Author Archives: petewishart

TOWARDS AN INDEPENDENCE 2.0

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WITH all the many things said about the anniversary of the referendum it’s hard to believe that the case for independence was crafted some five years ago. Scotland’s Future, or just simply the white paper, now seems to belong to an altogether different political era. Since the white paper there have been two General Elections and a UK vote to leave the European Union. What we now need is a new programme for independence, an independence 2.0, a new blueprint for an independent Scotland.

Scotland in 2017 is an altogether different country from the time of the white paper. This year’s General Election found Scotland apparently weary of constitutional change but at the same time restless for solutions. We saw the Tories’ Unionist campaign opposing a second independence referendum resonate with many of our fellow Scots. We also saw the SNP lose almost half a million votes as our vote came under assault on a number of fronts as Scotland’s political mood became almost impossible to predict

Yet support for independence remains at around 45 per cent, defiantly the same as the 2014 referendum. There are still almost half of our fellow Scots who believe independence is the ultimate destination for our nation and there is no sense that desire for self-government is diminishing.

This is a constituency that urgently requires reassurance and who we need to address and refresh. We need to offer a new prospectus that will re-motivate and inspire. These are people looking for a new way forward for their constitutional ambitions and who are looking to the Scottish National Party to signpost the way to that destination.

We also now know that this is a fragile constituency that can not be taken for granted. We lost a third of our Westminster MPs just as much because independence supporters decided to stay at home, uninspired by what they saw as an agenda that did not meet their constitutional ambitions.

Where we must start is with the realities of Brexit. Brexit will be an absolute disaster for Scotland, cutting average pay by £2000 and resulting in the loss of 80 000 jobs. When the reality of this folly finally becomes apparent, the Scottish people will almost certainly want to fully review and consider all their available constitutional options. The Tories are doing everything possible to uncouple Brexit from a further referendum on independence and that is why we in turn must do everything possible to ensure that connection is seen and felt. As the good ship UK fully collides with that Brexit iceberg, we must make that lifeboat available for Scotland and have it fully equipped and seaworthy.

The first thing we therefore need for Independence 2.0 is a credible post-Brexit vision for an independent Scotland. We will always be a European-inclined nation and the desire to be a full member of the EU must always be our ambition. But we have to carefully craft a road map to match that ambition which realistically reflects the position we will find ourselves in. We also need to be sensitive to the many people in Scotland (including the many SNP supporters) who remain suspicious of the whole EU project.

We need a graduated approach, starting with institutions we can apply to join on day one of our independence. We should say that we would seek immediate entry to the EEA and EFTA while starting discussions about a return to the European Union. We should also say that our membership of any European multi-lateral institution will be kept under review in any ascent up that stairway to full European Union membership.

There are other things we must address as urgent major chapters in Independence 2.0. The fiscal commission is due to report soon and that will hopefully address some of the issues concerning our onshore economy and the still potent issue of the currency in an independent Scotland. So much time and energy was spent addressing currency in the last referendum that we must never again allow the Unionists to hold the whip hand on what we may or may not be “allowed” as an independent nation.

In a post-Brexit UK our land border is likely to replace currency as the top of the ‘we’re not going to let you do that’ list. A Brexitised UK will have the full ability to determine any future border relationship, and is likely to be as unhelpful as possible in how it engages in these conversations. We have to prepare ourselves with solutions for when the UK assumes its isolation and uses borders as political muscle to oppose our independence.

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Then there is how we get there, and I notice the impatience of some to have this tested as quickly as possible. Timing is everything and we must seek the optimal time for success, carefully assessing opportunity against risk.

We must also have an unquestionable mandate. This time round the Tory Government is less likely to be so accommodating in granting the same democratic arrangements we secured last time.

This means contesting the next Scottish election with a clear commitment to revisit our constitutional future with a reference to allow Scotland to consider its position when Brexit finally concludes. With transitional arrangements in place, it is likely that the full impact of Brexit will start to become apparent just as we start to contest the 2021 election. We therefore have to seek a renewed mandate in 2021 and have the courage of our convictions to fight the next Scottish election on securing a renewed referendum mandate.

More than anything we need a new case. An Independence 2.0. A properly thought out, considered programme for independence in the 2020s. Independence 2.0 must be positive and realistic, with a strong powerful vision of what we want to contribute internationally predicated on the best inclusive, social democratic traditions of our nation.

We need to demonstrate what we can achieve with the full powers of self Government.

Let’s put the case together and then go out and claim the main prize, a nation of our own.

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ME AND JEREMY CORBYN

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I remember the good old days when a small group of MPs were the front line in Parliamentary opposition to Blairite Labour. There were the 6 SNP MPs, 3 Plaid, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, latterly Caroline Lucas and the rest of the small band of Labour Campaign Group MPs. Where we never operated as a group we were a sort of a nascent, embryonic ‘progressive alliance’ that conjured up the possibilities of securing a progressive agenda across the UK

Together as comrades we opposed Trident, ID cards, 90 days detention and the rest of the horrors of Blair’s anti-civil libertarian state. We railed against Labour’s foundation hospitals, tuition fees and that totem of high Blairism – the Iraq war. I have probably voted more with Jeremy and John over the years than Jeremy’s current deputy leader and the vast majority of former Scottish MPs. The SNP’s constitutional agenda was never a feature in how we operated. Our Labour comrades knew next to nothing about it and cared even less. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to all those involved in our little group and how they’ve fared since…?

I was our Chief Whip during this period and I regularly observed the Labour whips not even bothering to try and persuade Jeremy and John to support them. They were beyond their control and were dismissed with a ‘well, that’s just them’ shrug of the shoulders. Now Jeremy and John run the Labour Party and people chant Jeremy’s name before he gets up to speak. Knowing my old comrade I sense his discomfort at all the adulation and his embarrassment at all the attention.

The Corbyn surge has been a true political phenomenon that nobody predicted and no-one as yet fully understands. Jeremy is an unlikely working class hero and his shambling, self conscious geography teacher persona is probably a main feature of his appeal. He is the antithesis of the stereotypical traditional hard left leader. He and, say for instance, Tommy Sheridan, couldn’t be further apart. Jeremy speaks to you politely, almost apologetically, rather than trying to carry you away in a verbal sea of rhetoric. It’s hard not to like Jeremy and I’m almost disappointed that our old band has disbanded and has gone its own ways.

When Jeremy assumed the Labour leadership I suppose, like most, I presumed it would be short lived and the Labour establishment would soon be back. But instead Jeremy has become the Labour establishment and his victory over the old Blairites is almost totally complete. Only in Parliament is there an opposition to his leadership and that is pretty much reduced to the condition that Jeremy used to find himself in those far off days.

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Was there ever any chance of our old band’s vision of some sort of ‘progressive alliance’ surviving Jeremy’s elevation? Well, that probably went the day the briefing from Scottish Labour arrived on the new leader’s desk. Tribal, and overwhelmingly hostile to anything to do with the SNP that briefing first inclusion would have probably been something along the lines of ‘under no circumstances ever work with the SNP’. The rest would have detailed all our plans to ‘break up Britain’ and their favourite ‘they are not a left wing party’. I could imagine Jeremy’s confusion trying to square all of this with his own experience of working with the SNP, noting that it was in fact Scottish Labour MPs who were in the opposite voting lobbies. Leaving Scotland in the hands of a chaotic Scottish Labour Party signalled that nothing would change in Labour/SNP relations.

Now Labour are predicting a comeback in Scotland having won 6 seats back from the 40 lost. Observing their current leadership contest this looks like so much wishful thinking. Scottish Labour remain on the wrong side of Scotland’s constitutional divide and their enthusiasm for Corbynism is at best embarrassingly skin deep having set itself so defiantly against it over the past few years.

Having become the establishment Jeremy is also curiously starting to behave like a fully paid up member of it. High Corbynism has probably passed already as the tensions over Brexit and worries such as ‘runs on the pound’ become the realities and the difficult compromises creep in. Jeremy was always going to be a better oppositionalist than establishment figure but it is quite amazing watching this new empire rise and fall.

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.

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