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Showing posts with label Iain Macwhirter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iain Macwhirter. Show all posts

Monday, 9 February 2015

Wedding of the Year - the impending nuptials of Ed Miliband and the SNP

The National gets better by the day: in today’s edition, it excelled itself.

From its eye-catching, ‘Russian Roulette’ front cover through its news items to its articles, analysis and readers’ letters, it provided a wealth of information on key topics for committed supporters of Scotland’s independence – and hopefully many others as yet uncommitted – that helps to make them the driving force in the best informed electorate in the world, despite the efforts of the rest of the mainstream media to misinform and mislead them.

And of course, there’s the regular Monday delight – the Greg Moodie cartoon, in my view one his very best to date. (My cartoon consumption goes back to the 1940s and includes the American funnies, sent to me by relatives in the U.S., and I was viewing the great newspaper political cartoonists from early childhood.) This one had a real story to tell, with the word balloons driving the riveting, graphic wedding narrative – the impending nuptials of Ed and the SNP.

The second part of Alasdair Gray’s series, titled Towards Democracy contained - among his musings on explosions in munitions depots  and the nuclear risk, the following gem -

Everyone wants to live as far from such things as possible, so the London Government has placed the most dangerous in Scotland.”

He also observes that “British and North American armed forces have been bombing and blighting foreigners in wars where a minority of British and U.S.A soldiers died, and this caused no explosions in their homelands before a suicidal guerrilla group destroyed the New York World Trade Centre.”

But perhaps Alasdair’s most interesting proposition was that Alex Salmond adopted the high-risk strategy of moving the SNP towards NATO membership – which almost split the party in 2012 – to stop Obama, the U.S.A. and its supporters from “directing a global blast against Scottish independence before the referendum.”

Alasdair Gray advances the idea that this was in fact counter-productive -

As a result, President Obama spoke as gently against it as the Pope. I believe the strong blast Salmond feared may have given the Yes campaign a clear majority, because a lot of Scots were getting tired of being told they could not rule themselves ..”

Well, we’ll never know – but I, for one, think Alasdair Gray may be right. But in this, as in so many other vital, pivotal judgments, e.g. the currency question, I don’t envy Alex Salmond the agonising choices he had to make. Characteristically, he made them bravely, decisively and without equivocation, not as a gambler, but as the statesman he was - and is.

Alasdair is in no doubt, and has a view on what must be done -

NATO will keep its bases in Scotland no matter how much an independent Scotland protests, but that is no reason the SNP conference should not return to its former policy of total nuclear disarmament.”  and “Alex Salmond’s amendment is less than three years old, and can be scrapped.”

However, for me, the most insightful and immediately relevant article in this fine National issue was George Kerevan’sTime to face up to reality about the role SNP MPs will play post-election”. Kerevan is one of the true political thinkers in the SNP camp, and unlike many Scottish journalists, is capable of getting right down to the structural heart of complex political issues that others shy away from.

Anyone who wants to understand the complexities of the Westminster situation Nicola Sturgeon and the new bloc of SNP MPs will face if they are returned in the numbers the polls suggest must read this article - and then read it again.

In the maze of options, from coalition (currently ruled out) to confidence and supply deals (not “supply and demand” deals as one journalist suggested elsewhere!) the voting behaviours of an SNP/Plaid/Green bloc will demand fine judgements, as Kerevan’s keen eye detects.

Yesterday, Iain Macwhirter, in an excellent Sunday Herald article In this era of Coalition, the political map has turned yellow addressed similar questions.  But he used the language of negotiation  (a language most journalists should take care to avoid, since they rarely have any understanding of the dynamics of negotiation) to describe the dilemmas facing the SNP Westminster bloc.

In examining the choices the new SNP bloc will face, the choices that Nicola will have to mastermind – having ruled out the possibility that Alex Salmond “could become the back-seat driver from hell”, he adopts what I believe to be a false premise, namely that Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out “playing politics with the Tories

Leaving aside the fact that the SNP minority government of 2007-2011 only survived because Alex Salmond deftly played politics with the Tories to get his budgets through, what Nicola has ruled out – as I understand it – is entering into coalition or any confidence and supply-type arrangement with the Tories. To do either would clearly be political suicide for the SNP in Scotland.

But this cannot be extrapolated into saying that the SNP would never vote with the Tories on any issue. (If Nicola said this, I missed it!) One only has to illustrate by extremes, e.g. what if the Tories agreed to vote against the upgrading of Trident against a Miliband Government determined to do it?

