Many parties but only 2 sides: Remain and Leave

Theresa May has called a snap General Election for 8th June.  While many are predicting a landslide Conservative win, it does not have to be this way.  It should not be a source of dismay for the majority of the electorate that did not vote for Brexit, let alone for the appalling, fuck everything whatever the cost hard Brexit that the May government has been pursuing (or a catastrophic no-agreement Brexit that is perhaps the real plan),

Remainers, and the Remain movement more widely, should see this as a massive opportunity.  If the last year has taught us one thing, it’s that huge swings and against-prediction results are genuinely possible.  In this case, the only objective can be to ensure that the Conservative party does not get an overall majority.  A hung Parliament would give anti-Brexit parties massive leverage, and, if they can unite, potentially the balance of power.

For it to happen, we all need to be very clear that there are many parties, but only two sides in this election – Remain and Leave.  We need to campaign, whatever our party affiliations, tirelessly on this basis, and this means tactical voting.

Anyone who wants to stop a hard or no-deal Brexit should vote, and encourage others to vote, for whichever candidate, regardless of party, that is standing in their constituency and pledges to oppose Brexit. Where there is more than one such candidate, we should vote for the one with the best chance of winning.

This of course means each of us may have to swallow some electoral unpleasantness, depending on your affiliation:

1. Anti-Brexit Tories effectively don’t exist.

There are a few pro-EU Tory rebels who have continued to campaign against a hard Brexit with some gusto.  Ken Clarke, of course, has, but he is not alone.  Anna Soubry, and a few others have provided some serious internal opposition within the Conservative party, for which they have my moral support.  However, all but Ken Clarke did in the end vote for the unamended Article 50 bill.

What this tells us is that, despite very good intentions on their part, anti-Brexit Conservatives are, when it comes to voting in the House of Commons, willing to vote for Brexit in any form.  Tory Party discipline is fierce and coordinated, so this is understandable.  Nobody should be under the impression though that a vote for any Conservative candidate in any constituency will be an unconditional vote for Brexit at all costs.  It’s a great shame, but it it the truth. Voting Conservative at this election is voting for the most damaging, ill-judged, and badly negotiated, Brexit possible. Don’t do it unless you want that.

2. Forget Labour

Unless you are in a constituency that is represented by one of the 47 Labour MPs who defied the 3-line whip to vote against the unamended Article 50 Bill, the current Labour party is now very clearly a pro-Leave. The leadership may have a preference for a slightly less damaging form of Brexit, but trying to sell EEA membership, which requires implementation of 80-90% of EU law with no say in it, is a pointless exercise.  It is made still more pointless by the simple fact that Labour are not going to win a majority in this election.  If you think they will, you are beyond help.  If however you are a Labour voter or supporter who cares more about the future of the country than you care about expressing your party preference, you have to ditch them, just for this election.

Labour have said, of course, that they will hold the government to account, and ‘may’ even oppose a final deal that doesn’t meet their criteria for success. So what. They are not going to form a government on their own, and their form on this has been to table amendments, have them ignored, and then side with the government in votes.  Unfortunately, and with deep regret, the Labour party in its current form is effectively pro-Brexit in whatever form the Tories see fit.

It’s not easy to ditch a political allegiance, but this is too important to throw good votes after bad.

There is a case of course for supporting one of the 47 rebels if they are in your constituency, and it is a straight Labour/Conservative fight.  Only if the individual MP pledges to vote against Brexit when given the opportunity though.

(list of Labour rebel MPs here: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2017/02/mps-who-voted-against-article-50 )

3. England

Aside from in the constituencies of the Labour rebels, the only real anti-Brexit parties in England are the LibDems and the Greens.

There are potentially a couple of constituencies where anti-Brexit Green candidates would have a better chance than LibDem candidates, but on the whole, pro-EU Green supporters in England need to vote LibDem.  The First—past-the-post system means that even a few hundred pro-EU votes for a green candidate could be enough to allow a Conservative win.  If they have any sense, the LibDems will not stand a candidate in Brighton, leaving Caroline Lucas as the main anti-Brexit candidate.  Even if they don’t do this though, any pro-EU Green voter in the rest of England will be wasting their anti-Brexit vote if they stick with Greens.  Please vote tactically!

4. Scotland

Forget Unionism vs. Independence. It’s pro-EU vs. Tory Brexit.

This election is about the EU and Brexit.  Yes, the SNP will, and should, call a new Independence Referendum if the UK pursues the hard Brexit that the Government has said it will pursue.  I’ve written elsewhere about why, by any measure, the only reasonable response to the Tory Brexit for Scotland is to try and save itself by becoming independent, and, full disclosure, I am now a member of the SNP. (https://thegreatbritishmoronathon.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/why-i-have-joined-the-snp/ ).

