Tuesday, 31 July 2012

37 Questions.

The Scottish Conservative chief whip has recently been attempting, to no avail, to get answers to some obvious and pertinent questions about the SNP's plans, or lack of plans, for a separate Scottish state. In total, 19 parliamentary questions, all of which have been returned unanswered.

As it happens, Union Jock has been working on his own list of national bodies and other aspects of UK national infrastructure that we now take for granted, and are not currently devolved (or in a few cases, not fully devolved) in Scotland. So far I have 37, though I'm sure the list is not exhaustive:

1. Defence and national security
2. Citizenship and passports
3. Foreign relations and diplomatic service
4. Immigration control
5. Social security
6. Tax and customs collection and administration
7. Central bank, currency, reserves, bonds etc.
8. Financial securities market (i.e. stock exchange)
9. Corporate law
10. Company registration infrastructure
11. Financial regulation
12. Academic research funding and infrastructure
13. Postal service
14. Driver and vehicle licensing
15. Civil aviation and air traffic control
16. Marine transport
17. Transport safety and accident investigation
18. Railway infrastructure and regulation
19. Public service broadcasting
20. Broadcasting regulation
21. Telecoms regulation
22. Energy regulation
23. Energy distribution infrastructure
24. Business and competition regulation
25. Professional regulation
26. Health and safety regulation
27. Employment legislation
28. Gambling regulation
29. Consumer protection
30. Advertising regulation
31. Medical ethics regulation
32. Data protection
33. Equal opportunities regulation
34. Industrial standards
35. Weather forecasting
36. Mapping and geographic information (i.e. Ordnance Survey)
37. Film and video game classification

If the SNP want to be taken seriously, and not as a bunch of delusional fantasists, then they need to be providing convincing and feasible proposals about how each of these these functions and responsibilities would be executed in their hypothetical independent Scotland, and by whom. Not only that, but honest, detailed estimates of the time, money and effort required to set up, transition to, and run their alternative arrangements are also needed.

We're waiting.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

More defence drivel.

Following Angus Robertson's defence policy update (if by "update" he means shameless U-turn), it looks like El Presidente will be backing him at the inevitable conference showdown. Apparently "circumstances have changed" regarding the SNP and NATO.

Yes, of course the circumstances have changed - now that they have announced the referendum, the SNP is now desperate to persuade the electorate to take their pie-in-the-sky fantasies seriously, and they think downplaying their long-standing non-aligned peacenik stance will enhance their credibility.

But then he starts talking mince again: The nuclear weapons concerned are not Scotland’s nuclear weapons. If they are regarded as an asset, which I would find difficult to regard it as, then I am quite certain that we can trade that asset for something more useful. I find that difficult to regard too, Alex. Far from being an asset, insisting that the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent be relocated south of the border would create a massive liability - the cost of the huge civil engineering work required to build a new base, and transferring the facilities whilst maintaining the deterrent. Who's going to pay for that?

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Let battle commence?

So Field Marshal Robertson has been playing with his toy soldiers again and has "updated" what passes for the SNP defence policy today. The big news is that he has firmly nailed his colours to the NATO mast. This is a bold move, sure to rile the SNP's non-aligned/peacenik tendency. We should note some of the things his boss Wee Eck has said about the organisation: that the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia was an "an act of dubious legality, but above all one of unpardonable folly", and of course his favourite soundbite about how an independent Scotland "would never again be spilling and wasting our best blood in illegal wars like Iraq". Presumably, by "wars like Iraq" he includes the war in Afghanistan which has largely been waged by NATO.

Robertson proposes an annual Scottish defence budget of £2.5bn - bigger than that of the Czech Republic, Austria or Finland, and about three times that of Ireland. At around 2% of a hypothetical Scottish GDP (depending, as always, on the uncertainties of hydrocarbon revenues), it wouldn't be far short of the projected 2015 UK defence budget of 2.2% GDP.

Exactly how the SNP's much-vaunted nuclear-free zone would work within NATO is... unclear. The current NATO "Strategic Concept" states:
...as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance ... The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance ... Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy ... We will ... ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control and consultation arrangements.

It's difficult to see how a new NATO member could sign up to that and still insist on a fellow NATO state withdrawing their nuclear weapons tout de suite from its territory without any alternative base available. Robertson says: "With agreement on the withdrawal of Trident and retaining the important role of the UN, Scotland can continue working with neighbours and allies within NATO." Agreement on the withdrawal of Trident? What UK government is going to agree to that in the near future?

He also reckons his "Scottish defence and peacekeeping services" will have a strength of 15,000 regulars and 5,000 reservists. But where would they come from? Existing members of the UK armed forces signed up to serve the United Kingdom, and surely any transfer of allegiance would have to be voluntary. In the words of a recent RUSI papermany of the most ambitious and talented Scots would probably opt to stay in the UK’s armed forces, just as many served in the English Army before 1707. As for new recruits, the recent influx of Irish citizens into the UK armed forces suggests that those intent on a military career don't mind serving in another country's forces, if it gives them greater opportunities.