Although such a scenario  stretches the bounds of probability, it does illustrate that distaste for the Tories cannot overwhelm common political sense, where there are key voting issues on which consensus exists. Such a distaste for the SNP from 2007 to date led the Scottish Labour group in Holyrood into utter folly, directly contributing to the decline of their party.

So when Iain Macwhirter says of voting with Tories that “Remarkably, the SNP has chosen not to do so and make clear that the only party it will play politics with is Labour” I believe him to be factually wrong.  He goes on to say that -

Sturgeon has thus handed an extraordinary advantage to Ed Miliband. He knows that the SNP will go into post-election negotiations with with precisely zero negotiating clout

I must disagree totally with this verdict of a journalist, Iain Macwhirter, for whom I have the highest admiration and respect. Politicians, lawyers (Nicola is both!) and journalists rarely have even a rudimentary understanding of negotiation, but Nicola Sturgeon is a unique politician, as is her mentor and close colleague and friend, Alex Salmond – and both, although rooted in fundamental political principles, are supreme pragmatists.

They will deal – when and how they need to deal – when the situation demands it, in the over-arching interests of Scotland and the Scottish people.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The role of negotiation in Scotland’s progress towards independence

It rarely surprises a professional negotiator when politicians and media professionals betray their ignorance of the processes of negotiation – after all, professionals in many fields – the law,  diplomacy, industry and commerce - where one might expect some level of negotiating skill, or at least a basic understanding of the principles to be a prerequisite of effective performance seem to manage to function with this gaping hole in their skills set.

This happens often because they confuse others techniques – persuasion, selling, joint problem solving, debating skills, etc. – with negotiation. When there is some negotiating understanding, it is at the most rudimentary level, a kind of antiques fair bargain hunting haggling. It goes without saying that understanding of negotiating strategy and structures is usually totally absent.

The Scotland, Barroso and the EU debacle is a case in point. Much has been made by unionist critics of the SNP’s constant assertion that Scotland would remain a member of the EU, now qualified – as they see it – by Nicola Sturgeon’s recent statement that negotiations would take place. The Better Together take on this, aided by the failure of various news programmes and interviewers to have done even the most basic homework on the issue, is that acknowledgment that negotiations would take place is a volte face and evidence that the original assertions were without foundation. This flawed analysis is compounded by their repeated assertion that negotiation means acceptance that failure to reach agreement would mean Scotland out of the EU.

A few facts -

Scotland is currently an EU member as part of the UK's membership.

After a YES vote in 2014, Scotland would still be a member of the EU since it would still be part of the UK. The referendum vote does not in itself bring about Scotland’s independence – it simply opens the door to negotiations with the UK to bring about independence, backed by the mandate of the Scottish people. The UK will remain until those negotiations are completed (2016 at the earliest.)

A YES vote in 2016, as well as triggering negotiations with the UK government, would also set in motion parallel negotiations with the EU (as well as many other negotiating interfaces with countries and organisations affected by Scotland’s imminent independence).

During these negotiations, Scotland would still be part of the UK and part of the EU under its UK membership.

At a point in time when the crucial negotiating agenda has been successfully addressed, although many other items would remain under discussion for years, Scotland’s independence will be formally confirmed, it will become an independent nation state and the new state of rUK will be formed by default.

rUK will also be compelled to enter into parallel negotiations on its EU membership at least from Scotland’s independence day, although the likelihood is that the UK would have opened parallel negotiations from the date of the YES vote in the Scottish referendum.

Let’s nail the nonsense about failure of negotiations meaning that breakdown would occur and Scotland would be out of the EU …

Broadly, negotiations between parties can by classified as one of five types -

1. Negotiation between independent parties to reach a specific limited, one-off agreement

2. Negotiation between independent parties to create a new relationship for a limited period

3. Negotiations between independent parties to create a new, ongoing open-ended relationship

4. Negotiation between independent parties in an attempt to redefine the terms of an existing relationship

5. Negotiation between parties to bring an existing relationship to an end.

(Another broad distinction can be made in dispute negotiations, that of conflict of right and conflict of interest, that is a dispute over claimed existing rights or an attempt to establish new rights. For example, a dispute over alleged breach of contract is a conflict of right, and a dispute over an attempt to redefine the terms and conditions of a contract e.g. a wage increase, is a conflict of interest.)

The first two types above characterise most commercial negotiations – one-off deals, deals delivered over time, short-term employment contracts, etc.

The last three are the ones that concern us in relations to Scotland’s independence. The Act of Union was type 3, the negotiations over the terms of Scotland’s EU membership will be type 4, and the negotiations over Scotland’s independence will be type 5.

