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Fraser Raleigh: We must continue to campaign for the Union – and shun loose talk of trading off Scottish votes for English ones

Fraser Raleigh was Special Adviser to David Lidington, when the latter served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the Cabinet Office, Secretary of State for Justice, and Leader of the House of Commons. 

As more of the previous certainties of British politics cease to be taken for granted as certainties, Conservatives must recognise the importance of re-stating the case for the Union, recognising the distinct issues within its four nations that will have an impact far beyond the current election and the next Parliament.

As the Conservative and Unionist Party we rightly champion the Union, its shared history and its enduring value. While Labour sends confusing messages about its commitment to the Union, and stokes fears that it would do a deal with the SNP to open the door to a second independence referendum, the Conservatives are committed to respecting the result of the first one.

But as we champion the Union, we need to recognise that each nation is having a subtly different conversation with itself about its future.

In Northern Ireland that conversation has taken on a markedly different form and tone since the vote to leave the EU, and is bound up with the delicate balance of the traditions and aspirations within it.

In Scotland, the SNP’s single strategic objective is to carry on the conversation that voters told them was closed in 2014, arguing that Brexit gives them an excuse to reopen it.

In Wales, while nationalism remains a relatively fringe issue, Plaid Cymru see an opportunity to nudge the debate forward, with a close eye on events Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In England, perhaps most worryingly, the conversation can often involve a sense of weariness or even apathy about the benefits of the Union, underlining the importance of pulling the strands of English devolution together in the context of what James Brokenshire called  ‘a new Unionism’ on this site earlier this year.

As a party that stands candidates across the whole of the UK, the Conservatives are well-placed to lead these different conversations through actions that demonstrate that modern unionism continues to deliver tangible benefits. As the government of the whole of the United Kingdom, we can and should be visible and active in all four nations, recognising the significant powers still exercised at UK-level and communicating the shared opportunities of initiatives such as the GREAT campaign, while being to be seen to understand devolved policy issues.  As the second largest party in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, we have a record of holding the SNP and Welsh Labour governments to account for their poor records in those devolved areas. And, of course, as a party working to win and retain new seats, we prove that we value the voices of all parts of the UK.

Winning those seats demonstrates that we are sincere when we talk about our unionism. In particular, electing thirteen Scottish Conservative MPs in 2017 didn’t just prove to be the difference in being able to form a government, it was a clear signal that working to maintain a presence across the whole of the UK is a fundamental part of our identity as a party, not an optional extra. We should reject any loose talk that resigns itself to electoral damage in Scotland or even sees it is a price worth paying to make up ground in England and Wales: a UK-wide party must be seen to have genuine UK-wide relevance.

In Scotland, this is vital as we face an SNP that deliberately conflates its own voice with Scotland’s and that has appropriated the votes of ‘No’ voters who subsequently voted ‘Remain’, as if the latter cancelled out the former. The Scottish Conservatives have fought effectively to challenge this attempt by nationalists to hijack the conversation, while at the same time working together to achieve real results for their constituents over the past two years.

It is important, however, that we recognise the nuances in those different conversations taking place within the UK and respond to them proactively. We can never be complacent about demonstrating the continuing relevance and strength of the Union, or assume that the argument makes itself.

Neither can we allow any sense of political Balkanisation to take place without us noticing. We need to recognise and respond to the fact that the political landscape has changed since the advent of devolution 20 years ago, when Labour ran all three governments within Great Britain. Now, no party holds a majority of seats in more than one of the nations and, if power-sharing were functioning in Northern Ireland, no fewer than six different parties would be in government across the four nations.

As a proud unionist party, we must work to prove that the Union can accommodate difference and remain strong, recognising – and leading – the different but overlapping conversations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and demonstrating the value of ‘Four-nation Conservatism’.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Jan Zeber: How to unleash the power of the Union 3) Culture unites us, and teaches us about one another

Jan Zeber is a Research Fellow at Policy Exchange.

Before it is anything else, a nation is an identity, and identity is expressed through culture. This is why any endeavour to strengthen the United Kingdom must have a strong cultural dimension. Sport, art, history and trade all have a role a play.

But how is this to be done? This third and final instalment of Policy Exchange’s articles on revitalising the Union – drawing on our recent report, Modernising the United Kingdom – will offer practical answers. Celebrating the constituent nations of the United Kingdom in all corners of the country, regularly sharing government art and museum collections with regional galleries and exhibitions and ensuring that more sporting events that unite the nation are on free-to-view TV are just a few examples of what can be done.

The upcoming centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland in 2021 is an opportunity to celebrate its history and culture in the spirit of our shared heritage. As the then-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confirmed in July of this year, the Northern Ireland Office is already exploring the options for official celebrations. It should consider making the day a UK-wide bank holiday, which would fall on the 5th May 2021, so that its impact and significance is felt across the entire country.

Whitehall departments should also consider how they can take part in and support the planned Northern Ireland ‘Expo 100’ events taking place in 2021 to celebrate Northern Ireland’s birthday. The Department for International Trade could, for example, launch a special campaign promoting foreign direct investment opportunities in Northern Ireland, while the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport could support the development and promotion of cultural tourism opportunities, such as working with Tourism Northern Ireland to promote Northern Ireland as a tourism destination in the UK.

We should also make our shared heritage – recorded in works of art and museum exhibits – more easily available to people all over the UK. In 2015, it was revealed that just three per cent of central government and local authority-owned art collection – valued then at £3.5 billion – was on display and available to the public. This is an opportunity to build on the success of Tate Liverpool and V&A Dundee, as well as ‘roving’ exhibitions such as the tour of ‘Dippy’ the replica diplodocus skeleton usually on display at the Natural History Museum. It requires our most prominent cultural institutions that receive significant amounts of public funding to demonstrate their impact across the United Kingdom. Importantly, it should also mean key cultural institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (such as the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Scottish National Gallery, National Museum Wales, Ulster Museum and Titanic Belfast) establishing a presence outside the borders of their home nations, similarly through temporary exhibitions and other outreach programmes, working together with their counterparts from other nations of the UK. All four nations of the United Kingdom have proud cultural traditions, and together they make Britain an internationally renowned cultural leader.

Moments of national unity that take place whenever a home nation does well in the Olympics or world cups show how important sport is to countries coming together in shared celebration of their identity. Whether they are playing in men’s or women’s tournaments, playing as Team GB or as constituent nations, playing football or cricket, rugby league or rugby union, sporting teams have an immense capacity to bring British people together. The UK has had many sporting successes to celebrate over the summer, but unfortunately they are often all too difficult for the public to access.

Celebrating these successes (or failures, as the case may be) must be easier. The Government should review what sporting events should be protected (‘listed’) under the Broadcasting Act 1996 and therefore ‘free-to-air’ in whole or in part. There is a particularly strong case for making at least one of England’s home cricket test matches each summer and coverage of the men’s and women’s Cricket World Cup final and semi-finals, as well as women’s national football tournaments, available on free-to-air TV, the latter of which already has the backing of Nicky Morgan.