However, there is one solution to the problem of manpower: conscription. Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Greece all currently have conscription-based armed forces. The Netherlands suspended conscription in 1997, but have yet to abolish it. Sweden only stopped in 2010. Strangely Mr Robertson hasn't mentioned it. I wonder why?

It seems Mr Robertson is still sticking to his much-derided "break a square off the chocolate bar" approach to equipping his peacekeeping service: The Scottish defence and peacekeeping forces will initially be equipped with Scotland’s share of current assets including ocean going vessels, fast jets for domestic air patrol duties, transport aircraft and helicopters as well as army vehicles, artillery and air defence systems.

So what's 8% of a fleet of six destroyers? 8% of two assault ships? 8% of six Boeing E-3 AWACS aircraft? 8% of eight Boeing C-17 transporters? How many Type 26 frigates could he afford at an estimated £400-500m a piece? To quote the RUSI paper again: But these are not free-standing units, able to be rebadged as Scotland’s armed forces in the way that schools or hospitals or police forces have been. They are part of an integrated whole, organised on a Union basis. The British Army has several thousand soldiers, based around a brigade headquarters, in Scotland. But the transport aircraft and helicopters needed to carry them around, the staff colleges needed to train them, the organisations that buy and maintain their weapons, and the strategic headquarters needed to command them are all in the rest of the United Kingdom.

But then this woolly thinking exemplifies the lack of detail in this so-called defence policy. Little more than two years away from the expected referendum, the Field Marshal really needs to be giving us a far more convincing plan detailing budgets, timescales, personnel, orders of battle, and transitional arrangements and costs. National defence and security is a much more complex issue than just saying "we'll have some of them, a few of those, oh and some of these too, and it's all going to be just dandy".

But he may be preoccupied with fighting battles closer to home. Already, the opposition within his party are hoping to "kick this into touch" at this year's party conference. Union Jock predicts some lively debating come October.

Monday, 16 July 2012

On Wilson's witterings

So even Gordon Wilson, SNP leader from 1979 to 1990, thinks Wee Eck has bottled it over his referendum. Writing in today's Sunday Mail, he says "As yet, Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government have not agreed a second question on the ballot paper. There is only one reason why they would do so – defeatism, stemming from a belief that they can’t deliver a Yes vote." Yet another senior nationalist pooh-poohs the Second Question. Are there any left (apart from El Presidente of course) who haven't?

However it is interesting to note what this grandee of the SNP has to say today in favour of separation:

The “Great British” hullabaloo over the Jubilee and the Olympics will ebb to disclose the real picture of Britain today – in decline, riddled with corruption and scandal over MPs’ expenses, phone hacking, out-of-control banks and failure to reform the House of Lords.

So corruption and scandal are exclusive to British politics? I think the Irish would give us a good run for our money there. Phone hacking? How would Scottish separation stop that? Out-of-control banks? Just like the ones in Ireland or Iceland, for instance? Failure to reform the House of Lords? Is that really the worst of our problems?

He goes on:

This will go on till the end of time if Scotland votes No. Of course, southern England votes in Conservative governments.

Ahah, an excellent example of the SNP's Thousand-Year Tory Reich bogeyman. Perhaps Mr Wilson needs to be reminded that, regardless of the political leanings of southern England, a Conservative government wasn't voted in in 1997, 2001 or 2005. Strictly speaking, it didn't happen in 2010 either, or else they wouldn't have had to resort to a LibDem coalition.

But is it not odd that Scottish Labour support a Britain dominated by Home Counties Tories?

No, of course they support a Britain dominated by Labour, something they have the chance to achieve every 4 or 5 years. And of course, without Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster, being able to do that becomes much harder. So not odd at all really.

Thirty years ago, Scotland voted Yes in the first devolution referendum and got nothing. None of the fancy promises were kept.

Actually, only 32.9% of the electorate of Scotland voted yes. And the second time around, 44.9% voted yes, and I believe they got a brand new, shiny, no-expenses-spared Scottish Parliament as a result.

Sounds like Mr Wilson is playing the same old broken record. Time for a remix surely?

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Electoral Omission?

A bit of an unfortunate response from John McCormick of the Electoral Commission yesterday to the Holyrood opposition parties' referendum question panel. It's a pity they omitted to square their plan with the EC before their big announcement. But let's note what he said: it's for the relevant government to propose a question. Relevant, not Scottish.

In their original response to the referendum consultations published in March, the EC made it clear that they are agnostic on the question of which government should propose a question; to quote: Irrespective of who is responsible for drafting or agreeing the referendum question (or questions), we recommend following our guidelines... The UK Government consultation paper expresses a preference for the proposed referendum to be held in accordance with PPERA, which contains provision for the UK Parliament to be provided with an assessment of the intelligibility of the wording of proposed referendum questions by the Electoral Commission. It is unclear from the Scottish Government consultation paper the mechanism that they envisage being used to consider the intelligibility of the proposed question. Whatever the legislative process, there will be an important role for the provision of informed and independent advice to the relevant Parliament about the intelligibility of the question that is finally presented for legislative approval.