With regard to the EU, type 4 is the one that interests us - negotiation between independent parties in an attempt to redefine the terms of an existing relationship.

LOCKED RELATIONSHIPS

Many type 4 negotiations can be described as locked relationships from a negotiating perspective, that is to say, relationships that are expected to continue over time, and where negotiations that result in deadlock or failure to agree do not threaten the ultimate continuity of the relationship.

For example, most successful marriages – and relationships - have their share of disputes and their negotiations over the years, but always against the expected continuation of the marriage. The annual terms and conditions negotiations in large employers and local government take place against the base assumption that however difficult and protracted the negotiations, however serious the industrial action that may result from failure to agree, agreement will ultimately be reached, and no one seriously doubts that the relationship will continue.

(The UK’s often rocky relationship with the EU may be described as a locked relationship over the decades, as Scotland’s relationship with the UK under the Union has been for over three centuries. In fact, the process leading to devolution and subsequent modifications to the devolution settlement can be seen as negotiation in a locked relationship.)

The negotiations over the ultimate terms of an independent Scotland’s EU membership will be conducted while Scotland is still part of the UK and an EU member, and will be in a locked relationship context.

No serious observer or commentator envisages an EU without Scotland in membership, nor can anyone seriously believe that negotiating difficulties and disagreements could result in an independent Scotland being denied membership.

The EU is in a constant state of negotiation with its member states, often on hotly contested topics. Only in the case of the UK’s confused and contradictory relationship with its EU membership, driven largely by a deeply divided Tory party, has there been any real threat of breakdown of the relationship leading to exit.

However, the negotiations between Scotland the the UK government after a YES vote will be of type 5 - negotiation between parties to bring an existing relationship to an end.

Whether the negotiations are successful or they fail, the end result will be the same – the exit of Scotland from the United Kingdom. I am confident they will succeed, and that we will enter into a new and more productive relationship with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and of course Europe, Scandinavia and the world.

POSTSCRIPT

One of the relatively few commentators to talk calm, good sense on this issue throughout has been Iain MacWhirter. Here is his Newsnicht contribution, a voice of sanity and reason after the political posturing by the Better Together front men and women.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Press, the FM and Murdoch

A few weeks ago I thought I detected a new dawn of balanced comment and objectivity in the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. I dismissed the sceptics on the nationalist side who questioned the durability of such a shift as ungenerous. If there are words to be eaten, I’m eating them over the last week in the press.

The panting eagerness with which the Scottish unionist print media – that is to say, all of them - seized upon what they saw as an opportunity to attack the man they fear will deliver Scotland’s independence was something to behold. A crumb of information from the Leveson Enquiry table was enough to set them scrabbling on the floor, ignoring the feast above them being consumed by the UK press and media – a scandal that struck at the very heart of the Cameron Coalition.

Kate Higgins has made trenchant comments on this, and her blog says it all -

Burdzeyeview - Scottish Labour grubbing ...

I expected the unionist press pack and Johann Lamont to seize on this. What I did not expect was that respected, normally objective and in some cases independence-supporting commentators would also join the pack, in an attempt to take a  high moral tone over the devil incarnate, Murdoch, while ignoring completely the realities of the present economic situation, the Scottish unemployment rate, the despair of the young unemployed, and the pragmatism required of senior politicians when faced with this most fundamental of problems.

Civic Scotland has gone to sleep

Salmond, Murdoch and crony capitalism

Iain Macwhirter loses cool on BBC

In fairness, Gerry Hassan did address big economic questions the following day Beginnings of an alternative Scotland and Gerry is a big thinker and paints on a broad canvas.

But to make the big changes tomorrow, a country has to survive today, and Scotland is fortunate in having a First Minister who combines pragmatism on the demands of quotidian survival with a big vision for Scotland.

A look across the Atlantic shows that an intellectual like Obama, with the first real vision for America in a long time, had to come to terms with the realities of power, influence and the survival of the US economy.

POSTSCRIPT

I had planned a larger blog on ‘Scotland Rebuilt’, but it will have to wait till tomorrow – or later.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Polls and Polls - and that Independence thing …

Take your pick of the polls today. That sounds like the first line of a jolly Victorian music hall song -

Take you pick of the polls today, take your pick of the polls

Some say up and some say down, but the lead goes rolling on

SOS (that’s not a panic message from a sinking unionist ship, but the name of a newspaper, Scotland on Sunday) carries a little headline in the right-hand column of the front page - Labour slashes SNP lead in election. The pale fluid that passes for blood in Iain Gray’s veins gives a little surge, but then slows down again as the third paragraph hits the reef of reality with the chilling words

 Alex Salmond remains on course to beat his main opponent …

But the SOS poll gives a crumb of comfort to Labour, and reminds the SNP of what they already know - the game ain’t over till the polls close, on this fateful Thursday for the Scottish people.