For unionists in Scotland though, pretty much the only way to avoid a new Independence Referendum is to avoid Brexit, particularly the vicious one planned by May et.al.  The Scottish Government’s White Paper ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’ made it absolutely clear that an Independence Referendum would only be held if the UK government refused remain in the single market, or attempt to negotiate so that Scotland could.  There is no reason to think that this would not still stand were an anti-Brexit government or coalition elected in Westminster.

It is a fact that in almost all of the constituencies in Scotland, the SNP candidate will have the best chance of winning, let alone the best chance of the anti-Brexit candidates.  Anti-Brexit Unionists in Scotland, of any party, need to bite the bullet and vote SNP on anti-Brexit grounds.

This is particularly hard for LibDems of course, who have their own anti-Brexit party in Scotland, and are also largely unionists.  Splitting the anti-Brexit vote will however only risk allowing pro-Brexit candidates to have a chance.  Personally, I believe that the best route would be for the two parties to make a loose electoral pact, but I understand that the LibDems in Scotland have previously ruled this out. It is therefore down to voters to do this job for them, and ensure anti-Brexit candidates succeed whatever party they are from.

5. Wales

Wales again has 2 main anti-Brexit parties, with Plaid Cymru joining the LibDems.  In Wales, the choice between them is a question of which one is most likely to win the seat.  I’d again urge both parties to enter into an electoral pact, but if they do not, make sure your vote, and your anti-Brexit campaigning, is directed towards the candidate with the best chance of success.

6. What if there’s no chance in my constituency

In the case where there is no serious anti-Brexit contender, we should still campaign and vote for the best-chance anti-Brexit candidate.  Nothing makes an MP think harder than a slim majority, and this is a chance to cause them upset, even if the result can’t be an upset. Every anti-Brexit vote counts.

Conclusion

This is a real opportunity, but only if every anti-Brexit voter is willing to put aside party loyalties for just one election.  It’s not even enough just to vote tactically.  Campaign tactically as well.  We must swallow our pride, and campaign for whichever anti-Brexit candidate is most likely to win. This chance to avert catastrophe is a rare one.  If we really see that there are only 2 choices though – pro-and anti- Brexit – this appalling act of self-immolation can be avoided, and we can all go back to our usual affiliations.

Theresa May’s Plan for Britain Speech with Subtitles set to “Truth”

Edited to add the video with subtitles:

Theresa May today released possibly the most vapid speech by a Prime Minister in living memory. It was a poorly composed melange of vague promises, worn platitudes, and genuinely baffling committee-drafted nonsense.  The original speech is here.

Here is a transcript with subtitles in italics for those who don’t speak Mayist doublespeak:

There are times in the life of a nation when the choices we make define the character of our country.

It turns out that we hate foreigners and have a non-existent grasp of the modern world.

Times when people stand up and demand real, significant change.

People were conned into thinking that our own failings are the fault of others.

This, is one of those moments.

I appear to be stuck with this shit-fest.

As we leave the European Union, we have the chance to shape a brighter future for Britain.

Look, this is appalling, and we’ll all be worse off, but what can I do?

And I believe we have the vision and the plan to do it.

I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next.

That is why I have set out myyyy plan for Britain.

But I’m going to pretend I have a plan for Britain (despite the name of the state being the United Kingdom)

It is a plan to make the most of the opportunities ahead.

It’s not really a plan as such, more some vague ideas and platitudes to distract you from the impending act of national self-immolation.  There will be no opportunities, at least not for you and your ilk.

A Plan to make Britain stronger, fairer, more united…

We’re Trump’s poodle in foreign policy now. We also cut benefits to bereaved children and the disabled, demonise half the population and ignore two of the countries of the UK (not Britain, it’s the UK).

…and more outward looking than ever before.

No foreigners will ever be allowed in the UK, but the jam market in New Zealand is massive!

It is a plan for a global Britain.

We have retreated into our shell like a mollusc confronted by a nasty European shark.

We will forge a new deep and special partnership with the EU.

We know we’ve done wrong. Please don’t hurt us. We’re cool. Brit-pop, the city. You love us. Please give us a deal. Please!!

…that gives control of our borders…

But no freedom of movement. That’s not a problem, right? Screw you if it is.

…while trading beyond Europe

Jam to the commonwealth, weapons to repressive regimes.

…shaping decisions across the globe

Shaping decisions about when and where the White House wants us to send or not send our Foreign Minister

Working to make the world a safer place

Working to make it easier for repressive regimes to violently suppress opposition.

