The rise and possible demise of the SNP

Although the SNP came into being in 1934, it only achieved a modest degree of success until the two 1974 elections, when it grew from one parliamentary seat to seven and then eleven, including several seats in the North East of Scotland. In the next general election that area of Scotland went blue again and remained a Conservative stronghold until the 1987 election when the SNP took the Moray and Banff seats which it held for the next 30 years – often referred to as the Alex Salmond period.

The SNP unquestionably hit a peak in 2015, when it won all but three seats in Scotland. Two years later, however, the party lost two seats in the Moray Firth area while the Tories also took the prize scalp of Alex Salmond in the neighbouring seat of  Gordon.

At the start of Salmond’s parliamentary career he fully supported the fishing communities, just as those communities supported the SNP, both financially and with their votes.

For instance, here is an extract from Hansard where Alex Salmond brought in a private members Bill on Fisheries Jurisdiction:-

(756HC Deb 02 March 2004 vol 418 cc756-8)

Mr Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union; to amend the Fisheries Limits Act 1976; to make provision about the exercise of functions under that Act by Scottish Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Ministers and the Secretary of State; to provide that that Act shall have effect regardless of the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972; to define Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish waters; and for connected purposes. The Bill is supported by hon. Members of all eight political parties that are represented in the Chamber, which is unusual for a politically controversial measure, and, more important, by every fishing organisation in the country, both offshore and onshore.

And as Scottish First Minister, he later said on 29th. May 2008, when answering a question from Karen Gillan:-

“No one seriously believes that the common fisheries policy has brought benefits to Scottish fishermen or fish stocks. We are committed to withdrawing from that damaging policy.”

However, by 2015, the SNP position had become more ambivalent.  In a Parliamentary debate on 10th September 2015, Sheryll Murray, the MP   for Cornwall South East, said:-

“I notice that there are some hon. Members from the Scottish National party present. If one of them makes a speech, perhaps they will clarify their policy, which I am confused about. In 2003 the SNP MEP Ian Hudghton said that equal access to a common resource was fundamental to the common fisheries policy, and that no one could change it. Yet I remember that in the early days of my involvement in fisheries policy Alex Salmond, who was then the Member for Banff and Buchan, promoted a private Member’s Bill to restore national control”.

The confusion continues to this day.  The SNP 2017 manifesto expressed a desire to re-join the EU while at the same time saying,

“We will continue, in all circumstances, to demand the scrapping or fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy”

This statement is nonsense. You cannot re-join the EU if you advocate such a policy. Indeed, you would have thought that the SNP would have learned a lesson from the earlier Conservative demise in Scotland – you must not betray your core supporters. Yet this is exactly what they have done and the fishing communities have taken their vengeance. Salmond appears to think he will be back, but he will have to move well away from the coast. The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has plenty of evidence to use against him if he tries to make a comeback. Anyone can access the Parliamentary documents of Hansard to read his statements.

On polling day Salmond looked grim and deservedly so. He needs to consider why he lost his seat.  For all those years he supported the fishermen, but then power went to his head to such an extent he stopped visiting his fishing supporters. Democracy has worked, but the Conservatives must take note too about what has happened. If they mess up the post-Brexit fishing policy, the Scottish Conservative bandwagon will quickly grind to a halt.

It is ironic that the talk over the past year or so has been about Scottish independence, and separation, but thanks in no small measure to the fishing communities, it is Scotland that has kept Mrs. May in a position to continue as Prime Minister of the UK.

Deal or no Deal?

Britain faces some challenging Brexit negotiations. However viewed through the lens of best practice identified in a commercial negotiating manual, there is evidence that Britain will secure a deal with the EU.

Pre-election rhetoric suggests that the tone of the negotiation might be ‘competitive’ (i.e. hostile). Much of it will actually be about co-operation on matters of common interest like trade, travel, security, etc.

