A CLUELESS DELUSIONAL BREXIT.

Parliament returns this week and there will be only one show in town and that is the on going agony over Brexit. On Thursday we will start the first of two days on the Repeal Bill as we continue to progress this bizarre and disastrous endeavour. The repeal bill is a mess and it is impossible to think of a more crude and dysfunctional instrument to unpack the thousands of EU laws that define our legislative relationship with Europe. The Government have even come up with the imaginative solution of ‘Henry the 8th Powers’ simply giving itself legislative authority over large swathes of laws untroubled by democratic oversight. It allows the blueprint for an assault on Scotland’s devolution arrangements and says nothing about returning EU powers to Scotland. I think it’s fair to say I will not be voting for it in a month of Sundays.

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Then there are the negotiations. Let me put my cards on the table about how I observe these tricky conversations – and I will try and lay them down as sensitively and delicately as I possibly can. Never before has an enterprise of such political significance been prosecuted with such utter, delusional, cluelessness. It’s hard to think of major international negotiations being handled so ineptly and chaotically and it’s like we’ve put the clowns in charge of the Brexit circus. Observing how things are going you just can not help but conclude that this is going to be really, really bad.

The UK negotiators singularly fail to understand the dynamic at the heart of the negotiations and continue to promote the delusional view that we can ‘have cake and eat it’. On the other hand skilled EU negotiators (like trying to explain to stroppy children) patiently explain to them that you are either in or out of a club. Next to no progress has been made and we are out of the EU in little more than 18 months. Meanwhile EU nationals in our communities are starting to leave unsure of their status and holidaymakers coming back from the Costas and Playas are almost impoverished with the crashing post referendum pound.

Looking at this in the round the UK is currently engaged in almost unprecedented national self harm with this Brexit project. We are indulging in a grotesque episode of economic, political and cultural self flagellation and, by god, we’re determined to give ourselves a damned good thrashing. Opting for the hardest of hard Brexits we are reaching for the most painful implement in the box and the pain will be felt for years to come.

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Every single person in Scotland is going to be worse off following Brexit with the Fraser of Allander Institute estimating that it could cost Scotland up to £8 billion with 80 000 being made unemployed whilst our economy takes a 5% hit in GDP. Our plan for Scotland to avoid the worst of the madness was comprehensively rejected before the ink was barely dry and it looks like Scotland will be shackled to the rest of the UK as we motor ever closer to the cliff edge, regardless of how we voted on the project.

Staying with the transport metaphors the good ship UK is currently on full course to hit the Brexit iceberg and the last of the engines has just been stoked up. On deck the ‘negotiators’ aimlessly re-organise the deckchairs comforting themselves with tales of ‘international trade deals’. But below decks attached to the side of this stricken, doomed, empty vessel their remains a lifeboat for Scotland. All we need to do is get on board, lower it down, and row as quickly as possible to the shores of sanity.

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FEDERALISM

Jeremy Corbyn’s been back in Scotland and that can only mean a renewed debate about federalism in the UK. Where there’s been talk of a new Act of Union and maximum devolution it is federalism that can always be relied upon to be brought out when something needs said about Scotland and the UK’s constitutional future. Only ever referred to in the vaguest of possible terms very few people actually seem to know what Labour mean when they use the F word.

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What we do know is that they want a UK wide constitutional convention which will consider ‘federalism’ along with the other big intractables of House of Lords and voting reform. What this constitutional convention lacks in detail it certainly doesn’t lack in ambition but as yet there are no terms of reference about what it would actually consider.

But can Labour deliver a federal UK, would this be a good thing and what would it possibly look like? Labour are certainly feeling encouraged just now with what they see as the success of the modest amount of devolution that has taken place in the English regions. They also seem to have recovered from their last disastrous dalliance with English constitutional change when the North East decisively rejected their plans for an assembly by 77.9% to 22.1% in 2004.

But maybe we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves because any federal solution for the UK would have to take into account the fact that we are a union of nations. There are four nations of the UK and any federation would have to start with them. This leads to the first very obvious problem in that England dwarves all the other nations combined with 53 million people out of the UK’s total population of 65 million.