The Government should also renew support for the joint bid to host the 2030 FIFA Men’s Football World Cup in the UK and Ireland, as well as support a new joint bid to also host the 2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The objective should be to host games all over the UK, and as part of this, the Government should work with the Scottish Football Association to upgrade the Scottish national stadium at Hampden Park in Glasgow, and with the Irish Football Association to support Belfast in being able to host games in the future.

These are just some of the examples of what could be done to strengthen the cultural appeal of a collective British identity. It should be noted that it is not just about promoting what we have in common. It is also about bringing the culture of individual nations of the United Kingdom closer to people outside them. Many (even most) Britons will have roots in more than one of the constituent nations – it should be easier for someone living in England to celebrate and identify with their Scottish roots, for example. That is also what we mean by ‘shared heritage’.

As Arthur Aughey, Emeritus Professor at Ulster University, points out, ‘[when] placed in the broadest international context, the United Kingdom can sometimes look like an oddity. But the Union on which it is predicated is a remarkably enduring constitutional arrangement and – by almost any comparative standards – a surprisingly cohesive national state.’ Culture is a key part of that cohesiveness and should not be forgotten in any attempt to reinvigorate the Union.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Warwick Lightfoot and Will Heaven: How to unleash the power of the Union 1) Red, White and Blue-branded projects and funding

Warwick Lightfoot is Policy Exchange’s Head of Economics, and Will Heaven is Policy Exchange’s Director of Policy.

“It is time we unleashed the productive power, not just of London and the South East but of every corner of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.” So said Boris Johnson in one of his first speeches as Prime Minister. A great ambition – but how to make it a reality? What are the practical steps that the Government can take? This piece, the first of a three-part series on the Union for Conservative Home by Policy Exchange, will offer some of the answers. They may be useful to a new Department of the Union, should such a body be created after Brexit.

Today’s political context adds urgency to the debate around the Union’s future. There can be no denying that Brexit has opened it up to a new nationalist and separatist agenda. The UK is under significant stress. In Scotland – which, of the four nations of the UK, was most strongly pro-remain in 2016 – the SNP’s stock is riding high. In Wales, there is a growing minority of support for independence. There is also evidence that some English Conservatives are so fed up about Brexit not being delivered that they are willing, in theory, to sacrifice the Union to the cause. On the other side, in Northern Ireland, the DUP are asking how much ministers care about the Union.

Yet the case for the Union remains strong and unionists should not be reluctant to make it. The best way to do this and strengthen the Union is to ensure that its economic, cultural and social value is not hidden from all of the UK’s citizens. Above all, as Policy Exchange’s recent paper, Modernising the United Kingdom argues, ministers should focus on two areas: greater capital spending to better connect each nation and cross-Union representation in Westminster.

On capital spending, notwithstanding the true legal and constitutional position, the UK Government has been encouraged to limit its capacity to spend in the devolved nations to national programmes, i.e., in the jargon, “reserved” areas: defence and immigration, for example. But there is nothing constitutionally preventing the UK Government from providing extra funds and expertise to deliver projects in devolved policy areas like health, education, transport, sports and the arts. The Treasury, in particular, has been too timid, saying that to spend more in devolved areas would undermine devolution itself. This simply isn’t true.

As the UK takes full responsibility for the social and economic development functions and spending that went with the EU’s social and structural funds, these self-imposed restrictions must be scrapped. The Conservative Government’s 2017 manifesto pledge to set up a ‘UK Shared Prosperity Fund’ should be strengthened. If projects have local support, and are subjected to rigorous auditing, the Government should be more ambitious in its pursuit of spreading the benefits of the Union. These could include upgrades to transport, broadband, ports and giving places support to promote foreign direct investment in their area. Most importantly, these should be badged as UK projects as a condition of accepting funds and used to promote UK unity, just as the EU uses structural funds to promote EU cohesion.

Thankfully, the costs of this are affordable. The public finances are in a good place. There is scope to increase borrowing, the stock of public debt to national income is manageable and the cost of servicing public debt is historically low. There is both financial and economic scope for a more ambitious public programme of capital investment, which should be secured through a UK modernisation spending plan as soon as Brexit is settled.

How to demonstrate that it is the Union that is delivering these sorts of projects? To begin with, the UK brand must be visible. As Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said at a Policy Exchange fringe event in Manchester a few weeks ago, “Every single thing the Scottish government does in Scotland has a saltire on the side of it, and it says ‘paid for and delivered by the Scottish government’. Where’s our UK flag? Where’s ‘paid for and delivered by Her Majesty’s government’, or ‘the UK government in Scotland’?”

At the same event, an anecdote by Lord Caine, formerly a long-time adviser at the Northern Ireland Office, demonstrated how timid the UK Government can be on this issue. He recounted how “officials once tried to persuade us that before we published a Treasury document in Northern Ireland, we had to carry out an equality impact assessment because it had a tiny Union flag in the corner”.

Some civil servants may scoff at this, but it’s this branding – for want of a better word – that helps to demonstrate to the public the value of belonging to the United Kingdom. It was great to see, for example, British embassy staff in Union flag-emblazoned high-vis jackets during the operation to return Thomas Cook’s stranded passengers back to the UK. More of this is needed at home, too.

The Government should increase its physical presence in devolved nations. It should draw up an initial plan of relocating or establishing capacity of central government departments in places of the country where their work is most relevant, and in particular, in the case of departments with reserved functions. For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs could expand its operation in places like Peterhead.

Politically, cross-Union representation will also be a vital tool. With all the four nations in mind, there is a strong case for the UK Government establishing a Council of UK Civic Leaders – chaired by the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister for the Union – which should meet regularly with ministers and officials. This should include empowered English civic leaders, such as metro-mayors, and leaders of city councils in devolved nations. The Mayor of the West Midlands and Lord Mayor of Belfast City Council, for example, should have this forum to speak directly to central government about what extra resources would be useful to them. Devolution should also involve and require empowering communities at the subnational level (hence this English civic representation) which will help build connections across the Union.

Finally, after Brexit, as the UK resumes competence for various areas of policy previously held by the EU – such as competition, product standards and science policy – it must ensure statutory and regulatory bodies have representation from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK Government must recognise that Brexit doesn’t just mean taking back control for Parliament, important though that is, but taking back control for all the nations and peoples of the United Kingdom.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Brexit do-over vote spiked by speaker; Wales, Scotland press EU for extension

Westlake Legal Group bercow Brexit do-over vote spiked by speaker; Wales, Scotland press EU for extension Wales The Blog Scotland Parliament Northern Ireland Nicola Sturgeon Mark Drakeford John Bercow Brexit Boris Johnson

John Bercow may be best known in the US for his delightful calls of “Orrrr-DERRRRRR!” on the floor of Parliament, but he made news this morning for an out-of-order ruling. The House of Commons speaker ruled a revote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal improper after Saturday’s vote, in which the Commons explicitly refused to authorize the deal until it gets the enabling legislation. “In substance,” Bercow ruled, the new motion was identical to Saturday’s vote on the Letwin amendment:

The Commons Speaker has refused a government request to hold a “yes” or “no” vote on its Brexit deal.