Power is more balanced than some would say. We might buy more from the EU than vice-versa, but proportionately have more to lose on trade. However needlessly damaging a major customer will harm supply chains, EU exporters, EU nationals working in the UK and sending money home…

Over 50% of UK shares are now owned by international investors. EU holdings in the UK are worth £496bn.  At the G20 meeting in September, Japanese business and government demanded Single Market-type access be maintained by both sides.

Policy on both sides is for free trade. This is obviously not absolute –  the EU won’t suddenly complete the single market or open up sensitive defence procurement. But it is committed to various international agreements that commit towards trade liberalisation, stability and not raising barriers.

The EU is a keen supporter of the World Trade Organization (WTO) whose rules allow regional unions (such as the EU) as a means of easing trade between members, but not to raise barriers to trade. In fact, they must avoid creating adverse effects upon other WTO members

There is plenty of incentive for both sides to reach an agreement – if just because they will have to live together as neighbours. The UK could be a major ally in defence and security, so long as its economy is not crashed. It could also be a substantial makeweight in future joint trade deals?

The global economy is so interlinked that failure to reach a viable deal will affect wider economic confidence and stock markets. In the EU, exposed economies like the Irish Republic and Spain would take a hit, with likely local backlash against EU interests – just before the 2019 European Parliament elections.

A botched deal could see the Euro and Sterling hit, with safe haven currencies like the Yen suddenly soaring, hitting wider currency and export stability.

Another factor is the view of the EU’s ‘social partners’.

ETUC represents EU-wide trade unions. Employers’ bodies include Business Europe (‘a CBI’), UEAPME (representing SMEs) and CEEP (representing public service providers). Seen as influential stakeholders, they wish to avoid austerity and damage to Europe’s workers and companies.

Although the EU and UK will start negotiations with some diverging and conflicting positions, remember that this is quite normal for negotiations. Demands tend to be padded so that compromises are seen to be made. Spain has already gone back on the EU ‘demand’ over Gibraltar. In practice, there will be a lot of common ground (e.g. on expat rights). Expect positions to converge.

Despite pre-election rhetoric to appear ‘tough’, it has long been seen that May will play safe and trim to a position that can be pushed through Parliament under tight timescales. This indicates arrangements very similar to being in the Single Market (EEA) as a fallback while the ideal of moving to a bespoke Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) is worked on as arrangements stabilise.

In March, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, appeared to be leading the UK in the direction of EEA membership as the Brexit option with the least disruption.

Threatening to walk-away was part of that rhetoric. Neither side wants ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ that ‘no deal’ would give. You can bet there will be a deal, even if it’s part agreement, part provisionally keeping respective ships afloat while talks continue.

Negotiations are often about saving face, getting a deal that can be sold to key audiences. The UK might, for example, get better trade terms in exchange for saving the EU a budget shortfall before 2021. Except it won’t be billed as a cave-in, at least in the UK. It might be portrayed as a goodwill gesture to have a joint ‘Brexit adjustment fund’?

Other areas of ‘compromise’ short term might be over accepting EU standards and judgments (which the UK might do anyway in ‘nationalising’ EU laws), or free movement of people. Theresa May has refused to guarantee less EU immigration, consistent with keeping EU citizens’ ‘acquired rights’.

Attitudes to paying the EU vary from ‘they’re getting nothing’ (apart from for joining in specific programmes) to ‘£60bn is nothing to pay for winning back our priceless democracy’. The EU is already preparing for economies after 2021 in its budget, which might reveal the real expectation. However with Germany’s election coming, Angela Merkel and the EU will not want to be seen as saddling Germany with extra contributions. We can expect a harder line short-term.

As an alternative to direct payments, the UK might gesture on recycling saved payments into projects of common interest like defence or tackling irregular migration?

A successful negotiation is one where both sides can claim some success at the end, even if some concessions leave bruises!  Experienced negotiators will recognise that the other party will need to maintain its image too, and they will not seek to humiliate.

Earlier perceptions that the EU might want to ‘punish’ the UK to deter it or others from leaving have been overplayed. Its luminaries might have been exorcising tensions immediately after the referendum shock, and the line taken since has typically been more conciliatory as heads cool. In practice, there is little evidence that any other member state currently wants to follow the UK out of the EU.