It is a plan for a stronger economy

As I said, it’s not really a plan as such. 

Where everyone plays by the same rules.

We will not accept EU rules or standards, or ECJ jurisdiction.

So we will fix broken consumer markets so people keep more of their money

I realise this makes no sense. There was an internal disagreement about his part of the text, and this is the rather unsatisfactory compromise that emerged. 

And we will crack down on individuals and businesses that abuse the system.

You might not even know what you’ve done wrong, but, trust us, we are coming for you.  Yes, you.

And we will deliver a modern industrial strategy…

[Note, find way to include the words ‘industrial strategy’  here. Maybe also use the word modern. That polls well.]

That spreads prosperity across the country…

We know that you know that we don’t believe this, but you’ve fallen for it before, so you might again.

…while continuing to bring the deficit down…

More austerity. That’s what we need. More austerity. Probably won’t reduce the deficit, but, still, more austerity.

So we live within our means

Your means are going be significantly reduced for at least a decade

It is a plan for a fairer society…

We are working on dividing society into clearly delineated groups, and openly victimising the some of them.

…where success is based on merit, not privilege

In the unlikely event of anything we could possible call success happening, you, normal folk, won’t see bit of it.

So we will provide a good school place for every child.

We will use schools and their pupils to hunt down immigrant families.

Deliver more affordable homes

The deportations will help to ease pressure on housing stock.

…and put record investment into the NHS…

We will privatise the NHS

…and we will make sure we have a welfare system…

We will not have a welfare system

…that rewards work…

Wages will be the only possible source of income. If you are unemployed, or the wages are not enough, you will have to go to the new Group 4 poor houses.

…as well as tackling historic injustices like racial and gender discrimination…

(Note: put something in here about racial and gender discrimination so that our supporters have something to use when they are accused of promoting racial and gender discrimination)

…and it is a plan for a united nation…

We will not surrender our colonial possessions such as Scotland. (Sheesh, will this sentence ever end? I’m trying to imply semi-colons in the delivery, but it is still very lengthy.)

…that our children and grandchildren will be proud to call home.

Our children and grandchildren will not be permitted to travel abroad. We will make sure that all they know is this place, and teach them to fear the other.

We will strengthen and protect the precious union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish people want is a total irrelevancy to us. England owns them, and we will make them do as they are told. The savages.

While acting for the benefit of all the cities, towns, villages and communities across the country.

We have a list of where voted leave and where voted remain. Traitorous Remain voting areas have officially ceased to exist as far as we are concerned. We are concerned only with patriotic Leave voting areas. Unless they are in the North, then they can fuck off as well.

That is my plan for Britain

I have no plan, and I absolutely refuse to refer to the state of which I am the Prime Minister by its correct name because ‘Britain’ poll’s much better among the Leave demographic.

A plan to get the right deal for Britain abroad…

The people I am real speaking to believe that ‘Abroad’ is a totally homogeneous place, full of disgusting foreigners desperate to buy our jam and guns.

And a better deal for ordinary working people at home…

You are, on average, going to earn a lot less, but, on the bright side, things will be more expensive.  If you cannot work, you will be blamed for the above.

…to make the most of the opportunities ahead…

There is literally no upside to all this.  Zero.

…and to make Britain a country that works for everyone.

MUST NOT SAY UK. MUST NOT SAY UK.

Not just a privileged few

The only people who will benefit are already vastly wealthy.  Now get back to fucking work and do as you’re told.

Ten bad reasons why MPs may vote for an unamended Article 50 Bill and one good reason why they shouldn’t

1. I must respect the will of the people.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

2. My constituency voted Leave. I must respect the will of the people.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

3. My constituency voted Remain, but the country voted Leave. I must respect the will of the people

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

4. I might lose my seat at the next election.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

5. My party leader insists I vote for the Bill.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

6. My party may withdraw the whip if I vote against it.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

7. I would have to resign as a minister or shadow minister.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

8. I would be trashed by the right-wing press.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

9. It won’t make a difference anyway. Other MPs won’t do the same.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

10. I voted for the Bill last time round.

It is every MP’s sacred democratic duty to hold the government to account and to act in what they believe to be the very best interests of the country as a whole.  No MP should ever vote for something that they know is damaging to the country and its people.  This responsibility stands above all other considerations, be they political or personal.

This is an opportunity to prove to the population that MPs are not merely lobby fodder, whipped to vote as their party tells them, and expected to acquiesce unquestioningly.  It is an opportunity to show that individual MPs will act according to what their conscience and intellect tell them is in the best interests of their country and people, without thought for any personal cost.