John Bercow said a motion on the deal had already been brought before MPs on Saturday, and it would be “repetitive and disorderly” to debate it again. …

He cited Parliament’s rulebook, Erskine May, which says a motion that is the same “in substance” as a previous one cannot be brought back to the Commons during the course of a single parliamentary session.

The Speaker also said the circumstances around the motion had not changed, so his ruling was “necessary… to ensure the sensible use of the House’s time and proper respect for the decisions that it takes”.

Boris Johnson had hoped to get one last shot at a vote on the broad strokes of the agreement for at least one of two reasons. Had he gotten it through Parliament, Johnson could have claimed to have achieved Brexit, even if it took several weeks longer to implement. Or, just a tad more conspiratorially, Johnson could have used the passage to ask for the withdrawal of the Benn Act letter that requested the extension, and then simply stalled past October 31 to create a default no-deal Brexit without any of the concessions in his latest deal.

That option is now moot, unless the EU decides not to give Johnson an extension and allows him to execute his no-deal strategy. That seems very unlikely, although France has been openly griping about the idea of a new extension. Johnson’s attempt to sour prospects for the extension by not signing the Benn Act letter — and sending a personal note arguing against it — had “no consequences” for the EU’s consideration of an extension, Donald Tusk commented over the weekend.

Germany’s finance minister agreed with Tusk and said the extension was all but guaranteed:

The unconventional “form” of Boris Johnson’s extension request is irrelevant to the EU, the European commission has confirmed, as Germany’s finance minister said “it goes without saying” that a further Brexit delay would be granted.

Peter Altmaier, a key ally of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said he believed either a technical extension to allow extra-time for legislation to pass, or a longer period to accommodate a general election or second referendum would be offered.

“We have already twice agreed to an extension. I have repeatedly said as my own opinion I am not ideologically opposed to extending again a few days or a few weeks if you then certainly get a good solution that excludes a hard Brexit”, Altmaier said.

”If the British are to opt for one of the longer-term options, that is new elections or a new referendum, then it goes without saying that the European Union should do it, for me anyway.”

On top of that, the first ministers of the parliaments in Wales and Scotland sent their own letters imploring the EU to extend the Article 50 deadline. Even if this deal passes, Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon wrote, their legislatures will need time to implement it before being cut off from the EU:

With ten days to go until the Brexit deadline of October 31st, Mr Drakeford said Parliament could “not in any way adequately undertake the scrutiny of the Bill in 1 0 day period”.

“This is a concern we fully share. It is simply impossible for us to fulfil our constitutional responsibilities in this timescale.

“An extension would allow us to adequately scrutinise the agreement.”

Both also penned a letter to Johnson, in which they describe his deal as “even more damaging” than Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. That doesn’t bode well for the unity of the United Kingdom after Brexit of either kind:

Even an extension won’t be the worst possible outcome for Johnson, although it’s hardly optimal and would be a serious tactical loss. It could set up a national snap election on the basis of either this deal or a no-deal Brexit, if the EU offers a long enough extension. As long as Labour leaves Jeremy Corbyn in charge as potential PM, Johnson has a significant advantage, and his determination to fulfill the original referendum decision will no doubt give Tories a boost as well.

However, this might well be a Pyrrhic victory, assuming it plays out Johnson’s way at all. The warning signals from Scotland and Wales strongly suggest that the flames of nationalism fanned by Johnson and his Brexiters might have already gone too far to keep the United Kingdom’s four nations, well, united. His deal undermined the Unionist identity in Northern Ireland as well by dropping a border in the Irish Sea, leaving them feeling betrayed and demoralized. The end result of Brexit might well be a united Ireland and a disunited kingdom across the Irish Sea border within a decade or less. Such are the risks of nationalism and reclaimed sovereignty in a country that advertises itself as a union of four nations.

The post Brexit do-over vote spiked by speaker; Wales, Scotland press EU for extension appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group bercow-300x162 Brexit do-over vote spiked by speaker; Wales, Scotland press EU for extension Wales The Blog Scotland Parliament Northern Ireland Nicola Sturgeon Mark Drakeford John Bercow Brexit Boris Johnson   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Cost of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Drive: A Fractured U. K.?

Westlake Legal Group merlin_162911730_e2b35295-b125-46a9-878b-073f369c9a6f-facebookJumbo The Cost of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Drive: A Fractured U. K.? Wales Scotland Northern Ireland Johnson, Boris ireland Great Britain Withdrawal from EU (Brexit)

BRUSSELS — For Prime Minister Boris Johnson, one of the prime selling points of his Brexit agreement with the European Union is that Northern Ireland will not be legally severed from the customs territory of Britain.

“It means,” he said on Thursday, “the U.K. leaves whole and entire.”

How long it would stay that way is another matter.

Among the most profound consequences of Mr. Johnson’s proposed Brexit deal, analysts said, is that it could strengthen the centrifugal forces that were already pulling apart the United Kingdom. Scotland’s nationalists said the plan would galvanize them to seek another referendum on Scottish independence, while Irish nationalists quietly welcomed it as one more step toward a reunified Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party vowed to vote against Mr. Johnson’s plan in Parliament, saying it would drive a “coach and horses” through the Good Friday Agreement. That peace treaty enshrined Britain’s sovereignty over Northern Ireland, unless a majority of people favor uniting with Ireland, and it set up a power-sharing arrangement between unionists and nationalists.

Even before Mr. Johnson’s deal, however, Brexit had exposed the fractures in the United Kingdom. Voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland both opted to stay in the European Union in the 2016 referendum; those in England voted to leave. The years of tortuous negotiations over the terms of Britain’s departure have only deepened the alienation of many in both places.

“It cannot be right that Scotland alone is facing an outcome it did not vote for — that is democratically unacceptable and makes a mockery of claims that the U.K. is in any way a partnership of equals,” Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, said on Thursday.

“It is clearer than ever that the best future for Scotland is one as an equal, independent European nation,” she said. “That is a choice I’m determined to insure is given to the people of Scotland.”

The last time the Scots had that choice — a referendum in 2014 — they voted against leaving Britain by 55 percent to 44 percent. Analysts said the outcome could be reversed in a second vote, given the economic benefits that Scotland is likely to lose by leaving the European Union along with the rest of Britain.

Even in Wales, which voted to leave Europe in 2016, there is evidence of a budding independence movement. While polls rarely show support for it rising above 25 percent, the chaotic politics of Brexit in London have raised doubts among some Welsh.