European Council President Donald Tusk has quipped that Brexit is ‘punishment enough’ as the UK copes with some upheaval.

There are already outline solutions to some identified problems. The EU can give legal exceptions (derogations) on border measures which might ease the Irish situation. The WTO ‘waiver’ might allow provisional preferential trade agreements to run for a couple of years should there be difficulties (e.g. time-wise) in finalising what is necessarily a complex deal.

The Lisbon Treaty focuses the EU towards the vision of ‘an area of prosperity’ marked by cooperation with neighbouring countries.

Lord (Paddy) Ashdown sees the UK getting a tailored Norway-like deal with a work permit system. He’s not just a Lib Dem peer; he’s President of the European Movement federalists in the UK.

http://www.newalliance.org.uk/ref617.htm has references used for this article.

Fishing the first Brexit bright spot as confusion reigns

Fishing photo

Are we going to leave the Single Market or not? And what about the EU’s customs union? – a subject that never cropped up in the referendum debate last year. Do some politicians even know the difference between the two?

At the moment, we are seeing a great deal of confusion about the future direction of Brexit and for those of us outside Mrs May’s new cabinet, what we are reading in the media is leaving us none the wiser. the quality of press reporting has reached an all-time low, with uninformed speculation given free rein and undue weight placed on off-the-cuff comments.

Take, for instance, headline statements that Emmanuel Macron, France’s new President claimed that “Brexit could be reversed.” What he actually said was “Of course the door remains open, always open until talks come to the end. But it was a sovereign decision taken by the people to come out of the EU.” In other words, there remains a theoretical possibility that the UK government might change its mind, but no more than that.  Given the shock of last week’s General Election result, it is hard to see the any rowing back on Brexit given that the consequences for the Conservatives would be the worst crisis since 1846.

The terms “hard” and “soft” Brexit have been bandied about with very few people knowing what they actually mean.  By and large, the terms relate to a future trading arrangement with “hard” meaning leaving the Single Market (or perhaps the Customs Union, or maybe both??) and “soft” means remaining in one or both. But what about criminal justice or foreign policy? There are “hard and “soft” issues here, which few in the media are picking up.

In all this muddle, one thing is clear. From what we could discern of Mrs May’s Brexit agenda, it contained some worrying and unsatisfactory features, including too close a link with the EU’s military plans and an ongoing commitment to remain party to the European Arrest Warrant. The loss of her majority means that she cannot force through her plans for Brexit if they are widely seen as flawed. Indeed, it is possible that we could end up with a better Brexit deal, given that pressure groups and their supporters on the Tory back benches will have a lot more leverage than if we had ended up with a thumping Conservative majority.

In one particular policy area, fishing, we are already seeing evidence of this. Scotland was the one piece of good news for the Conservatives in an otherwise dismal result and several of the seats they won from the SNP include fishing communities. Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, campaigned strongly on the fisheries issue and has apparently spoken to Theresa May, insisting that the UK must leave the Common Fisheries Policy and manage its own waters right up to the 200 Nautical Mile/Median Point limit.

Given that Michael Gove, who has recently been appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs , is the son of a man who worked in the fishing industry, there is every reason for being hopeful that the sensible post-Brexit fishing policy proposed by Fishing for Leave has a greater chance of being implemented.

So, amidst the current confusion, we are perhaps seeing the first bright light. As the dust settles, hopefully others will follow

 

Irexit – no longer totally pie-in-the sky

Professor Anthony Coughlan, the veteran Irish pro-withdrawalist, was invited to make a submission to the Irish Senate’s Special Select Committee on Brexit on 1st June.

Professor Coughlan explained that, in his opinion, the most rational and sensible course for the Irish Government to follow in relation to Brexit is that it should activate the East-West strand of the Good Friday Agreement to concert a joint approach with the UK Government aimed at  Ireland leaving the European Union at or around the same time as the UK and that it should work towards an Ireland/UK agreement and an Ireland/EU agreement oriented to that end.