However, even with this in-balance it isn’t impossible to achieve and the realities of scale are what they are. That great example of symmetrical federalism, the United States of America, secures equal representation on its senate for tiny Rhode Island with giant California. A trans national ’Federal Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ would certainly be the easiest and most elegant way to secure a ‘federal’ UK. The House of Commons would become the English Parliament and powers other than foreign affairs, defence, international treaties and macro-economic matters would be transferred to the new state Parliaments. We would then all send representatives to the UK Senate (occupying the House of Lords) to look after the federal powers. Where this would be a positive progression from the asymmetric devolution of the current UK I get the impression that this sort of trans national federal solution is not what Labour are intending.

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What they really seem to hanker for is more ‘devolution’ particularly for England. I’m suspecting that what Labour are looking for is some sort of solution that creates regional assemblies in England to then send representatives to a new UK wide senate (along with the devolved assemblies) that would replace the House of Lords. I also suspect that they pretty much want to leave the House of Commons as the UK’s sovereign Parliament. This may be lots of things but federalism it ain’t. If this ‘federalism’ is just Labour getting confused with devolution we can forgive them and let them get on with it, wishing the very best of luck. But if they are actually serious about creating ‘federalism’ and intending that new ‘regional assemblies’ should have parity of status with the nations of the UK, then we do have a real problem.

That would mean that Scotland as a nation would be given the same status as a ‘region’ of England and would have equal clout with (and with no disrespect to them) the West Midlands. This would have an enormous impact on our place in the world. And how is this to be done? ‘The West Midlands’ would have to be practically re-invented, with institutions replacing Whitehall departments created from scratch. Again, not impossible, but realising the West Midland-ian Parliament as a legislative body would not be ‘issue free’. Now, it might just be me, but I’m also not detecting a huge enthusiasm in England for any sort of constitutional reform far less one that would deliver the equivalent of the German Lander.

Not for the first time I suspect that Labour are just getting a little confused with all this constitutional lexicon and have absolutely no intention of creating the ‘British Federation’. Yes Labour, get on with reforming the House of Lords (it would help if you didn’t take places in it) and by all means let’s see your plans to transform it into an ‘assembly of the nations and regions’. But please stop all this talk of federalism. It really isn’t helping anyone.

NATIONALISM

With an international interest in what is described as ‘nationalism’ it should be no surprise that Scottish ‘nationalism’ is once again being forced in to the spotlight of political debate. Indeed, such is the interest in the word that the First Minister has conceded that the term is ‘problematic’. Sensing the mood unionist politicians and columnists have therefore wasted no time in trying to once again suggest a dark side to Scotland’s relationship to this most enigmatic of terms.

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Probably the best summary of how many unionists perceive the Scottish variety of ‘nationalism’ has come from Douglas Alexander the former Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary. In response to the FM’s remarks, in a series of tweets, he suggested an equivalence amongst all ‘nationalist’ movements. According to Douglas’ definition all nationalisms are characterised by ‘grievance, othering, victimhood and exclusion’. He ended his return to Scottish political debate by concluding ‘patriotism needs no enemy while nationalism demands one’.

For Douglas there are no apparent exceptions to this ‘nationalist rule’ and all nationalist movements are therefore undesirable. Even Gandhi, George Washington and Nelson Mandela along with the movements that brought independence to former British colonies and democracy to nations once controlled by the Soviet Union are all a product of ‘grievance’ and ‘victimhood’. The sheer stupidity of this position needs no debunking from me other than to note with astonishment and regret that someone as thoughtful as Douglas Alexander can seriously believe this.

But Gandhi and Mandela are not the targets in this extraordinary recasting of historical heroes as grievance nurturing villains. The target is what is happening in Scotland and the campaign for Scottish independence. A critical part of defeating Scottish ‘nationalism’ is to suggest that it is motivated by the most sinister of motives. Unionists who peddle these arguments take no interest in the many interpretations of Scottish ‘nationalism’ as an entirely civic affair which puts at its core the simple belief that the people who live and work in Scotland can make a better job of running Scotland than Westminster. The democratic argument at the core of the case for Scottish independence is the one feature they can’t acknowledge and must be discarded and ignored.

What in fact the movement for Scottish independence has done is to practically recast the arguments about what we understand as ‘nationalism’. Contemporary civic nationalism was only an academic theory until it was adopted and put into action during the independence campaign. Scotland’s nationalism has no ethnic association and it is a nationalism where culture is also pretty much a side feature. People involved in the movement for Scottish independence wave saltires and express pride in Scotland because they are the patriots that Douglas Alexander praises and are pretty much the same as patriots right across the world.