The situation in Northern Ireland is more complicated. There is less of a push to break away, though a recent poll by Michael Ashcroft, a British pollster and former Conservative Party official, showed that a bare majority of people there would vote to leave the United Kingdom, if given a choice.

That is partly a function of demographics: Catholics, who tend to be nationalist, are growing more rapidly as a percentage of the population than Protestants, who tend to be unionist. But it also reflects tensions over Brexit, particularly since the arrival of Mr. Johnson and his threat to leave the European Union, even without a deal, by the end of October.

Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party that once served as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, said that if Mr. Johnson carried out that threat, Northern Ireland should hold a referendum.

“People from across this society, even those of a British identity, are now seriously questioning whether there are any merits of staying within the Union after Brexit,” Michelle O’Neill, the deputy leader of Sinn Fein, said during a debate at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, England last month.

In that regard, Mr. Johnson’s deal is a mixed blessing. Northern Ireland would remain legally part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory, but it would stay closely aligned with the maze of European rules and regulations.

That would avoid the need for checkpoints on its border with the Irish Republic, but there would still be customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland. Rather than cutting across the island of Ireland from east to west, the border would run north to south through the Irish Sea.

The goal is to allow nearly seamless trading to continue between the north and Ireland, a member of the European Union. The question is whether even that level of symbolic differentiation, over time, will change the attitudes of the people, shifting their orientation from London to Dublin.

Some of that has already occurred in the two decades since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended years of sectarian violence and turned checkpoints manned by British soldiers into a distant memory. The economies of north and south are now thoroughly integrated and public agencies serve the whole island.

“We’re accustomed to all-Ireland boards,” said Monica McWilliams, an academic and former politician in Belfast who was involved in the Good Friday negotiations. “Tourism operates as an all-Ireland board. Health operates as an all-Ireland board. There are a lot of precedents for all-Ireland institutions.”

She noted that Mr. Johnson’s agreement would have a symbolic impact, creating a tangible distinction between Northern Ireland and Britain — “a border down the Irish Sea.” That is important in a place where cultural identity and questions of constitutional sovereignty can matter as much as economics.

Still, like most experts, Ms. McWilliams does not predict a referendum on Irish unification for perhaps a decade or more. There is little appetite for one in the Irish Republic, which is more prosperous than Northern Ireland and worries about the cost of absorbing the North’s faltering economy.

Some Irish experts argue that the Democratic Unionists should have embraced Mr. Johnson’s plan. If he had carried out his threat to leave the European Union without any deal — a prospect that now seems less likely — the pressure for Northern Ireland to split from the Union would have been far stronger.

The North would have been isolated and its economy badly damaged, which is the outcome feared by the Scots. Instead, Northern Ireland could now benefit from an arrangement in which both Britain and the European Union have an incentive to make sure its economy stays competitive.

“You only have to look at Scotland’s jealousy toward Northern Ireland,” said Bobby McDonagh, who served as Ireland’s ambassador to London.

Even Sinn Fein officials have reacted warmly to the deal, in part because it does not give the Democratic Unionist Party a veto over staying aligned with the European Union after a few years, as earlier proposals would have.

The Democratic Unionists, Mr. McDonagh noted, were unhappy with drawing any distinctions between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom because they viewed it as a first step toward sundering the two.

In that case, he said, the unionists “should have voted against Brexit to begin with.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Cost of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Drive: A Fractured U. K.?

Westlake Legal Group merlin_162911730_e2b35295-b125-46a9-878b-073f369c9a6f-facebookJumbo The Cost of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Drive: A Fractured U. K.? Wales Scotland Northern Ireland Johnson, Boris ireland Great Britain Withdrawal from EU (Brexit)

BRUSSELS — For Prime Minister Boris Johnson, one of the prime selling points of his Brexit agreement with the European Union is that Northern Ireland will not be legally severed from the customs territory of Britain.

“It means,” he said on Thursday, “the U.K. leaves whole and entire.”

How long it would stay that way is another matter.

Among the most profound consequences of Mr. Johnson’s proposed Brexit deal, analysts said, is that it could strengthen the centrifugal forces that were already pulling apart the United Kingdom. Scotland’s nationalists said the plan would galvanize them to seek another referendum on Scottish independence, while Irish nationalists quietly welcomed it as one more step toward a reunified Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party vowed to vote against Mr. Johnson’s plan in Parliament, saying it would drive a “coach and horses” through the Good Friday Agreement. That peace treaty enshrined Britain’s sovereignty over Northern Ireland, unless a majority of people favor uniting with Ireland, and it set up a power-sharing arrangement between unionists and nationalists.

Even before Mr. Johnson’s deal, however, Brexit had exposed the fractures in the United Kingdom. Voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland both opted to stay in the European Union in the 2016 referendum; those in England voted to leave. The years of tortuous negotiations over the terms of Britain’s departure have only deepened the alienation of many in both places.

“It cannot be right that Scotland alone is facing an outcome it did not vote for — that is democratically unacceptable and makes a mockery of claims that the U.K. is in any way a partnership of equals,” Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, said on Thursday.

“It is clearer than ever that the best future for Scotland is one as an equal, independent European nation,” she said. “That is a choice I’m determined to insure is given to the people of Scotland.”

The last time the Scots had that choice — a referendum in 2014 — they voted against leaving Britain by 55 percent to 44 percent. Analysts said the outcome could be reversed in a second vote, given the economic benefits that Scotland is likely to lose by leaving the European Union along with the rest of Britain.

Even in Wales, which voted to leave Europe in 2016, there is evidence of a budding independence movement. While polls rarely show support for it rising above 25 percent, the chaotic politics of Brexit in London have raised doubts among some Welsh.

The situation in Northern Ireland is more complicated. There is less of a push to break away, though a recent poll by Michael Ashcroft, a British pollster and former Conservative Party official, showed that a bare majority of people there would vote to leave the United Kingdom, if given a choice.

That is partly a function of demographics: Catholics, who tend to be nationalist, are growing more rapidly as a percentage of the population than Protestants, who tend to be unionist. But it also reflects tensions over Brexit, particularly since the arrival of Mr. Johnson and his threat to leave the European Union, even without a deal, by the end of October.

Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party that once served as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, said that if Mr. Johnson carried out that threat, Northern Ireland should hold a referendum.

“People from across this society, even those of a British identity, are now seriously questioning whether there are any merits of staying within the Union after Brexit,” Michelle O’Neill, the deputy leader of Sinn Fein, said during a debate at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, England last month.

In that regard, Mr. Johnson’s deal is a mixed blessing. Northern Ireland would remain legally part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory, but it would stay closely aligned with the maze of European rules and regulations.

That would avoid the need for checkpoints on its border with the Irish Republic, but there would still be customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland. Rather than cutting across the island of Ireland from east to west, the border would run north to south through the Irish Sea.