He also made the point that there are no significant advantages for the Irish republic remaining in the EU when the UK leaves, but rather major disadvantages. He also addressed the implications of Brexit on the border with Northern Ireland and claimed that, in his view, prospects for the eventual reunification of the island of Ireland* would be greatly diminished if Ireland remains in the EU.

Professor Coughlan expects that support for Irexit is likely to grow in the coming two years. Mind you, he may revise his opinion if Brexit goes badly!  We pointed out a couple of months ago that he is no longer the lone voice he appeared to be a few years back. The Irish Republic, formerly a net recipient of EU funding, is now a net donor, while its trade with the UK was the main reason for it joining the EEC together with us in 1973. The EU, in other words, is no longer so attractive as it once was.

The submission can be downloaded here and the second annex (which is longer than the submission)  can be downloaded here.

* It should be pointed out that support for Irish reunification is not confined to Sinn Féin and hard line Republicans. In 1999, the former Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland were replaced Article 3.1 which “recognises that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island” – in other words, an united Ireland still remains a legitimate aspiration for many peace-loving Irishmen, even if we may disagree with them on this, – unless, of course, it was in the context of an application by the Irish Republic to re-join the UK!

The Miller’s Tale – Episode 2

The Swinging Sixties and Beyond

 It is easy to forget how much things have changed since the Sixties. There was no internet. So unless you subscribed to specialist publications or were in a political party or special interest or trade group, your information was limited to what the main newspapers or the BBC and ITV told you. With regard to the European project, the most crucial of the government’s information and intentions were concealed from the public for thirty years by the Official Secrets Act. I will give an account of things as I remember them but will use italic type like this to insert information which was not available until later and also give links to later articles which give a fuller explanation, not available to me at the time.

Whilst the countryside looks picturesque and much of it appears unchanged, that is very deceptive. Farming has been one of the most rapidly modernising industries of all. Whilst there were still  small farms in the Sixties which  used horses for some of the work, mechanisation went on at a great pace and the number of people required to work the land declined steeply as machines got bigger and better.

I called on such a  farm in the mid Sixties and the farmer was in his fields. I had to wait for him to finish his job because he was sowing seed by hand and had to count the paces and keep the rhythm as he broadcast handfuls of seed from the bag round his waist – just as in the bible story “a sower went forth sowing.” That was the last time I saw it done.  His descendants now drive machines which are positioned by satellite and controlled by computers.

Most farms were going for bigger and better tractors and machinery – seed drills, fertiliser spreaders, sprayers, ploughs, combine harvesters, forage harvesters and so on. Cows were being moved out of cow sheds and into covered yards where they could self-feed on silage when not grazing.  Milking parlours replaced the cow shed stalls. Bulk milk tanks replaced the man-handled milk churns.

Britain had a unique agricultural policy. Food from abroad was allowed in freely without customs duties and farmers received subsidies to keep up home production and guarantee food security.  To the benefit of the less well-off, the tax payer, not the consumer,  funded the system. Food was a much bigger proportion of household expense in those days and cheap food also reduced pressure on wages.

Farm land would not be allowed to go derelict, as it had done in the depression between the wars. This system was negotiated annually in the Farm Price Review under parliamentary scrutiny. As the memory of food shortages and rationing faded, politicians naturally scrutinised this expense very carefully. World food prices fell from the late Fifties onwards and this tended to drive up the required subsidies which were gradually restricted. So farming was not  as profitable as the increases in production might suggest. (See attachment for fuller description).

Attitudes changed in the Sixties. Early on, the satirical TV programme “That Was The Week That Was” mercilessly lampooned the failings of our political class. In  doing so it reduced people’s confidence in the institutions of government. It was part of the process of rubbishing the hitherto undisputed comfortable feeling that “British is best”.  No fearless investigator or satirist looked into government deceit about the European project. Our European neighbours were doing better than us economically. Documentary programmes drove  this message home relentlessly.

