Category Archives: Referendum

Richard Moore on IndyRef2

 

Richard Moore is worried by the direction Angus Council is taking. He sees the SNP in Angus following the Scottish Government’s austerity agenda as the First Minister moves toward IndyRef2.

Richard and the Scottish Liberal Democrats are against the idea of a second independence referendum. “There are many issues requiring the urgent attention of Angus Council – job shortages, especially teachers and NHS staff, but also road and footpath repairs and the need for affordable homes – which should take priority. Where is the will to address these issues?”, he said.

Richard understands that a nation can achieve whatever it wants. He simply believes that it can achieve more by not working in isolation. “The practical way to achieve more for Angus,” he added, “is to concentrate on delivering effective local solutions.”

The Wembley debate

Watching the final big event in the campaign led me to try and identify the arguments made for leaving the EU. They were all about control. They wanted to control UK borders in order to reduce the number of migrants. They wanted to control regulations, though without saying what they would or would not regulate. Especially they wanted to be in control themselves. They were also optimistic about what the future would bring. They failed to accept that some predictions of economic problems had come from their own side.

Why exactly should anyone believe they can control the world? Getting others to agree to whatever you want implies you think you do control the world. No one has succeeded yet. So why should anyone believe the Brexiteers can do so? Equally, stop the world, I want to get off, is not a vote of confidence in what the UK can achieve, whatever their apparent optimism.

On the remain side, they thought positively about the rights and economic success we have, and attributed them to working with others rather than claiming we had achieved them all by ourselves. In particular Europe has a role in safeguarding workers’ rights and in making us a good place to do business, with a level playing field helping us compete. This seems a much more realistic view of the world as most people know it.

Is that world perfect? No. Can the British Government make things better for its own citizens, not least in helping British people as well as new arrivals into work and providing the infrastructure we all need? Yes, it can and should. Much of the resentment at immigration comes from successive British Governments not having done enough. The present government, and its successors, should all do more.

Can the EU reform itself? Yes it can, as every treaty change shows. Specifically it should help its member states deal with the problems their people are having now, and reduce the risk of national resentments building up and hatred destroying lives. It can do this by using the money it gets from member states to help economic development, as it already does in training and cross border infrastructure. It must be realistic about helping the Greeks become solvent again. This includes discouraging the Germans from lending money to allow those who cannot afford them to buy German goods. None of this is rocket science, and can be worked on after June 24th to get agreement on changes within the EU in the next year or so. Meantime, it is up to us to Vote Remain on 23rd June, to start building a better future.

On treaties and sovereignty

What exactly is the relationship between treaties and sovereignty? And is there a difference between parliamentary sovereignty and state sovereignty? I think the Leave camp is muddying the waters by talking of wanting to take back control, as if we had ever lost it.

The UK doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty comes from the Glorious Revolution of 1689. Parliament was then defined as combining Crown, Peers and Commons. Nowadays, sovereignty belongs to the elective dictatorship of the Commons. This means that the Commons could decline to act on a referendum outcome, because any referendum is advisory. However, politically, that would be difficult, in this case certainly for David Cameron but also for others. Constitutionally, the making and unmaking of treaties is still part of the royal prerogative. The monarch normally acts on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day. It was a constitutional novelty when John Major put the Maastricht Treaty to the House of Commons. But we are now in uncharted waters because of the splits within the Conservative party. Would one Tory faction decline to act on a referendum result, insist on a Commons vote, and invite other parties to support them? If they believe in parliamentary sovereignty, they should.

State sovereignty goes back to 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia. At this point, the German states established that they were sovereign within the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor could not interfere in their internal affairs. I have heard two different lawyer views on treaties, and I suspect they are both correct in their way. The first is that a treaty is simply an agreement between the states who signed it to do what they have agreed to do. There is no enforcement mechanism (other than war), so if one or both sides renege on their word, there will be no comeback. In any case, a state can formally repudiate a treaty it has signed. On that reading, no state sovereignty is lost by signing a treaty.

An example of no comeback is the recent ruling of the Strasbourg court against the UK’s blanket penalty of losing the vote if you were in prison. This court comes from the Council of Europe treaty, which predates the EU and includes Russia. The court said that it was legal to deprive someone of the right to vote if the judge so decided on the facts of the case. Instead of changing British law to give discretion to the judge, the UK Parliament chose to reassert the blanket loss of voting rights for all prisoners. There has been, and can be, no comeback. So in this case, the sovereign parliament used its power to override a supra-national court, to whose jurisdiction the Crown had signed up in a treaty.