Ten reasons why it is not undemocratic for The House of Lords to amend the Article 50 bill

…or to vote against it if amendments are rejected.

  1. The House of Lords exists as a check on power, and to make governments think again where they may be acting precipitously. Lords have a duty to do what they think is right and in the best interests of the UK.
  2. The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto was clear that whatever happened, the government would protect the UK in the single market, which is not the government’s plan.
  3. The referendum was not an election, the result of which could be reversed at the next general election. This is the sort of irrevocable constitutional change that the HoL is there to ask for reflection on.
  4. Democracy does not begin and end on a single day.  People change their minds in light of new information and it is childish to hold them to their first answer like gameshow contestants.
  5. Large numbers of people were denied the right to vote in the referendum.
  6. The referendum result was close, and insufficient for such a large, irrevocable constitutional change.
  7. Parliament had clearly decided that the referendum was advisory.
  8. It was and is unclear what leaving the EU would mean. People were forced to vote blind.
  9. Two of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and the UK leaving would amount to them being dragged out against their democratic will.
  10. The electorate was misled. Deliberately and repeatedly misled.

Detail

1. Lords have a duty to do what they think is right and in the best interests of the UK.  

  • It is not democratic for a Lord to vote in favour of something they believe or know to be damaging to the UK and its population.
  • To do this would be an abrogation of their moral and constitutional duty.
  • If this results in a reform of the House of Lords, then so be it. Lords should be proud to have done their duty, not scared of reform.

2. The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto was clear that whatever happened, the UK’s position in the single market would be protected.

  • The government has said clearly that it will not honour this commitment.
  • The House of Lords is not bound to accept legislation that is contrary to the manifesto of the Government.

3. The referendum was not an election, the result of which could be reversed at the next general election. 

  • It is also not a standard piece of legislation that can be revoked by future parliaments
  • Leaving the EU will be irrevocable and will affect every person in the UK for the rest of their lives.

4. Democracy does not begin and end on a single day.

  • It is not clear at all that, as the realities of the UK leaving the EU become apparent, it would continue to be the will of the people to do so.
  • It is patronising and childish to deny people the right to change their mind in light of new information.

5. Large numbers of people were denied the right to vote in the referendum

This included:

  • EU citizens permanently resident in the UK (3 million approx);
  • 16 and 17 year olds, who had been eligible to vote in the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, and who the Government said it would have been “too complicated” to allow to vote in the EU referendum (1 million approx);
  • and UK citizens living in other EU Member States for more than 15 years, including those employed by the EU institutions (1 million approx, though possibly many more).
  • 6. The referendum result was close, and insufficient for such a large, irrevocable constitutional change.

6. Of those eligible to vote, only 37.5% voted to leave the EU, meaning 62.5% did not vote to leave.

  • While people on both sides talk about the 17 million for, or the 16 million against leaving, the reality is that only 1.3m people out of a population of 64.1 million effectively decided the entire future of the UK.
  • Almost all other countries require either 50% of the electorate or 60% of those who vote for major constitutional change.
  • The reason this was not required in this case is because the referendum was advisory, and it was therefore unnecessary.

7. Parliament had decided that the referendum was advisory.  

  • The legislation passed by Parliament was clear on this. The referendum has no constitutional status in the way that it would in, for example, Ireland.
  • MPs and Lords were made aware of this by House of Commons briefing papers before passing the Act, and this is in the public domain.
  • MPs and Lords could have chosen to make the referendum binding, as, for example, the Alternative Vote referendum was, but they chose not to.

8. It was and is unclear what leaving the EU would mean. 

  • It could mean anything from being in the EEA and EFTA, which would require freedom of movement and EU laws, but would be less economically damaging, to a complete break (‘hard’ or ‘dirty’ Brexit) which would not require freedom of movement, but would be extremely economically damaging.
  • Those who voted Leave were therefore voting for a very wide spectrum of possible outcomes, not a single one.

9. Two of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and the UK leaving would amount to them being dragged out against their democratic will. 

  • In the case of Scotland, this may be contrary to the Act of Union of 1707 which formed the UK, and, in the case of Northern Ireland, will undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which is an international treaty with Ireland which rests on EU law.
  • It may also lead to the new EU external border between the UK and Ireland becoming a hard border, contrary to this agreement.

10. The electorate was deliberately misled.

  • Serving Government ministers and MPs from both major parties in the Leave campaign, including the current Foreign Secretary, repeatedly and knowingly lied to voters on many aspects of the EU.
  • This included the famous £350m claim, but also many others such as claims that the UK did not control its own non-EU immigration, that the EEA could be joined without agreeing to free movement of people, and that trade deals with third countries and even with individual EU Member States could be entered into immediately after the vote.
  • When consumers are misled, the law seeks to protect them and for restitution to be made.  We do not blame them for believing untrue claims, and nor do we tell them that they are stuck with the product they bought under false pretences.

 

Why I have joined the SNP

I joined the SNP on 1st February 2017, just after the vote in the Commons on invoking Article 50.  I’ve no doubt this will irritate some of my friends (who are members of other parties) and baffle others (I’m English and live in Belgium).  Here’s why I have done it.

Firstly, I love Scotland. I studied at Stirling University and lived there for 8 years. I have close family and some of my closest friends in Scotland.  Two of my teenage nephews are Scottish. Their future is my concern.  Contrary to the expectations of some, Scotland welcomed this Englishman wholeheartedly, and I would now like to help it.

I’ve never been member of a national political party before.  I’ve never wanted to, even though, or perhaps because, I studied Politics, and then worked in government, for a combined 20 years.  To be honest, I’ve never understood how someone can have loyalty to a voluntary organisation to the point that they can defend it even when they know it is wrong.  I’ve also always considered the blind adherence of Members of Parliament to a party line to be something that fundamentally cheapens representative democracy and undermines the quality of public discourse.

Although I now believe very strongly in the need for an Independent Scotland in the EU now, I haven’t always.  I lived and studied in Scotland from 1995 until 2003, and voted in the Devolution referendum in 1997.  I thought devolution worked pretty well in its early years. Not being born and raised in Scotland, I had no emotional attachment to the idea of Independence.  The same could be said of the Union mind. I didn’t have strong feelings either way.

The early years of the (reconvened) Scottish Parliament were a great success, with Sheridan’s Private Members’ bill to ban warrant sales, and the devolved tail wagging the central dog by ending Clause 28 (Clause 2b) before it had even crossed the Westminster government’s mind to do so.  My friends Peter Lynch and Steven Birrell have written about how the then new Scottish Parliament’s petitions system revolutionised public participation in the political process in Scotland. (https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2001/may/07/guardiananalysispage )

So why the SNP, and why now? Because the Westminster government and Parliament dragging Scotland out of the EU against its will is a travesty.  Not only that, but the refusal of both to support, or even seriously examine the Scottish Government’s very reasonable compromise proposals on remaining in the Single Market was nothing less than a clear “Fuck Off” to everyone in Scotland, and to the UK’s constitutional settlement as a whole.  And this was on a compromise which the Scottish Government itself said was nowhere near their preferred option.

Anyone who has not read the Scottish Government’s White paper “Scotland’s Place in Europe” should do so, even if they are not in Scotland.  It sets out clearly that this horrible car-crash Brexit that the government is planning, and the opposition are supporting, does not have to happen.  It sets out that even if Brexit did have to happen, its effects could be mitigated for Scotland.  In fact, it could be mitigated for the whole of the UK.  All opposition parties should have got behind this. http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/12/9234/downloads

Last night’s vote in the Commons on Article 50, was a pathetic abrogation of duty by all but a hundred or so MPs.  There is nothing democratic about MPs voting for something they know will damage their country and its people.

Nicola Sturgeon, Angus Robertson and SNP MPs have shown fortitude, rationality and leadership while the official UK opposition party have floundered, and ignored their principles to court potential UKIP voters in an ill conceived attempt to shore up support for a party that almost everyone now sees is failing.  While Labour was trying to work out how not to alienate ignorant xenophobes, Nicola Surgeon was reassuring EU citizens and refugees alike that they were welcome in Scotland.

I have considered myself to have been a natural LibDem voter my whole life, and I think they are certainly a force for good in England and Wales.  In my ideal world, The SNP and the LibDems would be in alliance in Westminster elections. I have even hovered over the ‘join now’ button on their website many times since the referendum. The lack of support for the Scottish Government’s Brexit response however has shown that the Scottish LibDems clearly put petty party politics and blind Unionism above both the will and the interests of Scotland.  This is a betrayal of the LibDems fundamental pro-EU and democratic principles.  Also, Norman Lamb.

It is therefore clear now that, not only is the UK ruled by a government that at best ignores and at worst hates Scotland, but that the official Opposition has much the same view.  It is equally clear that an independent Scotland in the EU is the only option for Scotland.  It may be too late for England and rUK, but I believe it is not for Scotland.

It can be done. Sentiment among the EU27 and the European Parliament is pro-Scotland, and there is wide recognition that the situation is substantially different to 2014.  Spain’s attitude has softened considerably as it recognises that Scotland is now in the same boat as the Remain-voting Gibraltans. There are several options, some of which may avoid Scotland ever having to leave the EU, but a pre-accession transition arrangement while the final touches are put to an independent Scotland’s accession process would be standard accession methodology, particularly as Scotland already implements vast swathes of EU law in full.