Things were not helped by the fact that our key industries frequently went on strike. We did not know it at the time but the Prime Minister Harold MacMillan (from 1957 to 1963) expressed the view that our country was “ungovernable”.  He thought that the trade unions would come to their senses if British industry was opened to unrestricted competition from Europe. The unions were so powerful that he dared not alter the laws which gave them almost total immunity from normal legal redress..

At this time, we were installing some new machinery. The engineer, who was supervising the job,  picked up a spanner and started to make an adjustment. He put it down very quickly, looking around with a worried expression. “Is this a union shop?” he asked. Fortunately we weren’t. In some factories,  only  members of the right union were allowed to do certain tasks. Shipyards, already months or even years behind with deliveries, were brought to a halt. Drilling a hole which went through a piece of metal and a piece of wood could cause a strike whilst the shop stewards argued whether a woodworker or metal worker should have done the job. Then they would want overtime to make up for lost time. That was the way things were then. Britain’s industries were rightly losing the confidence of their overseas customers. The Germans, French, Japanese and others would willingly replace them and make deliveries to quality and to time.

The Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson (1964-1970) wanted to modernise British industry. His catch phrase was “the white heat of the technological revolution” but he couldn’t tackle the unions either. As well as being over-mighty, they were the Labour party’s paymasters. He did stand up to a Seamen’s strike in 1966. He believed that communists were using the strike to take over the union.

He brought in emergency powers and the strikers backed down but not before goods piled up on quaysides and most of the Cunard fleet was out of action. The crew of the Queen Mary stopped work at Southampton. The left wing of Labour supported the union.

By luck rather than by good judgement I did rather well out of this. I had bought a large contract of groundnut cake and two months’ shipments arrived together just before the strike. So we were sitting pretty. But I still got a row from my father because we had to hire outside warehouse space.

There were two other disruptive features of trade union conduct in those days – the “sympathy strike” and “blacking”. Trade unionists with no grievance against their own employer would strike “in sympathy” with workers involved in another dispute. “Blacking” was the practice of blacklisting lorries from a firm involved in strike action so that trade unionists in other factories would refuse to load or unload them. Dubious tactics could also be used in disputes between trade unions.

I have a copy of the Sunday Mirror of July 20th 1969. The front page stories are of the first moon landing, the death of Ted Kennedy’s girlfriend in a car which ended underwater and a surprise appearance by the Duke of Edinburgh at a registry office wedding in Cardiff. But inside is a tale of thuggishness between trade unions which I quote here. The TUC was called in as umpire in a dispute between the United Road Transport Union and the much larger Transport & General Transport Workers’ Union, who were in competition for recruits.  Their Midlands Organiser, Alan Law, had been accused in Parliament of blackmail and extortion. A firm called Stephenson Clark had paid £5,000 into the TGWU convalescent homes fund following negotiations about dismissed drivers. Mr Law intended to share the £5,000 with £400 each to seven drivers and £1,100 each to two shop stewards. I knew several firms which were shaken down by Law. Businesses in the Midlands dreaded the attentions of this man and spoke of “The Rule of Law” which bordered on gangsterism, using the immunities from normal legal redress which the unions continued to enjoy until the days of Margaret Thatcher.

One thing strikes me about the Sunday Mirror of those days. It was very much better written than any tabloid today. A full page article by Roy Jenkins, Chancellor of the Exchequer sang the praises of what her termed “the civilised society” and the beginnings of our present obsession with homosexuality and transgender matters. He was a leading light amongst the group of  Labour MPs, working behind the scenes to defy their own party policy and get us into the European Economic Community.

In this, he was at one with the up and coming Conservative, John Selwyn Gummer, now Lord Deben. He and Jenkins both peddled the lie that the Commonwealth countries, grown up and independent, wanted nothing more to do with us – so we must look to Europe.  Gummer came to our Corn Trade Association Conference at Buxton to tell us that. I knew it was a lie because our New Zealand friends supplied us with thousands of tons of milk powder and were not at all pleased to be losing one of their best customers. So, I decided that a project which required a lie to promote it must be concealing more and greater evils. The Canadians who supplied excellent quality wheat for flour milling got the same treatment.