The second lawyer view is that a treaty pools sovereignty on those issues it deals with. This is a point commonly made about the EU treaties. That is because they agree what the member states will work together on. The same argument would also apply to the NATO treaty, which is about pooling sovereignty for defence. This treaty contains a commitment to come to the aid of any member state which has been invaded or attacked by a third party. I have not heard anyone from the Leave camp argue that we should leave NATO. Yet if they are serious about state sovereignty, the NATO treaty, because it concerns the state’s core function of defence, is a bigger infringement of UK sovereignty than the EU treaties.

There are two big lies in the Leave case. The first is that the EU is a state which is bigger than the UK and can impose its will on us. The EU is not a state, but a treaty organisation. We agreed the treaties, and under them have voting rights in the Council of Ministers to decide on individual issues. Most decisions are taken by consensus. In the minority of cases where there is a vote, the UK has been on the winning side more than 85% of the time in the last five years. In the real world, negotiation results in an acceptable outcome, but not exactly what each individual wanted. The EU belongs to the real world, not the Leave fantasy.

The second lie is that the UK has no control over the future development of the EU. In particular it is claimed that the UK cannot veto any applicant to join the EU. But a new entrant is admitted through a treaty signed and ratified by every existing member. That means the UK has a veto as long as it is a member state. The UK has supported Turkey in the past, but in its present disregard for democracy it does not meet the requirements of membership.

The governments of many member states have the bad habit of wanting Brussels to take necessary but unpopular decisions. They vote for them in the Council of Ministers, and then announce to their national media that Brussels has forced them to do something. This habit is now coming back to bite us all.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs ‘Remain’.

Liberal Democrat MSP for North-East Scotland Mike Rumbles has come out in favour of a remain vote in response to my recent call for MSPs to campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
Last week I received a letter from Mike Rumbles saying that “membership of the European Union has long been a strongly held commitment of the Liberal Democrats and I am proud to say that we are leading a very strong and positive campaign for our continued membership.”
He went on to outline the economic advantages that a remain vote would have for Scotland pointing out that “hundreds of thousands of jobs in Scotland depend on our trade relationship with our friends in Europe with more than £11 billion of exports from Scotland ending up in other EU countries” as well as the fact that “Scotland is set to receive around £6bn in funding from the EU between 2014 and 2020. More than half of the foreign investment which comes to Scotland is from EU member states.”
He also highlighted how Scottish farmers benefit from EU membership as they receive “vital support through EU funds and their produce is sold right across the continent” adding that he was “disappointed that the Scottish Government has failed these farmers with the delayed Common Agricultural Policy payments.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain's continued membership of the EU.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

Mike also agreed with me that our EU membership also keeps Scotland safe with the European Arrest Warrant “helping to bring criminals across the whole of the continent to justice.”
He finished his letter saying “I believe Scotland’s place in the EU helps ensure that every family, every business, and every person in Scotland is part of a stronger, safer and more prosperous nation.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the points that Mike makes and am proud that the Liberal Democrats have been leading the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

How would Brexit impact UK Mental Health Services?

With the EU referendum coming up in just a few weeks, I thought it would be appropriate as a dedicated mental health activist to outline what impact I predict Brexit would have on mental health services in the UK.
There are three main factors that I think would affect our mental health services if we were to leave the EU, the first of these is the economy.
It is widely accepted that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the UK economy with 9 out of 10 economists saying that leaving the EU will damage our economy. The Chief of NHS England, Simon Stevens has claimed that “When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold… it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding, the economy goes into a tailspin”
Much of the current problems with our mental health services come down to a lack of funding and if funding of the NHS is hit by Brexit, this will surely lead to even less funding for mental health services.

The second factor that I believe will affect mental health services is the loss of EU science funding.
British scientists gain huge amounts of funding for research from the EU and freedom of travel within the EU makes it easier to assemble international teams of leading scientists to cooperate on projects. Our knowledge of mental health is far behind our knowledge of physical health and Brexit would be a blow to research of mental illnesses, their treatments and other aspects of mental health that we are yet to learn. This would slow down the progress we are making in learning how to effectively treat mental illness which will hinder the recovery of sufferers of mental illness for generations to come.

Finally, the EU as an institution is committed to improving the mental health of the continent. In 2005, the European Commission published a Green paper -Promoting the Mental Health of the Population. Towards a Mental Health Strategy for the EU. Following this, the European Pact for mental health and well-being was launched in 2008. The pact was then implemented through numerous conferences tackling priorities such as Combating Stigma and Social Exclusion and Prevention of Depression and Suicide.
I already worry for our mental health services. Currently they are over-stretched and under-funded. Waiting times are excruciatingly long and many people are being left to suffer as a result. I can only see these problems becoming intensified were we to leave the EU and this is part of the reason that as soon as I received my postal vote, I sent it straight back with a big cross next to Remain!

