Hayes
Office of the Police Crime Commissioner for Hampshire
St George‘s Chambers
St George‘s Street
Hampshire SO23 8AJ

1st September 2014

Dear Mr Hayes,

I was intrigued by your interview on the Today programme this morning where you claimed (rightly as it turns out) to know little about the Law.

You kept saying that a judge had approved the European Arrest Warrant and that this therefore showed this was evidence of some crime‘ committed by the King family.

You obviously do not realise that no evidence of a crime is required for the issuing of an EAW and that when one is issued a judge is not able to ask for evidence, he must just rubber stamp‘ it.

There was no crime. It is not a crime to take your child from a hospital; particularly when they have treated him to the best of their limited ability – cutting out a tumour – and now intending to blast his brain with X-rays which will likely render the child a vegetable (having already lost the ability to speak) and then essentially allow him to die. Proton beam therapy may or may not work for the child, but it is better than X-rays and were I the parent I would have done the same.

Your police in Hampshire have truly made fools of themselves (it was not a police matter in any way) and, as a consequence of their officious stupidity, a family is suffering appalling cruelty – though I am sure the officers who went to Spain are enjoying their junket at the taxpayers‘ expense.

Yours sincerely,

Rev Philip Foster MA