In late 1971 I became a member of a MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food) Committee, concerned with bringing in the European Common Agricultural Policy. The others on the committee were a good twenty years older than I . When they heard the details of the policy which I had heard in Holland ten years before (see Episode 1), they were so outraged that they wanted to walk out. We had not yet met Sir Humphrey Appleby of “Yes Minister” but a senior civil servant who greatly resembled him smoothed them down expertly.

“Well gentlemen” he said “We were not founder members of the community, so these arrangements are not what we would have wished. But just give it a few years of British common sense and we’ll soon get it licked into shape”.  Tea and biscuits appeared instantly. With hindsight, I guessed that the lady with the trolley was waiting for her cue. “And now gentlemen, the political decision having been made, we want to help you get the very best out of this”.  It was a deceit expertly done but, to give the civil servants their due, they certainly gave us the help we needed to make our living in this strange new world. We had to make radical alterations to the way we ran our business. In the highly regulated Common Agricultural Policy our profitability would depend on being able to claim EEC subsidy for “denaturing” wheat and milk powder – that is, rendering them unfit for human consumption by blending them into animal feed. We needed new record systems, new laboratory equipment and parts of our production lines had to be redesigned. By Autumn or early winter of 1972, we were ready to be up and running with the new system. So everything worked perfectly when we “went into Europe” in January 1973 . The only things we were not prepared for was the new breed of inspector and Harold Wilson’s 1975 “Renegotiation” – of which more anon.

 

Our EU exit fee – realism and extortion

How much – if anything – should we pay on leaving the EU?

This will be one of the first issues to be addressed by the new government once Brexit discussions begin. A number of sources within the EU have said that until a figure is agreed, there  can be no discussion on a trade deal.  A figure as high as €100 billion has been quoted in some sources. Meanwhile, a number of more ardent Brexiteers have urged that, on the contrary, we should not pay a penny and just leave.

In between these extreme positions, The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) has produced a report suggesting that the likely cost should end up somewhere between £5 billion and £30 billion. The most likely figure, £15 billion, would equate to be £225 for every person living in the UK in 2019.  This is roughly on a par with our net annual contribution to the EU budget – in other words, how much we pay after the rebate and agricultural subsidies are deducted.

The full report can be downloaded here. Some of the costs have been widely discussed. such as the outstanding contributions to the current EU budget, which covers a seven-year period ending in 2020. Having signed up to the budget in 2014, some argue that we should pay what we agreed, even though for the final 21 months of the term, we will no longer be a member of the EU if the Brexit schedule does not slip.

Any spending which has been authorised but not yet incurred will be hard to avoid. ICAEW’s study puts this figure at £28 billion.

On the other hand, there are assets which we can cash in. We have a 16% stake in the European Investment Bank, estimated to amount to some £10 billion by 2019. With ownership restricted to EU members, our shareholding will need to be sold.

The authors also indicate that some additional expenditure will be needed to complete the Brexit process. After all,  for one thing, extra staff will need to be employed for what will be complex but one-off negotiations.

Would we also be expected to foot the bill for the relocation of those EU agencies currently based in London, such as the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority? Time alone will tell as far as this is concerned.

The most contentious part of the deal, claim the report’s authors, is likely to be the level of our commitment to the former Soviet bloc countries which currently are in receipt of massive amounts of development funding.

There are numerous examples of development funding being squandered in the poorer nations of Western Europe. Spain, for instance, has been blessed with an unfinished motorway network and a surfeit of airports, some of which have since closed – and all at the EU taxpayers’ expense.

Of course, the EU was quite open in admitting that infrastructure projects in Spain and Portugal were to be a dry run for the much bigger challenge of putting Central and Eastern European countries on a par with the west. Given the absurd waste of these projects, however, it is hard to have any confidence that money spent in Poland or Romania will be used any more wisely.

This, of course, is one of the many issues which will need to be hammered out when the talks get under way. The ICAEW report has avoided being prescriptive, but on one point it is quite unambiguous – the €100 billion figure is totally unjustified.