On the economy if we leave the EU

A lot of claims have been made on both sides of the argument. They boil down to a hope that, if separated from the EU, the UK economy will boom. Or to a fear that the economy will suffer if it loses access to the Single Market. Individual businessmen have said how they think any change would affect their business. Most seem to believe leaving would be bad for their business.

The evidence we have is that the pound has fallen on two occasions recently. The first was when the date of the referendum was announced. The second was today when opinion polls showed a majority for leave. The most likely reason in each case is because the market fears uncertainty. Calling the referendum created uncertainty as to the outcome. This uncertainty can be resolved by a decision to remain. If the decision is to leave, the terms of the UK’s relationship, if any, with the EU would need to be negotiated. That would cause the uncertainty to last as long as the negotiations do.

A lower pound means prices go up. Those who do not have much money would have even less. They above all cannot afford a leave vote. The majority of businesses prefer to remain, precisely because they can continue trading as they do now. Leaving would mean no more investment until the relationship with Europe becomes clear, which could take years.

The head of the NHS in England has said that a weaker economy would mean less money for the NHS. The leave campaign is ignoring the economic consequences of leaving the EU. It is behaving like a political party in offering a manifesto for what it would do after a leave vote. But if it spends the money currently going to Brussels on putting right our NHS, it cannot spend the same money on our farmers and scientists. It has no credible way of replacing what the EU spends in the UK, when the UK economy is suffering from prolonged uncertainty.

A referendum has to take a decision. The UK will remain in the EU or not. No referendum can elect a government. The UK has just elected a government, and there is no sign that most MPs are looking to elect another. How the present government would respond to a decision to leave is unclear, but more austerity is likely. If it does have to negotiate leaving the EU, it would have the option of using the money currently sent to Brussels to reduce the deficit. It would be entirely consistent with George Osborne’s track record as Chancellor for him to do just that.

On people coming by boat

Today’s news of a boat with people attempting to enter the UK illegally confirms a point made before. The UK government has not done what it takes to make our borders secure. This is not the fault of the EU, indeed it was the French who alerted the British coastguards. The UK has a long coastline. It needs aerial observation and a properly resourced coastguard to police it. For the people smugglers, this is an easier route into the UK than the Channel Tunnel. But the Tunnel is not impossible. We have all seen footage of people clinging to the tops of lorries. No official can check those who get through.

We should be asking ourselves why people are willing to take such risks to get into the UK. Would they do so if they knew they could get a fair official hearing? Earlier in the refugee crisis, the Austrian Foreign Minister said that better legal routes had to be devised to manage the flow of people. By demanding travel documents policed by the airlines, train or ferry companies, the UK is pushing refugees into the arms of the people smugglers.

The UK has committed itself through the UN Geneva Convention to accept refugees fleeing for their lives. It has a proud record of doing so, most recently for the Uganda Asians. To make good on its commitments, the UK should interview all who wish to take refuge in the UK. This could be on arrival, or before leaving our immediate neighbours, or close to the country of origin. The Calais ‘jungle’ only came about because the UK did not have adequate arrangements to process people.

The truth made plain by the latest ‘boat people’ is that borders can never be 100% secure. The authorities must spend what it takes to make it unlikely that the borders can be bypassed. It should then be made as easy as possible for all to come to the official entry points. That way the authorities can determine who is a refugee, who is an economic migrant, and who is qualified to enter by their work skills. Free movement to work within the EU benefits British citizens, and gives another form of entry qualification.

What needs reforming in the EU? Part 3 (of 3)

I have interrupted the blogs on what needs reforming in the EU to discuss sovereignty and immigration. This is because, although claimed not to be, both are in fact fully within UK control. The UK agreed to free movement of labour as well as of capital because both benefit the UK. The other 27 member states accept the UK has the sovereign right to change its mind and leave both the EU and the Single Market. If the UK then wants to be part of the Single Market, it will have to accept its rules. These include free movement of labour, paying towards its costs, and having no say in making its rules. This is the same as for Norway and Switzerland.

What can be negotiated with the EU is what David Cameron has just negotiated. The other member states have confirmed that the Euro is not the currency of the EU. This ensures Eurozone members cannot impose their rules on the UK. They have also agreed an opt-out for the UK from ‘ever closer union’. This ensures the UK will not take part in any United States of Europe. It is now up to the UK government to do what it should have done decades ago for the British people. It will also have to deal with the consequences of immigration.