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Then there is the suggestion that those who do not support Scottish independence and enthusiastically favour continued membership of the UK are somehow not ‘nationalists’ themselves. A UK that has just demonstrated its own ‘nationalism’ by voting to leave the EU, mainly on an argument that wished to restrict immigration, would surely rate much higher on any ‘nationalist’ scale than an independence movement that wants to abolish nuclear weapons and end austerity.

But it is in the use of the word against supporters of Scottish independence that will continue to consume our debate in an almost pointless and self defeating way. The 45% of Scots who voted for Scottish independence will simply not recognise themselves as ‘grievance seeking victims’ in hock with Radovan Karadzic. People who voted for Scottish independence simply saw independence as a better way for Scotland to be run and a means to make our own positive contribution to world affairs and the international community. They imagined a better future for our community and saw the opportunities that the full powers of independence would give us to achieve that. If unionists really believe that independence supporters are the equivalent of Steve Bannon it might go a long way to explain why Douglas Alexander lost his seat.

Finally, like most Scots regardless of their view on independence I believe in inter-dependence, international solidarity and social democracy. Like everybody who lives here I am a passionate Scot who loves this country and fundamentally believes in the abilities of the people who live and work here. My political motives have never been motivated by ‘nationalism’ and if I had my way I would rename the party the ‘Stop the world Scotland wants to get on Party’. I simply believe that my country would be a better place if we had the normal powers of self-Government. It is that, and only that, that separates our approach to politics, and yes, our differing ‘problematic nationalisms’.

This is Pete Wishart’s article for next edition of the Scots Independent. 

LABOUR’S SHAMBOLIC BREXIT POLICY

Rarely has a policy on a major issue of the day been as shambolic and vacuous as Labour’s policy on Brexit. Intellectually incoherent, contradictory and politically inept it is quickly becoming the defining feature of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. It is a policy that has singularly failed to unite the Labour Party and it is a policy that Labour seem so uncertain about that they barely make any attempt to promote at all.

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Labour’s policy (as far as I understand it) is to leave the single market and customs union to ensure that ‘the referendum result is respected’. Their biggest single issue and concern is with freedom of movement which they believe has to be ended to halt what they describe as an ‘erosion of workers pay and conditions’. But it is an ever changing Brexit position because the definitive Labour Brexit policy depends on which part of the Corbyn leadership has the misfortune to answer questions on it on any particular day of the week. Some days it is a definitive ‘I think we’re leaving the single market’ other days it’s a bit more confused than that. What we do know about the Labour leadership position is in how they have voted in Parliament. There, they voted for the triggering of Article 50 and opposed a motion, brought by some of their own backbenchers, opposing a Tory hard Brexit sacking any MP who dared to vote against Corbyn.

Corbyn’s position seems to be a throw back to the historic antipathy to the EU that has defined so much of the Labour left since the 1970s. The Bennite left forged this anti European line in face of what they saw as some sort of anti workers cartel in the then Single Market. Since the days of Benn and Wilson Europe has totally transformed almost unnoticed within the Corbyn left. There has been the introduction of the social chapter, championed by social democratic/Liberal Governments in the face of opposition from conservatives, usually from the UK. Directive after directive gives more protection to workers across the continent and let’s not forget the critical work done on protecting the environment. The ‘anti-workers’ Europe lampooned by some of the Corbynistas rushing to defend their man bares little relation to the EU of 2017. Try as I might, I also can find no compelling evidence that freedom of movement somehow conspires to drive down the wages and condition of working people. With unemployment at an almost historic low ending freedom of movement can only in fact damage the economy impacting on all of us.

And Labour’s Brexit position is so politically inept. Currently in the ascendancy the Corbynistas hope to bring down this Government as quickly as possible and get their man into number 10. Now, it might be possible to achieve this by beating them on the Driverless Cars Bill or the bill to regulate the provision of travel insurance but it is highly unlikely. This is a Government that has produced a legislative programme as opaque as possible determined to ensure that there is nothing of substance that can be defeated in parliament. Sure, Labour have non binding opposition days and can call votes on meaningless amendments to these meaningless bills, but these don’t bring down Governments. The only meaningful votes we will have in parliament will be on Brexit and here Labour agree with the Tories on practically all of the main themes in leaving the European Union. The Repeal Bill may offer opportunities but again I struggle to see where Labour diverge from the Tory Government on what they hope to achieve. Legislatively, Labour have almost given the Tories a free pass in this parliament and will have few opportunities to test the Tories minority position when they agree with them on the big issues of the day.