Of course, the SNP have jumped on the rare opportunity to hit back at the unionist alliance, assuming incorrectly that McCormick meant the Scottish government. But just look at how Angus Robertson tries to squeeze as many mentions of the Tories as possible into his quote for the press. Clearly the SNP want you to believe all Unionists are Tories, and if you're not a Nat then you must be a Tory. Let's see how far that gets them.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

"Wir sind keine Nationalisten"

Last month, you may recall there was a bit of a hoo-hah following the SNP's baffling banning of the word "independence" in their rhetoric, which coincided with Angus Robertson's apparent denial that the SNP were nationalists (incidentally raising the obvious question: who are you, and what do you want?). The latter came from an interview in an Austrian newspaper, Wiener Zeitung. Union Jock thought it would be interesting to read what the Austrians are being told about the Scottish independence debate, so, armed with Google Translate and a smattering of schoolboy German, tracked down the article in question.

Opening with the usual nationalist gag of referring to the Queen as Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland, Robertson goes on to claim that Scotland should be independent because it has the same size of population as Denmark, Finland, Norway or Slovakia. Of course, he doesn't mention the German states of Baden-Württemberg or Bavaria, both of which have more than twice the population of Scotland, never mind North Rhine-Westphalia, which is about three times the size of Scotland. Are their independence accepted as self-evident too?

He goes on: Scotland has its own football and rugby team, we have our own churches, and even its own pound notes, there is no doubt that Scotland is a nation of their own. Sure, if you believe that grown men playing with balls in parks, the ever-diminishing relevance of the Church of Scotland, and the historical curiosity of seven banks in Northern Ireland and Scotland still retaining their 19th-century rights to issue their own promissory notes are the cornerstones of national identity.

We would definitely be more cooperative than the United Kingdom. Unlike the UK, Scotland has always been understood as a European nation. Well, being much smaller than the UK, Scotland wouldn't really have much alternative, as an EU member, to being co-operative with whatever Brussels decrees. And as for "always being understood as a European nation", it sounds like Mr Robertson is beginning to believe his own party's absurd propaganda about how we've always really been part of Scandinavia and never really had much to do with those people who live on the other side of the Cheviots.

However, he later returns to the purely political angle, citing the Conservatives' sole Scottish MP elected in the 2010 general election. Of course, no mention is made of the 11 Scottish LibDem MPs (or indeed the 6 SNP MPs). That would be as if the Austrian government would be dominated by Germany he says. A nice soundbite guaranteed to attract the attention of Austrian readers. But the relationship between Germany and Austria isn't particularly analogous to that of Scotland and the rest of the UK. Austria existed as a nation-state (and indeed an empire) long before Germany did, and its current size and status was determined by the outcomes of the First and Second World Wars.

No one has asked us whether we want to fight in Iraq, whether we want to have nuclear power plants or nuclear weapons on our soil. Well, actually we were asked when we had the 2010 general election. The fact that only 6 SNP MPs were elected presumably tells us the answer.

Robertson does however, proclaim himself to be a monarchist, and looks forward to Scotland being demoted from a part of the United Kingdom to a dominion of the Commonwealth (and the 22nd largest member of the Commonwealth at that, just behind Sierra Leone). Apparently that would cure the "disgruntled tenant" complex that we all suffer from. Hmmm.

And finally, he ends with: We Scots are open, friendly people, we are citizens of the world - therefore the German translation of my party annoys me: we are not nationalists. Open and friendly, except towards the other Inselaffen we share our islands with? The German translation he refers to is Schottischen Nationalpartei, which seems like a fairly obvious translation to me. I wonder what he would prefer - Schottischen Jeder außer England Partei maybe?

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Big Debate: Ladies' Night

So for the third in the series of Big Debates (curiously, only a month after the last one - did the SNP demand a rematch after their previous disappointing performance?), BBC Scotland decided to have an all-female planel, chaired by Brian Taylor injecting some much needed jocularity for a change.

Fiona Hyslop showed herself to be very adept at talking a lot but saying little but was at least slightly less annoying than La Sturgeon. Following Patrick Harvie's untimely yet predictable exit from the SNP's Yes Scotland fiasco, it must have been galling for Hyslop to hear Margo MacDonald, one of Scotland's better known and longest serving nationalist politicians, admitting that she declined to have anything to do with the ill-starred campaign.

Margaret Curran seemed a little shrill and defensive at times when trying to put her point across - no great improvement on Johann Lamont's previous appearance. In contrast, Annabel Goldie sounded very confident and authoritative. In fact, following her colleague Ruth Davidson's appearances in previous Big Debates, the Tories have proved to be the most skillful debaters so far. Goldie also raised the important point that the "geographic share" of oil revenues that now seem to be an implicit presumption in the SNP's promises of future prosperity would face a minefield of negotiations, both constitutional and commercial.

But the star of the show must have been the scary-looking guy with the bad teeth and the "Scottish not British" T-shirt, sitting at the back of audience, who managed to get two questions in. What a great advert for Scottish nationalism!