What still needs reforming in the EU is the attitude of political leaders in most member states. Most people in Europe support the European project as a mean of making war unthinkable. Those who have led that project have had a very top-down attitude to achieving it. They have put creating the structures of Europe before solving the problems their people want sorted. The UK is not the only country whose leaders prefer just to manage the economy and public finances. Constructing the Single Market with the necessary free movement of labour has highlighted all the long-standing infrastructure and social problems. That is why nationalism is on the rise in Europe. The rise of nationalism risks wrecking all the progress in building peace and prosperity which has been achieved since WWII.

Some of the EU’s politicians seem finally to have realised that Brexit is possible. They also see that the European project could unravel if it happens. If the UK decides to remain, it is very important that all governments start to address their own internal problems. This would be easier if at the same time they work together to make the EU more effective. Policy decisions in areas where the member states have agreed to cooperate would then be taken and implemented more rapidly. This work to reform decision-making in the EU will have the chance to happen, with British input, if we vote to remain on 23rd June.

On immigration

Those campaigning to leave the EU claim that this is the only way to prevent people coming into the UK. I would have two questions. First, is it a bad thing that other people want to come here to work? On the face of it, it means that there are plenty of jobs in the UK. Second, how would the NHS cope without workers from overseas?

In my experience, there are genuine concerns about immigration. They relate most often to fears about housing and jobs. Will immigrants crowd local people out of work? Will immigrants crowd local people out of homes? These fears are real, and come from years of British governments failing to sort the problems people have. Not enough homes have been built. Money has been pumped into mortgages. These two factors together make houses more expensive and price people out of the housing market. The affordable homes owned by councils were sold off, so they were not there for the next generation. The Tories now want to do the same thing to housing associations in England. Other infrastructure, like schools, hospitals and transport, has not kept pace with population changes. Local authorities have been starved of cash. They are now unable to act as proper local government but simply administer central government policy.

None of this is the fault of the EU. Nor would it change if the UK left the EU. Imagine the UK votes to leave on 23rd June, and stops paying money to the EU. Would the Treasury really spend this money on doing what no government has done for decades? It would be much more likely to use it all to pay down the deficit. That would be consistent with George Osborne’s policy of a smaller state.

Much the same applies to jobs. Everyone should have the opportunity to work. Some of the jobs, such as in agriculture, involve unsocial hours that not everyone is willing to accept. Others involve skills that not everyone has. Education should be about helping individuals to find out what they are good at, what they like doing, and which can be the basis of a long-term job. Everyone living in Britain should have these opportunities. In reality, there is a shortage of some types of skill, which is why some workers are hired from overseas. Some foreign workers are more ready to work for low pay at anti-social hours. Leaving the EU would just mean the UK would recruit workers from other foreign countries to fill the gaps in its job market. Helping British people into jobs needs a concerted effort to help them find what they can do in today’s job market, and give them the skills they need.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADER NICK CLEGG WELCOMES HOME RULE REPORT

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie MSP has today met with Deputy Prime Minister and UK Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP in London to present him with a copy of the report of the Home Rule and Community Rule Commission.

Under the chairmanship of Sir Menzies Campbell MP, the report was adopted overwhelmingly at the Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP said:

“Sir Menzies Campbell has put forward an excellent package of recommendations which once again puts Liberal Democrats at the forefront of the debate on Scotland’s long term place within the United Kingdom.

“From the formation of the NHS to the introduction of the state pension, from the darker days of the banking crash in 2008 to the triumph of Team GB at our Olympics this year, I firmly believe that the United Kingdom is stronger when working together.

“In tough times we help each other and in good times we share in successes. This is the mark of a modern, tolerant society.

“The Liberal Democrat plan for home rule all round would enshrine this spirit in the UK’s constitutional framework.”

Commenting, Willie Rennie MSP said:

“For over a century Liberal Democrats have advocated a federal United Kingdom. This report sets out a route map to a fair and federal UK.

“We know that a majority of people wish to see a stronger Scotland which works together with our partners in the rest of the UK on foreign affairs, defence and the economy.

“That ambition can be best achieved when we have a parliament not with powers on loan but with the permanent powers and responsibilities that enable it to be sensitive and flexible to local needs while able to share risks and rewards with the rest of the UK.

“We want to trigger reform across the United Kingdom and this report should act as a rallying point for those people who want change across the United Kingdom.

“We will use these plans to lead the debate, to build a consensus and secure a mandate for reform at the next general election. We urge people who like our plans to come on side and make the case for this change.”

For more information about “Federalism: the best future for Scotland”, the report of the Home Rule and Community Rule Commission, visit
http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk