Tag Archives: Alistair Darling

Scotland Votes

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Photo by Maria Navarro Sorolla, Creative Commons, via Flickr

Opinion polls put the result of today’s Scottish vote on independence on a knife’s edge, but no matter the outcome the referendum will have fundamentally changed Britain’s modern balance of power.

The United Kingdom has been together for better, and worse, since 1707 when Acts of Union formalized a union that was already in many ways in effect, through a century-old joint monarchy. A Yes vote will lead to the hard work of disentangling it. Custody battles will be fought over assets and liabilities, from British nuclear arms to the national debt to North Sea oil. But a No vote — given 11th-hour promises for far more Scottish autonomy, made by the pro-union side in the last frantic days of the referendum campaign — will also fundamentally change  Britain.

Of all the analyses that tried to pick out the strands of history that drew Scotland to this precipice, one consistent is that Scots and most other residents of the U.K. have a fundamentally different view of society. Scottish politics are consistently more communitarian than in England, where individualism and hard-edged capitalism tend to reign. As a profile in Der Spiegel of Scottish independence leader Alex Salmond noted, he “became political during the 1980s because of Margaret Thatcher — as a result of her cuts to social welfare, privatizations and the poll tax that was introduced in Scotland one year earlier than in the rest of Great Britain. The Iron Lady inspired an entire generation of Scottish patriots.” Canadian political scientist James Laxer called the Scottish referendum the “World’s first vote on economic inequality.”

Alex Salmond © Scottish Parliament

Alex Salmond Photo © Scottish Parliament.

The man at the centre of this sea change in the U.K.’s status quo is Salmond, First Minister in the Scottish Parliament and the architect of the referendum.  An economist, former student of medieval history, and a consumate politician, Salmond has devoted his life to his country’s independence. F&O offers a short profile in Dispatches, Players — ALEX SALMOND: The Independent Scot, by Scottish political scientist Murray Leith. An excerpt:

If there’s one figure that anyone anywhere would associate with the Scottish referendum campaign it’s Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the man who could be responsible for the break-up of the United Kingdom. But who is he, where did this political whirlwind begin and where will it take the man and his party?

His political opponents may label him everything from “driven” to “smug” but among them a common theme is that Alex Salmond is intensely private; a man “difficult to know”, and about whose private life very little is known. Many in Scotland could probably not confirm if he is even married. He is, although his wife Moira is 17 years older than him, they have no children, and she rarely appears in public. He likes the horses and gambles on races, likes his golf too, and knows his history. He is considered a natural politician by many, although some dismiss him as cold and calculating, but he is certainly the face of Scottish nationalism today. … read ALEX SALMOND: The Independent Scot.

In case you missed it, F&O posted earlier this week a “Cole’s Notes” sort of guide to the referendum by Coree Brown, a Scottish PhD student — Scotland’s independence referendum: a beginner’s guide:

Voters in Scotland will go to the polls on September 18 and answer the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The result will be determined by a simple majority vote, and is expected to be announced on the morning of September 19. … read Scotland’s independence referendum: a beginner’s guide

F&O International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe’s column in April addressed the complexities of a breakup, for Britain but also for  Europe. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s column Scottish leader downplays difficulties of independence (subscription):

Scotland’s First Minister and Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond is generally reckoned to be the canniest politician in the British Isles.

So it was entirely in keeping that he chose today, the day when the English patron saint St. George is celebrated, to cross the border to the northern English city of Carlisle to promote Scottish separation.

Salmond’s aim, with the campaign for Scottish independence heating up ahead of the September 18 referendum, was to calm anxieties. Little will change when Scotland becomes independent, Salmond underlined as polls show pro-separation supporters significantly narrowing the gap on the “no” vote’s slim majority …

It is in Salmond’s interests to minimize the implications of Scottish independence, which might come in 2016 if there is a majority for separation in the September referendum. But the potential fall-out not only for the United Kingdom, but also for Europe and the European Union is profound. …  read Scottish leader downplays difficulties of independence (Subscription or day pass required*)

Much of the world is transfixed as Scots take their future into their ballot boxes today, with the tally expected Friday morning. But keep in mind that the Scottish quest for independence is ancient: two millennia ago fierce Scots not only kept their lands free but put the Romans on the defensive, and in 1320 Scottish leaders wrote the Declaration of Arbroath and sent it to Pope John XXII, claiming Scotland’s status as an independent, sovereign state. (You can watch a video of  professor Ted Cowan speaking of Arbroath on YouTube, here.) Deep history suggests that today’s Scottish referendum on independence will not be the last of the matter.

 — Deborah Jones

UPDATE September 19: The pro-union “No” campaign won the referendum by about 55 to 45. Nearly 85 per cent of eligible voters made a choice on one single clear question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”  The results by late Friday Scottish time,  55.25 per cent No and 45.65 per cent Yes, are on this Scottish site. Alex Salmond resigned the day after the referendum.