The goal is to allow nearly seamless trading to continue between the north and Ireland, a member of the European Union. The question is whether even that level of symbolic differentiation, over time, will change the attitudes of the people, shifting their orientation from London to Dublin.

Some of that has already occurred in the two decades since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended years of sectarian violence and turned checkpoints manned by British soldiers into a distant memory. The economies of north and south are now thoroughly integrated and public agencies serve the whole island.

“We’re accustomed to all-Ireland boards,” said Monica McWilliams, an academic and former politician in Belfast who was involved in the Good Friday negotiations. “Tourism operates as an all-Ireland board. Health operates as an all-Ireland board. There are a lot of precedents for all-Ireland institutions.”

She noted that Mr. Johnson’s agreement would have a symbolic impact, creating a tangible distinction between Northern Ireland and Britain — “a border down the Irish Sea.” That is important in a place where cultural identity and questions of constitutional sovereignty can matter as much as economics.

Still, like most experts, Ms. McWilliams does not predict a referendum on Irish unification for perhaps a decade or more. There is little appetite for one in the Irish Republic, which is more prosperous than Northern Ireland and worries about the cost of absorbing the North’s faltering economy.

Some Irish experts argue that the Democratic Unionists should have embraced Mr. Johnson’s plan. If he had carried out his threat to leave the European Union without any deal — a prospect that now seems less likely — the pressure for Northern Ireland to split from the Union would have been far stronger.

The North would have been isolated and its economy badly damaged, which is the outcome feared by the Scots. Instead, Northern Ireland could now benefit from an arrangement in which both Britain and the European Union have an incentive to make sure its economy stays competitive.

“You only have to look at Scotland’s jealousy toward Northern Ireland,” said Bobby McDonagh, who served as Ireland’s ambassador to London.

Even Sinn Fein officials have reacted warmly to the deal, in part because it does not give the Democratic Unionist Party a veto over staying aligned with the European Union after a few years, as earlier proposals would have.

The Democratic Unionists, Mr. McDonagh noted, were unhappy with drawing any distinctions between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom because they viewed it as a first step toward sundering the two.

In that case, he said, the unionists “should have voted against Brexit to begin with.”

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Matt Smith: Plaid Cymru is the party of Wales in name only

Matt Smith was the Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff West in the 2017 General Election and has stood for the Welsh Assembly. He currently works as a lawyer.

Reflecting on its 94-years Plaid Cymru claimed Annibyniaeth yn Ewrop (independence in Europe) has been its lodestar throughout. In reality, this is at odds with its own history. Intoxicated by its unblinking, unthinking Eurofederalism, Plaid’s leadership neglects Welsh nationalism, ignores two-fifths of its Leave-supporting base and repudiates Welsh voters.

The no-nation party of Wales-in-name-only careens to the Remainist left under its European Unionist leader Adam Price (a man with a degree in European Communities Studies). Plaid’s ‘Give Back Control’ agenda now means it is either for the elitist nullification campaign for a so-called People’s Vote or revocation of Article 50 to cancel Brexit in a General Election if a clean no-deal Brexit is in prospect.

Disappointingly for Price, Wales’ silent majority has an identity that is stubbornly Welsh and British. Brexit shows the Welsh conceive their sovereignty as shared with the United Kingdom home nations yet without the EU. The sine qua non of Unionism is elections to the United Kingdom Westminster Parliament. In the 2017 ‘Brexit General Election’, Welsh turnout was higher than in Scotland, Ulster and only marginally lower than in England.

Most see the Union as Cymru Fydd (Wales of the Future) did over a century ago. The Young Wales Movement saw nationalism entailed not separation from but equality and Union with England that provided ‘the best opportunity that Wales could have to deliver its mission… to the world’.

Plaid’s counterfeit nationalism matters because it is a legacy gatekeeper over Welsh nationalism. Their virtue-signalling leadership conflates Wales with the discreditations of Cardiff Bay’s failing devolved governing class and the Brussels ancien régime. Plaid glamourises these out-of-touch elites and would deprive England, Scotland and Ulster of the Union in all its variety.

What drives Plaid’s anti-nation state nationalism is not Wales, but the ‘negative nationalism’ and left-wing ‘Anglophobia’ George Orwell described in his Notes on Nationalism. Orwell saw that within the English intelligentsia ‘a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory’.

This explains Plaid’s ‘post-colonialist’ anti-British rhetoric. It is on all fours with the reparations credo of the anti-imperialist Corbynistas. Despite Wales’ martial prowess neither side with Britain in a conflict however abominable the alternative. They should be standing candidates in the London Borough of Islington.

Plaid’s hollowed-out, transferred nationalism is for the EU and the sacral cause of European integration. Yet Welsh nationalism was not always seduced by European Union nationalism and Verhofstadt’s European empire.

In the General Elections of October 1974 its manifesto declared ‘Plaid Cymru is, and always has been, opposed to membership of the EEC’. Through ‘Wales Get Britain Out’, Plaid distributed thousands of ‘Dyweded Cymra NA’ (Wales says no) bumper stickers.

Their Euroscepticism was driven by three things.  Firstly, Gwynfor Evans feared the Community would create a ‘common Western European Man’. Though not an ‘Englishman in disguise’ there would be ‘precious little Welsh about him!’ Welsh Nation predicted the Community would secure ‘the death of Wales as a national entity’.

Secondly, the Treaty of Rome was ‘solely concerned with the rights of capital’ and ‘Europe’s privileged rich elite groups’. Former Plaid General Secretary Emrys Roberts lamented Europe’s lack of ‘social conscience’ and its ‘naked market and profit-oriented capitalism that rejects any attempt to influence its development in the interests of the community’. He feared people ‘were conceived of as raw material, not Welshmen’.

And finally, Plaid feared freedom of movement would depopulate Welsh-speaking rural Wales. Ever closer union meant ‘local communities [and] national identity counted for nothing’. The Community’s concern was rather to provide ‘the capitalist with enough workers to just where he wants them’. The achingly Europhile Lord Dafydd Ellis-Thomas then claimed ‘the philosophy of the Common Market’ was ‘to drag people away and destroy their community’.

In 1975, all Wales’ regions voted ‘Yes’ to the Common Market. In 2016, 17 of Wales 22 regions voted Leave. Yet Plaid has moved in the opposite direction.

Regionalism became the framework for the state-building ambitions of Plaid’s would-be governing class. L’Europe de regions provided paraphernalia for regionalist parties making secession manageable so long as England, Scotland and Ulster were also in. Plaid is now in the contradictory position of wanting to enmire Wales in an homogenising, mono-cultural EU, that ignores Madrid’s treatment of Catalan politicians.