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But it is the impact of their Brexit policy on his newly created constituency that will probably finish him off. Young people flocked to Corbyn in huge numbers but I’m pretty sure none of the banners proclaimed ‘end freedom of movement’. The rights enjoyed by Jeremy and I to live, work and love freely in Europe without borders will be denied to our children as the Corbynistas work with the Tories and the UK right to stop people coming here. Jeremy’s young supporters will face the inevitable reciprocal restrictions on their freedom of movement as European Governments respond in kind to the UK’s Faragist approach. It’s also hard to see how the Labour voting international city of London is going to readily go along with leaving the single market and ending freedom of movement.

As the reality of a hard Brexit sinks in more and more people will be paying attention to Labour’s Brexit approach and they will not like what they see. To be virtually undistinguishable from the Tories on something that is so immensely damaging to the UK will eventually take its toll on Jeremy’s support. Corbyn supporters did not buy into a Tory hard Brexit but it is that which is increasingly defining their man.

On a programme with so many commendable features that has inspired a new generation into politics wouldn’t it be ironic if Corbyn fails because he has thrown his lot in with a failed Tory Government pursing a failed Brexit policy.

FIGHTING TO SAVE PERTHSHIRE’S PUBLIC TOILETS. MY LETTER TO THE TORY LEADER OF P&K COUNCIL.

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WISHART SEEKS ASSURANCES ON PERTHSHIRE PUBLIC TOILETS

SNP Perth and North Perthshire candidate, Pete Wishart, has today written to Conservative council leader, Ian Campbell, seeking assurance that the Tories will not close Perthshire’s public toilets. In their budget proposal the Tories threatened to close all public toilets in the county.

Speaking today, Mr Wishart said;

I was horrified when I saw that the Tories threatened to close all of Perthshire’s public toilets in the last Perth and Kinross budget. I have been speaking to many tourist businesses and they are increasingly alarmed at this prospect and the impact that this may have.

‘We have very little idea what the Tories intentions are for the stewardship of the council as the one and only election issue they raised was to tell us that Ruth Davidson opposed a second independence referendum. The only guide we have therefore is what is included in their budget proposals, where they sought to remove the full budget to support parent councils in all the county’s schools, cut the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, increase bereavement charges and increase parking charges as well as close all the public toilets.

‘I have therefore written to Tory Council leader, Ian Campbell, to seek clarity on this issue and ask him to provides an assurance that this Tory administration have no intention to close all our public toilets.”Image 26-05-2017 at 10.18

LET’S MAKE THE TORIES REGRET CALLING THIS CYNICAL ELECTION

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Like the first cuckoo of spring the start to general election season in Scotland is never quite complete without the call of the Tories that they’re going to take Perth and North Perthshire. Where the call of the Tories is oft-repeated and grating it is at least predictable. In fact I’d almost feel disappointed if the discordant song of the Tories in full voice wasn’t forthcoming as it is the perfect noise to ensure that the opposition to the Tories is galvanised once again in Perthshire. It, probably more than anything else, helped me treble, then double my majority in the last two elections.

The Tories may have been buoyed by recent opinion polls and projections but when it comes to defending their record we have seen the damage the Tories have done with no majority of their own and then with a small majority. We should be in no doubt what a strengthened Tory government would mean – more austerity, further cuts and real damage to our public services.

Where the recent Tory rise in opinion polls may indeed appear dramatic, it seems to be almost all at the expense of what is left of the Labour unionist vote across Scotland. The SNP vote remains pretty much unchanged and the SNP go into this election with opinion poll ratings in the mid 40s, pretty much the same as the same as they were in advance of the election in 2015.

What is different about this election is the Tory campaign. The Tories one and only tactic this time round appears to be to shout as loudly as possible ‘no second referendum’ – completely ignoring the unequivocal mandate the Scottish Parliament has already given the Scottish Government on this and hoping to distract attention from the fact that this election has been called in the narrow self-interests of the Tory party.  They also seem to believe this will detract from their appalling austerity agenda and how they are prosecuting the hardest and most destructive of Tory Brexits. Where this may rally and rouse a bit more of the unionist core vote across Scotland it will not get them off the hook that this is a general election where this Tory Government will be judged. I have sat almost in horror as I have witnessed this Tory party descend into a nasty right wing collective, something approaching UKIP with ministerial cars. Contemporary innovations of nastiness such as the obscene rape clause and capping benefits to third children now defines them. This week the assault moves on to pensioners as they become the next vulnerable group to be targeted with a potential U-turn on the triple lock.

I am also immensely proud to stand on my local record of 16 years of service. Everyone in Perth and North Perthshire will know someone I have assisted and they will also see how I have stood up for Perthshire from helping secure city status for Perth to saving rural phone boxes in Glen Lyon. All this faux outrage over a misrepresentation of a ‘retweet’ on social media is simply counter productively annoying the voters of Perth and North Perthshire, especially when this outrage is manufactured by a list Tory MSP who regularly embarrasses himself on Twitter.

This is an election that has been called for the most cynical of purposes. It has nothing to do with ‘uniting’ behind the Tory’s hard Brexit but everything to do with taking advantage of the chaos in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Voters across Scotland – tired of four elections in a year – should make sure they get out to punish this Tory Government for so blatantly trying to destroy all opposition to them in Parliament. Added to that there are also 26 Conservative MPs under police investigation with decisions about convictions due in the next few weeks. Now, call me cynical, but the prospect of losing a Parliamentary majority of 18 in these circumstances must at least be a factor in this election being called now.

This is an important and critical election and in Perth and North Perthshire it will be either a Tory or an SNP MP. A vote for the SNP is a vote to end austerity and for investment in our public services. And it is a vote to ensure that the future of Scotland – the kind of country we are – will be decided, not at Westminster but in Scotland, by the Scottish people.

Dear Prime Minister, about this Tory election fraud business……

Dear Prime Minister

At Prime Minister’s Questions on the 22nd of March, I asked you about the Electoral Commissions record fine of £70 000 on the Conservative Party, the largest ever levied on a political party in the UK. In response you told me you could not answer as this was a ‘party matter’ before adding that you believed this was all simply an ‘administrative error’.

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I write to you now confident that you will now be in a position to answer my questions as the Leader of the Conservative Party.

Firstly. I’m sure we can both agree that our electoral laws are a critical feature of our Parliamentary democracy and are designed so that our elections are conducted fairly and transparently? I am also sure you agree that any transgression of our electoral rules should be treated with the utmost seriousness? Can you therefore explain the cavalier manner in which the Conservative Party have flippantly dismissed these investigations and the way in which they have been nonchalantly explained away and excused in the media by people speaking on behalf of your party?

The Electoral Commission’s investigation found the Conservative party’s spending return for the 2015 general election was missing payments worth at least £104,765. Separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the commission or were incorrectly reported. In addition, it found invoices or receipts for 81 payments worth £52,924 in three by-elections were unaccounted for. Critically the commission found that Conservative Party apportioned national election spending when it in fact should have been accounted as candidate expenditure.

Throughout the course of the enquiry the Electoral Commission complained about the way the Conservative Party hindered its work accusing your party of “unreasonable unco-operative conduct”, which they claim delayed this investigation for a number of months. Is the Electoral Commission right in these assertions and, if so, why did the Conservative Party attempt to thwart the progress of these investigations? It is simply inconceivable that a political party as well resourced as the Conservative Party was unaware of our electoral rules and far from being an ‘administrative error’ do you agree that this is at best wilful negligence and at worst electoral fraud?

The Electoral Commission do not have the legal powers to take this further and have passed on their concerns about the role of the Conservative Party Chairman to the metropolitan police stating he “knowingly or recklessly” falsely declared the party’s 2015 election spending return. His investigation will join the 20 Conservative party candidates and agents currently being investigated by 12 police forces the length and breadth of England. If at the conclusion of these police inquiries there is shown to be any criminal conduct there could be custodial sentences, by-elections with the outcome of the 2015 election brought into question. Such is the seriousness of the complaints that the Commission chair, Sir John Holmes, said the Conservatives’ failure to follow the rules “undermined voters’ confidence in our democratic processes”. Will you now pledge to take this investigations seriously, end all talk of ‘administrative errors’ and co-operate fully with all the investigations?

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I asked you at Prime Minister’s Questions about who was involved in organising all of this? Could you now tell me who designed this activity, particularly the battle bus and accommodation exercise? What did they know of our crucial electoral laws? Did this involve Government aides? Who along with the Conservative Party Chair signed off the accounts for the battle buses, accommodation and associated spending? Did anyone in the cabinet or Government know about what was going on? Were you personally aware of this activity?

If it is all merely a ‘misunderstanding’ I’m sure you will have no problem in disclosing this information and I am confident that you will want to be fully transparent in all of these regards.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Pete Wishart MP
SNP Shadow Leader of the House