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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Scotland’s independence referendum: a beginner’s guide

The main chamber of the Scottish Parliament. Photo by Martyn Gorman, geograph.org.uk, Creative Commons

The main chamber of the Scottish Parliament. Photo by Martyn Gorman, geograph.org.uk, Creative Commons

By Coree Brown, University of Edinburgh

What is Scotland voting for?

Voters in Scotland will go to the polls on September 18 and answer the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The result will be determined by a simple majority vote, and is expected to be announced on the morning of September 19.


Who can vote?

The 4.1m people eligible to vote include UK citizens, EU citizens and qualifying Commonwealth citizens currently resident in Scotland. Scots living outside of Scotland (with the exception of those in the military or diplomatic service) are not eligible to cast their vote.

The voting franchise has been extended to 16 and 17-year-olds.


What do the polls say?

In a “poll of polls” conducted in autumn 2013, the average support for Yes was at 32%, with no at 49%. When accounting for undecided voters, this translated into to 39% for Yes, and 61% for No.

But in the most recent poll of polls, the difference has narrowed to four percentage points, with 48% polling Yes and 52% polling No. Early polls indicated a gender gap, with women more likely to be in favour of the union, but this gap appears to have closed in recent weeks.


Why the sudden excitement?

For most of the campaign, polls suggested a strong lead for the No campaign – but that now appears to have narrowed significantly.

A poll published on September 7 by YouGov indicated that the Yes campaign had in fact pulled slightly ahead in the polls. A survey by pollster TNS BMRB, published late the next day, showed that both sides were polling at 41% for those definitely going to vote, with the rest of the electorate undecided.

As far as the polls go, the referendum is now considered too close to call.


Who is who?

The official campaigns are Yes Scotland (with party support from the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens) and the unionist Better Together (supported by Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives).

First minister of Scotland Alex Salmond has been the primary face of the Yes campaign on the trail and in debates, while Alistair Darling, Labour MP and former chancellor of the exchequer, has headed up Better Together (No to independence).


What are the key issues?

The campaign has largely revolved around the economic implications of independence, with much being made of independence bonuses and union dividends – the questions of whether Scots would be financially better of within or outside the union.

Other major issues are provisions for health, social services and pensions, currency, defence, and EU membership.


Would independent Scotland be in the EU?

There isn’t a precedent for the division of an EU member state, and it’s unclear whether an independent Scotland would need to reapply or would automatically be granted entry.

The pro-independence campaign has maintained that Scotland would automatically be an EU member; experts differ on how this accession process might occur. Questions remain over whether Scotland would receive the same terms as the United Kingdom, which include a budgetary rebate and opt-outs from the eurozone and Schengen – which gives freedom to cross internal borders in Europe.


What currency would it use?

The Scottish government has pledged to negotiate a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom in the event of a Yes vote, allowing Scotland to continue to use the pound sterling – even though, in a statement last year, chancellor George Osborne ruled this out.

However, there are questions over whether this is a negotiating tactic. Currency options for Scotland should a currency union prove unworkable include adopting sterling without a currency union (a “dollarisation” model), using an independent Scottish currency, or adopting the euro. Essentially, it is not yet clear exactly what would happen.


How would it defend itself?

The proposals for a Scottish defence force put forth in the Scottish government’s white paper suggest a smaller, more modest force focused on maritime defence and peace-keeping, with a particular focus on the High North. The white paper proposes a defence budget of £2.5 billion (a reduction from the £3.3 billion Scotland contributes to the UK defence budget) and 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel.

Following independence, the withdrawal of the UK’s nuclear submarine programme from Scotland would be negotiated. The Scottish government also foresees membership of NATO, though an independent Scotland would apparently have to apply.

The UK government has critiqued these proposals in its own analysis, arguing that Scotland is more secure within the United Kingdom and questioning whether an independent Scotland would be welcomed by NATO.


What would Yes vote mean internationally?

The rest of the world has been relatively quiet on the topic of independence, watching instead of intervening. For his part, United States president Barack Obama has said that he hopes that the United Kingdom will remain a “strong, robust, united and effective partner”, although noted that it would be up to the Scottish people.

As the vote nears, there are more signs of international concern about the outcome, not least in financial markets, with the pound falling after publication of the YouGov poll which indicated a close race.

Meanwhile, substate nationalist parties such as those in Quebec, Flanders, Catalonia, and the Basque Country are all expected to be watching especially closely.


What happens next if Scots vote No?

All three unionist parties have promised more powers for the Scottish parliament should voters reject independence at the polls. However, each party has proposed different models. There has been a recent flurry of activity on this front, with Gordon Brown introducing a timetable for a bill which would transfer significant powers to Scotland following a no vote. His proposals were backed by prime minister David Cameron, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, and Labour leader Ed Miliband.

 

 

In the event of a no vote, the Scottish National Party would remain in office in Edinburgh until the next Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2016.


What happens next if Scots votes Yes?

Negotiations over the creation of an independent Scotland would likely begin immediately after a Yes vote, with a wide range of issues to be covered: currency, the division of assets and liabilities, borders, the movement of people, EU membership, the removal of Trident, and the distribution of pensions and welfare agreements.

To manage such a process, Salmond has called for a Team Scotland negotiating team, which would include leaders who campaigned against independence.

The timetable for transition envisioned by the Scottish government includes 18 months of negotiation, with a declaration of independence taking place on March 24, 2016. The election of the new Scottish parliament would then take place that May. Until formal independence, the laws currently in place will remain so.

The actual progress of the negotiations and the outcome of the 2015 UK general election, of course, might have a major impact on this timeline. Some issues may be negotiated immediately with interim agreements put into place for the rest.

The Conversation

Creative Commons

Coree Brown is a programme researcher for The Future of the UK and Scotland.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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Scotland Decides ’14: Who won the TV debate?

The leaders of the rival campaigns in Scotland’s independence referendum battle have clashed in the first televised debate ahead of the September 18 poll. So, who came out on top?

By W David McCausland, University of Aberdeen and Neil Blain, University of Stirling, The Conversation

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Photo by Maria Navarro Sorolla, Creative Commons via Flickr

The live debate on Scottish independence between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling will undoubtedly kick start discussion around the country. But it was ultimately unsatisfying. Nothing in the way of new detail was revealed, and key questions remained unanswered.

On balance, Alastair Darling won on the night. He correctly identified the currency question as Salmond’s weak point, and repeatedly hammered him on that issue. Salmond provided no answers. There was no plan B. Even if the UK agreed to Scotland joining the pound, what this means is that Scotland would be handing over control of monetary policy to Westmister. George Osborne would be setting the interest rate that affects the mortgages and loan repayments of the Scottish people.

This would be an odd concept of independence, and constitutes one of the strangest contradictions of Salmond’s stance. Worse still, monetary union implies some degree of fiscal union. This makes the claims of being able to have an independent fiscal policy somewhat suspect. Seemingly everything rested on scrapping Trident, which though many may support, would be unable alone to deliver the kind of fiscal expenditure envisaged.

At the end of the day, Salmond made a strong case resting on Scottish people having control of their own destiny. This was a strategy to tug at the heart strings, but also looked very vulnerable to questions of detail. Salmond really needs to address these issues – particularly on currency – if he is not to be charged with sidestepping. What Darling needs to work on is a more positive vision, and a better explanation of how devo-max can deliver. Perhaps then future debates can hone in on important questions and elicit new answers, unfettered by a distracting studio audience.

Neil Blain, Professor of Communications, University of Stirling

So it’s not only Andy Murray having a wobble in the rankings. It was strange to see the First Minister’s serve so far off form. Bernard Ponsonby, the mediator, had to get off the umpire’s chair now and then to produce a decent match, by serving to Darling himself at some points in this debate. The umpire won in straight sets.

Whichever Yes for Scotland team member thought up jokes about driving on the right and space invasion should learn to let a script sit overnight and edit it in the morning over strong coffee. Salmond barely touched on what the Scottish electorate might want to say “No Thanks” to, if Scotland remains in the UK. The Yes campaign hasn’t learned the lesson of how negative campaigning works; a more urgent criticism than the No campaign’s negativity, which Alistair Darling embodied throughout. Although, on balance Darling performed more naturally than his opponent and was better on much of the detail.

But the dark, unexplored hinterland of how we might be “Better Together” with remains unlit. The Conservative Party’s drift even further to the right, with a third of English Tory voters favouring a governance pact with UKIP in 2015, never figured. The openly anti-European stance of powerful Tory figures like Philip Hammond got barely a mention. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson belonged as subjects of this debate, since they may be the political future we’re “together” with, but they didn’t show up.

London’s domination of our economic world didn’t get a mention, nor the vast resources spent on its infrastructure. The aims of the northern English cities to join hands across the Pennines may shove Scotland further down the Westminster pecking order. As a strategic consideration of the future, the debate barely got beyond the clichés which Salmond and Darling were supposed to avoid.

There was no detailed vision of the long term at all, which must have pushed the undecided more toward No than Yes. Both men were unsettled by the occasion, but the audience did well. And so did STV mainly, except for their failing livestream. Though the set looked a bit hand-knitted, and their first visit to the Spin Room so early on in the proceedings was daft. Not counting the moderator, I scored a win against expectations for Alistair Darling, on the question which won’t go away: it’s the currency. And we’re not stupid.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work.

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