Brexit is an existential crisis for Plaid because it answers calls for independence. Brexit also challenges the ‘Welsh effect’ as politics in England and Wales moves closer, sinking their self-image of Wales as more left-wing and supranationalist. Along with 57% Leave-voting Cornwall, Wales’ Brexit scotches nationalist-remainer claims that Eurosceptic England is dragging the Celtic fringe out while also wrong-footing Plaid’s SNP doppelgangers.

Brexit Derangement Syndrome leads Plaid into bad company. It works for notionally unionist parties in Parliament that serve neither Plaid’s nor Wales’ interests. In a Freudian slip their Westminster Leader Liz Saville Roberts said her “number one priority must be… delivering a referendum and cancelling Brexit”. She backs Corbyn for Prime Minister to block Wales’ Brexit, and opposes a General Election to deny Wales its say. Ridiculously they also call for the impeachment of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Welsh nationalism was off the ballot paper in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election as Plaid backed their League of Losers ‘Remain Alliance’ Lib Dem partners. Voters now see a cartel. Where the Lib Dems go, Plaid now follows. They now have a Brexit policy that is illiberal, anti-democratic and at odds with a large chunk of Plaid’s base.

In Cardiff Bay, their former leader Leanne Woods’ first response to Wales’ Brexit vote was to seek coalition with Welsh Labour. Cahooting with Welsh Labour decline managers and contradicting devolution, Plaid has used the Senedd as a platform to prognosticate on matters ultra vires. Plaid’s Chief Whip backs Welsh Labour on the Senedd Business Committee to block publication of the inquiry into the tragic suicide of Welsh Government minister Carl Sergeant while Plaid protests about prorogation.

And Plaid’s Leannista tendency is in hock with the divisive identitarian left. Wood swears at alleged transgressors of woke, provoking the Standards Commissioner Sir Roderick Evans and Assembly Members to censure her 37-12. Yet she thinks nothing of sharing a cartoon comparing Leavers to Nazis.

Palling around with metropolitan England’s Brahmin left and Cardiff Bay’s Brexit meltdown are convenient distractions from the hard work of making a success of devolution.

Plaid’s hard Remain politics ignores Wales’ 854,572 Leavers. Forty per cent of Plaid voters told the Welsh Political Barometer (30 June – 4 July 2016) they had voted Leave. Leave beat Plaid in three out of four of its Westminster constituencies and half its Senedd constituency seats. Eight of the ten most Welsh-speaking local authority areas voted Leave in 2016 and went on to place the Brexit Party in first place this year.

Pitch-rolling on the Andrew Marr Show Saville Roberts claimed support for separatism within the EU is as high as 41% prompting Professor John Curtice’s rebuke “the typical poll rating Liz is about ten percent in Wales”.

Perhaps the only independence Plaid is interested in is that of its own elites from the rest of Wales. Yet YouGov’s Brexit policies poll (24th-25th September) found 47% of Welsh voters see Plaid as anti-Brexit (and only 3% pro-Brexit) posing a strategic dilemma for Plaid. Riding around Cardiff Bay on a blue and gold unicorn wont play well with the Leave-supporting communities Plaid is targeting for the 2021 Senedd elections.

Indeed YouGov’s Sunday Times poll (26th-27th September) found more Welsh voters (49%-29%) prefer permutations of Brexit to Remain. Forty two per cent are not worried about No Deal. Over a third think the Supreme Court biased and with judges opposed to Brexit. And more believe anti-Brexit politicians use aggressive and divisive language than Leavers.

Plaid squandered Wales’ Devolution Dividend by propping up Welsh Labour in Cardiff Bay. These EU-puppets would now deprive Wales of its Brexit Dividend. Wales needs a genuinely patriotic party not a regionalist surrender party of Brussels courtesans who would reduce Wales to a voiceless province in the EU’s soft empire.

Plaid’s hard Remain politics ignores Wales’ 854,572 Leavers. Forty per cent of Plaid voters told the Welsh Political Barometer (30 June – 4 July 2016) they had voted Leave. Leave beat Plaid in three out of four of its Westminster constituencies and half its Senedd constituency seats. Eight of the ten most Welsh-speaking local authority areas voted Leave in 2016 and went on to place the Brexit Party in first place this year.

Pitch-rolling on the Andrew Marr Show Saville Roberts claimed support for separatism within the EU is as high as 41% prompting Professor John Curtice’s rebuke “the typical poll rating Liz is about ten percent in Wales”.

Perhaps the only independence Plaid is interested in is that of its own elites from the rest of Wales. Yet YouGov’s Brexit policies poll (24th-25th September) found 47% of Welsh voters see Plaid as anti-Brexit (and only 3% pro-Brexit) posing a strategic dilemma for Plaid. Riding around Cardiff Bay on a blue and gold unicorn wont play well with the Leave-supporting communities Plaid is targeting for the 2021 Senedd elections.

Indeed YouGov’s Sunday Times poll (26th-27th September) found more Welsh voters (49%-29%) prefer permutations of Brexit to Remain. Forty two per cent are not worried about No Deal. Over a third think the Supreme Court biased and with judges opposed to Brexit. And more believe anti-Brexit politicians use aggressive and divisive language than Leavers.

Plaid squandered Wales’ Devolution Dividend by propping up Welsh Labour in Cardiff Bay. These EU-puppets would now deprive Wales of its Brexit Dividend. Wales needs a genuinely patriotic party not a regionalist surrender party of Brussels courtesans which would reduce Wales to a voiceless province in the EU’s soft empire.

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Neil O’Brien: How to rebalance Britain’s unbalanced economy – by levelling up, not levelling down

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Even Brexit, it turns out, is about location, location, location. Ben Ansell, an Oxford professor, has found that in wealthier areas, where the price of a house averages £500,000, 70 per cent voted to remain. Poorer areas, where the average house price was £100,000, were an exact mirror image, with 70 per cent voting to leave.

Like a disclosing tablet, the EU referendum highlighted the different economic experiences of different places over recent decades: booming London and the most prosperous home counties voted to Remain, as did Scotland, the next richest part of the country. The reviving cores of our large cities did likewise. But smaller towns and cities, the countryside and coastal places voted overwhelmingly to Leave, as did Wales.

In response, Boris Johnson recently set out his ambition to “level up” poorer areas in a fantastic speech in Manchester. It’s the right thing to do – and it makes political sense too. The 2017 election saw us losing ground in wealthier-but-Remainy areas, and gaining former Labour seats in the midlands (and north) which we’d never gained before. We have huge potential to win in seats where people have felt taken for granted and left behind for many decades.

The economic case for levelling up is clear too. There are no G20 countries which have a more regionally imbalanced economy than the UK and are also richer than the UK. Conversely, all large countries that are richer per head than the UK have a more balanced economy.

In other words, a more balanced economy is a stronger one. In a highly unbalanced economy, resources like land and infrastructure end up overloaded in some parts of the country, and under-used in others, which is costly and wasteful. Given that workers (particularly lower skilled people) don’t simply move away from their families in the face of local economic problems, having greater distances between unemployed workers and job opportunities may well compound problems matching people to job opportunities. There might even be compounding mechanisms: if some areas have high unemployment that can lock in patterns of worklessness.