So I have joined the SNP to show support and offer my assistance to the Scottish Government’s attempts to avoid being ripped out of the EU against its will, and to avoid its citizens being stripped of their EU citizenship against their will.

Scotland must get itself away from those in Westminster who ignore, belittle and abuse it, and find a future in a friendly, pro-Scotland EU.  I will do anything I can to help it do so.

An open Letter to the 498 MPs who voted for Article 50

Dear Morons,

So you’ve done it then. To show a small number of little-englander xenophobes that they should vote for you instead of UKIP, you’ve shot your own country and its population in the fucking face  (Note: they won’t vote for you anyway).  You’ve taken one look at the right wing press and a handful of crackpots threatening rioting in the streets, cacked your pants, and sold the people, your people, down the river.

Labour MPs (apart from the rather heroic 47 who put their conscience and country before their frankly nuts party), you’ve handed the most right-wing Conservative government ever a blank cheque to enact the most painful Brexit possible.  Of course, it won’t be you who suffer, but your constituents, so that’s okay, no? Is it perhaps that the bigger the shit-fest May makes of it, the more you think Labour can capitalise? Or is it because you want racists and xenophobes to vote for you? Or is it, in fact, because you are spineless yes-men and women, who never wanted to have to put yourselves on the line over this anyway?

And why have you abrogated your moral and constitutional responsibility to act in the best interests of the UK? To take it back?  Take what back?  The UK?  Well, take it back from me then.  I want nothing to do with you or your nasty little England.

Take it back from all the people who think people from other places are actually a lot like them.

Take it back from people who think you should help those most in need in the world. Take it back from my friends and family who thought that the country they lived in was tolerant, open and friendly.

Take it back from your constituents who have jobs that are now under threat.

Take it back from those nasty immigrant nurses, doctors, professors and firemen who have the temerity to accept jobs in the UK and pay tax there. Remember that you voted for Article 50 without the slightest idea whether their rights would be guaranteed.

Take it back from people who don’t consider somebody speaking another language to be a personal insult. Take it back from people who aren’t nasty, self-centred, little Englanders.

Take it back from UK citizens who’ve made their life in the EU, and who now have no idea what will happen next.  Take it back from all those who’ve worked for years and decades for the UK’s interests in the EU institutions and now don’t know if they have a job, career, or even a right to remain.

Take it back from the Scots who you are dragging out of the EU against their overwhelming will, and whose very reasonable compromise on the Single Market the government has summarily rejected.

Take it back from the people of Northern Ireland who recognised that the EU underpinned peace and cross-border prosperity, but who have been palmed off with hardly-credible assurances of special statuses.

Take it back from Gina Miller, Jo Maugham, and all the people who started and helped fund the legal challenges, including me, that gave Parliament the chance to have a say, while you all sat on your hands hoping you wouldn’t have to do anything tricky, like your duty. I literally paid for you to have this opportunity that you wasted.

Take it back from the High and Supreme Court Justices who were brave enough to uphold the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty in the face of a hateful press while you looked the other way, embarrassed at your lack of courage.

Take it back from your constituents in the poorest regions in the UK, who you know will be the ones to bear the real cost and misery of the Government’s clueless Brexit strategy.

I’m sure your constituents will enjoy their new found freedom to be fucked repeatedly by their employers with no recourse, if they still have a job, and by the rich, right-wing peddlers of hate who told them it was immigrants and the EU’s fault, not the UK government’s, that they had to wait a bit for their free healthcare sometimes.

I’m done defending you. You’ve made the British the most despised people in Europe, and possibly the world. You’ve destabilised the economy directly for nearly half a billion people, and potentially for the rest of the world. You’ve blown a hole in peace and stability in Europe, and shat on nearly sixty years of cooperation and mutual understanding. And why? Because you were scared you might lose a few votes to UKIP, and this was more important to you than the future of your country.

You knew the consequences of your actions. The Prime Minister has said clearly that either the EU gives the UK a combination of concessions that it and its 27 Heads of State and Government have explicitly, repeatedly explained is impossible, or the UK leaves without a deal. But you did it anyway.  You, all of you, are responsible for everything that this government now does as equally as if you did it yourself.

Take it back, morons, and give it to your new friend Donald.  You’re fucking welcome to what’s left of it when he’s done with it. I want none of it. I don’t know how you can sleep at night.

For the avoidance of doubt: the evidence that the EU Referendum was purely advisory.

The Referendum was not legally binding and was purely advisory. MPs knew or should have known this, and chose for it to be advisory. If the UK leaves the EU, it will because MPs have decided that it should, not because the referendum result compels the UK to do so.

Very surprisingly, there have been some recent questions on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere as to whether the UK’s referendum on the EU was legally advisory or legally binding.  According to FullFact.org,  those who have claimed it was binding include John Redwood MP.

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-01-32-15

(https://fullfact.org/europe/was-eu-referendum-advisory/)

This is however not true, as even Nigel Farage has admitted. You can see this at 2:17 in the video below:

It is not therefore widely disputed that the referendum was advisory, but I nonetheless thought it would be useful therefore to put all the evidence in one place for reference.

1. The Referendum Act.

The text of the Act is available here.

The act itself makes no reference whatsoever to the result being binding.  In fact, the only reference to the result itself is in Schedule 3, Paragraph 19 (p.63) and concerns solely restrictions on when and how any legal challenges questioning the number of ballot papers counted or votes cast can be made.  As such, there is therefore no legal definition of  what a Remain or Leave result would be at all.  There were only political pronouncements that 50% would be the margin for either to win.

For the act to be legally binding, the act would have had to have stated this specifically, made a specific reference to the changes to laws that would result from it, or actions, such as notification to the Council of the European Union that the UK was invoking article 50 of the TEU, that would be legally required of ministers or the Prime Minister as a result.

This would have been possible had Parliament decide to do it.  The 2011 Act on the Alternative Vote Referendum did this, and has a sections (8) on the “Result of the Referendum” and (9) on the amendments to existing acts that would come into force as a result of a Yes vote.

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-02-06-11

The EU Referendum Act does not do this. The result of it was not therefore legally binding.

2. Were MPs aware of this?

MPs should certainly be aware of this for two reasons.

a. The Briefing Paper

Firstly, the House of Commons Library prepared a briefing paper which made this very clear to them.

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-02-10-17

(https://fullfact.org/europe/was-eu-referendum-advisory/)

It is worth reproducing the section on the advisory nature of the referendum in full:

5. Types of referendum

This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented, unlike, for example, the Republic of Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum should be held are set out in its constitution.

b. The Minister for Europe

The second way in which MPs would, or should, have known that the referendum was advisory is because the then Minister for Europe, David Liddington, told them it would be on 16th June 2015. This is in Hansard, 16 Jun 2015, Column 231., and available here:

Mr Liddington said:

Amendment 16 does not make sense in the context of the Bill. The legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory, as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year. In neither of those cases was there a threshold for the interpretation of the result. The Government take the view that, in respect of EU membership, we are one United Kingdom. The referendum will be on the subject of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and it is therefore right that there should be one referendum and one result. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will choose not to press his amendment.

The amendment that he was talking about had been tabled by Alex Salmond and other SNP MPs, and would have required that the result could only be considered to be that the UK should leave the EU if 50% of the votes cast were for Leave in each of the 4 countries of the UK.

The amendment is reproduced below:

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-02-28-24

Parliament rejected this amendment. In fact, had parliament accepted this amendment would probably have  meant that the UK was not now planning to leave the EU, and that Scotland was not (probably) now planning on leaving the UK.

So, the Referendum was not legally binding and was purely advisory. MPs knew or should have known this, and Parliament chose for it to be advisory.  If the UK leaves the EU, it will because MPs have decided that it should, not because the referendum result compels the UK to do so.

Why it is fair that the UK would have to pay into the EU budget after Brexit

UK newspapers have been awash with outrage over Michel Barnier, the Commission’s chief negotiator, pointing out that the UK will face a bill of £50bn for leaving the EU (e.g. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/15/britain-will-handed-50bn-exit-bill-eu-theresa-may-triggers-article/ ).  This outrage can however only be either mock, or based on a lack of understanding of how the EU budget works.  I won’t go into the number itself, as estimations seem to vary between EUR 40bn and EUR 60bn at the moment, but here’s a quick explanation of why the EU budget system makes a large exit bill inevitable and equitable, and not, as some seem to think, an act of retribution by the EU.

The EU Budget

The annual EU budget is based on the “Multi-annual Financial Framework”, or MAFF, which is agreed by Council (All Member States) for a 7-year period.  The current MAFF runs from 2014-2020.  You’ll probably remember that David Cameron, the PM at the time, (rightly) claimed credit for a freeze in this for the first time ever in 2013 (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prime-minister-david-cameron-statement-on-the-eu-budget ).   The MAFF sets out the maximum levels in each of the areas of spending for the EU over that 7 year period.

Each year’s Annual Budget s then proposed on the basis of the MAFF, and agreed by Council (All Member States) and the European Parliament.

The 2017 budget is here.  The UK’s share of this, after the rebate, is approximately 14%.Screen Shot 2016-12-16 at 12.25.46.png

[Source: http://ec.europa.eu/budget/news/article_en.cfm?id=201611170947]

Commitments

Unlike many national budgets, it includes two columns – Commitments and Payments.

Commitments represent, as the title suggests, the amount that the EU can commit to spending during the budget year.  These commitments usually take the form of Commission proposals for individual projects and programmes.  Member states (and in some cases the EP) are then asked to give their comments and consent to the projects and programmes through ‘commitology’ committees that their representatives attend. These are usually government experts, mandated to vote for or against proposals by their department’s Minister.

Payments

Projects and programmes of course often last more than one year though, so the EU budgetary system is set up so that the actual payments related to a commitment can be made over the 2 or 3 year period following the year the commitment was made.  The is known as the N+2 or N+3 rule, with N being the commitment year. Whether the period is 2 or 3 years depends on the area, and the individual piece of EU law the action is carried out under.  For example, Structural funds have the N+2 rule.  This has the benefit for budget discipline of meaning that, if the committed funds are not spent within N+2 years, they are returned to the EU budget and not spent.  (The Scottish Government’s helpful explanation of this is here: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Business-Industry/support/17404/Nplus2Rule )

So, for example, a programme that is committed to in 2016 will appear as a debit in the Commitments column of the 2016 budget, but it will only appear in the payments column in 2017, 2018, and possibly 2019, depending on the payment schedule of the project and the N+ rule that it falls under.  So, an given annual budget’s payments column has to cover payments for projects committed to in the previous three years.

The UK

So, what has the UK committed to? It committed to pay 14% of the 2014-2020 Multi-Annual Financial Framework.  This means that it would have to pay for the commitments and payments made in 2020, even if it were to leave the EU in 2019.  The UK agreed to this framework in 2013.

It also means that, if it were to leave in 2019, it would have to pay its share of the outstanding payments for commitments made in 2018, 2019 and 2020.  This means that it would have to pay its share of the payments part of the budget until 2023 at the earliest, and more probably 2024 (There are always some projects and programmes, which, for good reason, and with the consent of Member States, have their payment deadlines extended).

As for the number, which I know I said I wouldn’t deal with, it’s easy to see how, with the UK’s liabilities being 14% of an annual budget’s payments of, in 2017, EUR 134.5 bn, this ratchets up to around EUR5 50-60 bn when the additional years are added.

So, this is not revenge or retribution, but a fair split of the cost of things the UK has committed to and agreed at the very highest level to pay for.  If I cut up my credit card, it does not mean that I am exempt from paying my bill. Neither is the UK government.

p.s., this is all before we even get into the question of what happens to the UK’s membership of the European Investment Bank (EIB).

[Edit, 06/04/17:  This does not take into account the pensions of UK citizens who are EU staff, which the UK is also liable for.  This would need to be included as a one off settlement, or as a binding commitment to pay these as they are drawn.]

Labour falls willingly into Government Article 50 Trap

Labour has fallen headlong into a Government trap to tie it, and the rest of Parliament’s hands on on Article 50.

The Government has accepted a Labour motion to publish and debate their plans for Brexit before triggering Article 50.  The Government has accepted the motion with its own amendment.  Labour is hailing this as a great victory for opposition and Parliament, and some of the press is painting this as a Government climb-down (e.g. The Guardian).  But it is not a victory for Labour or Parliament.  It is a trap that Labour have willingly plunged themselves into.

Here is Labour’s motion:

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-02-41-39

The Government accepted this with the following amendment:

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-02-41-19

It really isn’t a victory at all.  Quite the opposite.

The Government amendment clearly commits Parliament, politically at least, to agreeing to invoking Article 50 whatever the terms. It also commits Parliament to accepting and facilitating the PM’s own March 2017 deadline for invoking Article 50 whatever happens.

My prediction is that the Private Members’ Bill on Art.50, which has a second reading on Friday 16th December, will either miraculously shoot up the order paper with tacit government support so that the government can dare MPs to vote against it, or that there will be attempts to slip it through without debate. The Government can then claim, just after the SC rules, that, since Parliament has ordered them to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, the only way to do that will be to use this handy Private Members’ Bill that is only 3 lines long (see: Article 50 Private Members’ Bill tabled).

If this does not happen, expect to see a Government tabled, 3-line Article 50 bill the day after the Supreme Court rules in January, and articles in the press about MPs who dare to dissent, or even try to amend it, being enemies of the people for going back on Parliament’s promise.