But to bring about a more balanced economy, there are two big lessons that the Prime Minister must draw from previous successes and failures.

First, the crucial thing is to attract private sector employment – particularly jobs that are knowledge and investment-intensive. The work of academics like Enrico Moretti and think tanks like the Centre for Cities shows how gaining “brain jobs” in the private sector has a much bigger multiplier effect than just moving public sector jobs to an area.

Tax breaks for inward investment can be very effective in attracting in new investment, which is why most other countries offer them. Within the UK, probably our most successful ever regional intervention was Margaret Thatcher luring Nissan to Sunderland with a mix of investment tax breaks, lobbying and the offer of cheap land (an old airfield). It’s now one of the most successful plants in the world.

When people think about regeneration, they often start with plans for a new tram or shiny cultural facility, which tend to be popular, and can indeed help growth in areas that are already motoring along. But such investments aren’t going to do much for areas where the economic engine has rusted up and needs restarting. Detroit famously built a fancy monorail intended to fight its economic decline: but in a city where every factory was gone it remained largely unused, drifting through a city that looked like it had been bombed flat. Without private sector investment, there’s no demand for it or anything much else.

Second, different things work in different places and a different set of policies are needed for our towns than our city centres. During the 1970s and 1980s the “inner cities” were a byword for decline. But in recent decades capital cities and the centres of other larger cities have outperformed other areas, right across the world. The shift from a manufacturing to a professional services economy (plus the growth of universities) revived the centres of our cities.

There are still many problems to solve in our cities, but the places that have struggled the most in recent decades have been rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and the outer parts of large cities (even outer London). Places on the coast and places without a university have suffered particularly badly from a brain drain. Labour have tried to capitalise on their discontent with glossy ads like their film “our town”.

What to do for towns is even trickier than helping big cities grow. Though there are trendy small towns from Hebden Bridge to Hay-on-Wye, simply copying ideas from big cities, like “culture-led regeneration”, is often a recipe for failure in small towns.

Improving connections between city centres and towns might help – Tom Forth has highlighted just how bad we are at this in Britain. The Prime Minister’s new fund to help regenerate town centres is a good move and will make them more attractive. We should do things like re-examine funding historic funding formulas for government spending on science, transport and housing, which are still heavily geared towards supporting London and other areas that are already growing fast. And we should offer devolved economic powers to counties, not just big cities.
The more we can use free market mechanisms to help poorer towns, the more likely we are to succeed.

Looking at Britain as a whole, chronically low investment rates are a big part of our long-term productivity problem. We should cut taxes on business investment across the whole country, and make the UK’s capital allowances among the most generous in the world (at present they’re among the least).

But to level up poorer areas we should go further, and have even more generous tax breaks for investment there, where the problem of low investment and low productivity is most severe. We should also empower the Department for International Trade to take part in the same aggressive tax competition for inward investment that countries in Asia, the US, and our neighbours in Ireland do so successfully. And we should use those tools to encourage inward investment into poorer places.

More generous capital allowances would help lagging regions anyway, even if introduced across the board. While manufacturing accounted for around a quarter of productivity growth nationally since 1997, it provided 40–50 per cent of productivity growth in poorer regions like Wales, the West Midlands and North West. Manufacturing requires roughly twice as much capital investment as the rest of the economy, so an investment-hostile tax system hits poorer places harder.

Ever since the referendum, there’s rightly been renewed focus on how to help poorer places. Helpfully there is decades of evidence about what does and doesn’t work. If we can join up an energetic new Prime Minister with the bit between his teeth, plus a new agenda for left-behind places, then we can really get things moving.

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The limits of the LibDems

The main electoral impact of the Liberal Democrats in modern times has been to help deny the Conservatives a working Commons majority.  They have done so regardless of whether the latter have been in government or opposition.

In 1974, the Conservatives were in government, the Liberal vote surged, Edward Heath failed to win a majority and Jeremy Thorpe refused to enter a coalition with him.  In 2010, the Tories were in opposition, the LibDem vote rose slightly, David Cameron failed to gain a majority – and Nick Clegg took his party into coalition.

It is significant that sweeping LibDem gains haven’t tended to harm Labour.  In 1997, the party gained 25 seats, taking its total to 34.  In the same election, Tony Blair won a landslide.  He and Paddy Ashdown had crushed the Conservatives in a pincer movement.

The tumultuous effects of Brexit have resuscitated the LibDems and are reviving their prospects.  Coalition nearly killed them, at least at Westminster.  But the EU referendum has given them a new lease of life.  Once again, it is most evident in areas which otherwise return Conservative MPs or councils.

Out of their 14 MPs in England and Wales, all those elected as Liberal Democrats in 2017 had the Tories in second place.  In the local elections last spring, all their councils gained were in yellow/blue areas.  Their revival tends to be concentrated in areas in which they flourished between roughly the late Thatcher and late Cameron eras.

This is the context in which to viewed their latest shift on Brexit, the opportunities it is bringing them, and the defections it is gaining them.  The shift to revocation takes place in the context of their competiton with Labour.  The more red votes the party can squeeze in blue/yellow marginals, the more seats it is likely to win.

So as Labour gradually commits itself more explicitly to Remain, to be delivered through the medium of a second referendum, the more the LibDems must try to outflank it.  Junking the referendum and going straight for revocation is the obvious means of doing so.

The ploy carries risks for Jo Swinson’s party.  Revocation may play well in South-West London or university-type seats.  But it is hard to see how it will be a plus in Brexity South West of England.  Swinson seems to be going for broke in the Remain heartlands of 2016: the capital itself and what might loosely be called the greater South East.  Plus Scotland.

In her perfect world, the Liberal Democrats will sweep up London seats in which they have not been previously competitive.  Hence Chuka Umanna’s flight from Streatham towards the Cities of London and Westminster.  She may also be hoping to have a crack at Labour in some of its north London constituencies.  The prospect is agitating pro-EU Labour MPs such as Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry to push harder for Remain.

It is tempting to write off the Revocation policy.  After all, Swinson can only implement it herself with the Commons majority that she won’t win.  That clip of a prosperous-looking LibDem audience whooping it up for Guy Verhofstadt’s imperalist ravings won’t impress Revocation-sceptic centrist voters.

But the shift will have an effect on the conversation at Westminster.  Were Swinson to win that mythical majority, Revocation would be one thing: she would have won the right to implement it, fair and square.  But the policy will be quite another if Brexit doesn’t take place on October 31, and MPs begin to drift in its direction without a mandate.

That would be to flick a V-sign not only at 17 million Leave voters but the entire EU referendum result – with consequences for the stability of our already shaken politics that are potentially shattering.  Revocation in that context would be the real extremism, not No Deal, for which at least there is a mandate if necessary.

Swinson’s gambit may blow up.  It could just be that LiDem support in blue/red marginals collapses, handing the Conservatives new seats in the Midlands and North, and that these outnumber LibDem gains in the blue/yellow marginals.  Or that the Luciana Berger and Angela Smith defections to the party are the start of something bigger

Four-way politics in England and Wales complicates all these calculations, as does its equivalent north of the border: Swinson herself could lose her seat to the SNP, which took it from her 2015, before she won it back two years later.  Which reminds us that there will be more to any forthcoming general election than Brexit.

This should lead us to look at the LibDems in the round, as their conference continues today.  Coalition sobered them up, at least for a while, and provided some good Ministers: Steve Webb’s work with Iain Duncan Smith at Work and Pensions stands out.

But most of the stars of that era have either left the Commons or are leaving: Clegg, Webb, David Laws, Vince Cable.  Their successors look less impressive.  And the Tory defectors, Phillip Lee and Sam Gyimah, may not be in the Commons for much longer (and nor may the Labour ones, come to think of it.)

The LibDems have a core problem that they cannot shake off.  In local government, they may well revive further.  In the European elections, they can build on their second place won this year. In Scotland, they could conceivably govern as part of some rainbow coalition.  That is also possible in Wales, where they are currently weak.  Westminster is a different proposition.

For a lesson of the Cameron years is that first past the post sets the party up for punishment if it goes into coalition.  Doing so tends to have the effect of depressing smaller parties in any event, as Paddy Ashdown used to point out, regardless of the electoral system in question. But first past the post intensifies the effect.

Were the LibDems to go into coalition with the Conservatives again, their lefter-leaning voters would desert them.  The reverse would be true were they to go into coalition with Labour.  (The Lib/Lab pact scarcely helped the Liberals in 1979.)  In any event, a lot of LibDem support comes from protest voters.  In 2015, many of these decamped to UKIP, in defiance of any ideological consistency.

This suggests that the most durable option for the LibDems in any future hung Parliament would be confidence and supply.  It is almost impossible to imagine Swinson going into coalition with Jerermy Corbyn or Boris Johnson in any case.

No Ministerial cars; no red boxes.  No more posts as Deputy Prime Minister, or LibDem Ministers shaping government policy.  It is a grim fate for any ambitious politician to accept, but the LibDem mentality is different to that of Labour, as well as us Conservatives.  They are used to marginality, being squeezed – and the joys of irresponsible opposition. Brexit has changed much for them, but less than one might think.

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Henry Hill: GERS Day: Scottish Government’s own statistics punch fresh hole in the case for independence

Unionists pounce as Scottish Government data reveals huge deficit

This week has marked one of the big events in the constitutional debate calendar: GERS Day. This is when the Scottish Government publish the annual figures for ‘Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland’.

GERS – which, again, are compiled by the Scottish Government – at one point formed the basis of the SNP’s prospectus for independence. But these days they’re enough to whip the separatist movement into a frenzy.

Why? Because they reveal that the distribution of wealth around the UK creates a ‘Union dividend’ for every Scot worth almost £2,000 a year, calculated from the amount extra that Scotland receives in public expenditure versus what it generates in revenue.

They also show that Scotland is currently running a public account deficit seven times higher than that of the UK as a whole. Were it an independent country it would have amongst the highest in the EU, and the Scottish Government would face an unenviable choice between swingeing public service cuts or eye-watering tax rises – probably both. No wonder the Scottish Conservatives have accused Nicola Sturgeon of going into hiding.

Unionists have not been slow to jump on these figures: Kevin Hague is the man to follow for number crunching, but Sam Taylor of pro-Union group These Islands has also written up a handy explainer on the benefits of the UK common market for Reaction.

But although the latest GERS figures are undoubtedly a boon to unionists fighting off what might be the imminent prospect of another independence referendum, they do highlight a strategic weakness in the pro-UK case: that it is so dependent on cash transfers and other, rather mercenary benefits. What will they campaign of if (when?) Scotland becomes a net contributor, and is asked to fund fiscal transfers to other parts of the UK?

Electoral Commission trips up the push for a Scottish referendum

But the GERS figures weren’t the only snares to trip the campaign for a re-run of the 2014 plebiscite on independence this week. Two more were laid, this time by the Electoral Commission.

First, the Commission wrote to MSPs to tell them that it would need to assess the wording of the question in any referendum – even if the wording was identical to the previous one. This opens the door for them rejecting a ‘Yes/No’ question, which pro-UK campaigners insist unfairly benefited the independence campaign in 2014.

It could also mean that the question might be altered to refer to both what might be gained and what would be lost, again in line with the new standards set in 2016. The EU referendum wording (“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”) thus offered a more complete picture of the proposition than that on the ballot paper in Scotland two years previously (“Should Scotland be an independent country?”).

A more muscular approach to such questions by unionists is long overdue. David Cameron adopted a strategy of conceding to the SNP more than he needed to – on both the wording and timing of the referendum – in the hope that it would settle the issue. This was a mistake.

Further to its need to assess the wording, the Commission has also informed the Scottish Government that there ought to be nine months between the completion of any legislation to conduct another referendum and polling day. The Guardian reports that this could scotch proposals to hold another plebiscite next year – although the far bigger hurdle seems to be that the legislation has only been tabled in the Scottish Parliament, which has no authority to authorise one.

Corbyn doubles down on wooing separatists

Last week, this column covered how civil war has broken out inside the Labour Party after both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell appeared to rewrite the Opposition’s policy on Scottish independence and declared that they would not stand in the way of another vote.

One week on and, despite some apparent back-tracking on whether or not Labour would seek an arrangement with the SNP in the Commons, the issue hasn’t gone away. Indeed, not only has Corbyn doubled down on his willingness to allow another independence referendum, but ITV report him saying that he wouldn’t be a barrier to one in Wales, giving a shot of publicity and credibility to what remains a very marginal campaign in the Province.

Not coincidentally, the Express revealed that the Labour leadership were in talks with the SNP about collaborating against No Deal at Westminster. The SNP’s willingness to install Corbyn as caretaker Prime Minister has also given them a stick with which to beat the Liberal Democrats – one reason why I suggested this week that the Nationalists might be the real, and indeed only, winners of abortive attempts to set up an anti-Brexit ’emergency government’.

News in Brief:

  • Deep concern in SNP over prospect of cybernat party – The Times
  • Johnson accuses Brussels of jeopardising peace in Ulster – Daily Telegraph
  • Scottish Government failed to audit £500,000 paid to Salmond – Daily Record
  • Pro-UK group call for ‘truth commission’ to fact-check referendum campaigns – The Scotsman
  • PSNI call for ‘progress’ after republican bomb attempt – BBC
  • Tycoon lambasts Scottish Government over ‘expropriated’ shipyard – FT

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