The Progressive Scottish Opinion/Mail on Sunday poll shows the changes (bracketed) from the same poll early in March at the start of the election campaign

Constituency
SNP: 45% (+8)
Lab: 35% (-8)
Con: 10% (-1)
Lib: 6% (+1)

List
SNP: 41% (+4)
Lab: 36% (-8)
Con: 8% (-3)
Lib: 5% (+1)
Gre: 6% (+2)


Seats projection:
SNP: 62
Lab: 51
Con: 8
Lib: 5
Gre: 3

THE INDEPENDENCE THING

Columnists over the last week have been liberal - if that is the right word - with their advice to Iain Gray as to how he might wrest victory from the jaws of defeat, advice that has ranged from the considered but misconceived (Kenny Farquarson) to the realpolitik expedient populist (John McTernan) - advice which, if taken, will infinitely compound Labour’s misery.

Much of it has centred on what unionist believe is the SNP’s Achilles Heel - that independence thing. And today, in the Sunday Herald, Iain Macwhirter leaps into the maelstrom, scorning the dangers, apparently unconcerned by the fate of his two colleagues, and invokes the spirit of Wendy Alexander on the independence question.

He offers a lifeline to Iain Gray if “he dares to take some bold, inspiring steps as the election nears”, the main one being to challenge Alex Salmond to call a referendum, with the inspiring Alexandrian words “Bring it on …” ringing in his ears. This will “reboot the entire election campaign … as the SNP … say what they actually mean about independence. Flags and armies? The euro? NATO? Scottish passports? Customs posts?”.

Oh, Iain - what possessed you to pen this stuff? Leaving aside the fact that the SNP have already made their intentions clear on all of these topics, do you really think Iain Gray and his team, incapable of even marshalling a few hard statistics on knife crime without bringing the derision of the numerate down upon their heads, have got the political intelligence to even begin to address such issues in the three campaigning days left?

Let me wearily set out the facts on that independence thing yet again, aware that I am talking to a man I considered as one of Scotland’s most incisive and objective political commentators - until today …

The Scottish National Party’s raison d'être is the independence of the Scottish nation by the free democratic choice of the people of Scotland, a choice that will be offered to them during the life of the next Scottish Parliament, the electorate and May the 5th permitting.

Alex Salmond’s position on that is as clear today as it was at the beginning of this election campaign, and for a long time before that. When will he call for a referendum? When he judges the time to be right for the Scottish people to be given the opportunity to make their choice within the life of the next Parliament.

Let’s move from those clear waters into the muddy pool that is the unionist parties’ collective mind, and examine the multiple contradictions in their approach, starting with about the only two things that are clear to them -

1. They don’t want independence.

2. They don’t want the Scottish people to have the opportunity to express their democratic view on whether or not they want independence in a referendum.

From what should be these two Forsythian (the wee Laird of Drumlean) tablets of dogma, they then wander off in all directions, eventually moving in ever-decreasing circles, encouraged by journalists such as the three above, eventually flying up a number of orifices into their own guts.

The tortured ‘logic’ that flow from the above goes something like this -

The best way to avoid independence is to stop an SNP government being elected, but if they are elected, as seems likely, to ensure that they don’t have enough seats to table a bill requesting a referendum, and which the combined unionist opposition could block. But if they might just get enough seats to do this, to ensure that a referendum is declared quickly, before they can demonstrate yet more effective government in Scotland, hopefully returning a NO vote (based on the present polls of voting intentions), and taking the independence question off the table ‘for a generation’.

The above is bad enough, and cynical enough in itself - a dying hegemony desperately trying to halt a people’s wish to determine their future - but what follows from it descends into farce, a kind of Carry on UK up the Khyber production.

To achieve this, the Farquarson/McTernan/Macwhirter Plan is to use the last three days of a floundering, failing Labour campaign to demand that Alex Salmond call a referendum - right now, Alex - this very minute! Gie us a date, Alex - go on, gie us a date! We dare you! Ya Boo, big fearty - gies a date noo!

This slides over the fact that Iain Gray spent the last couple of years telling the First Minister that a referendum would be an unwarranted deflection from the serious business of managing the appalling economic crisis created by Iain Gray’s UK governing Labour Party when in power, and now being compounded by the incompetent, quarrelling, collapsing ConLib coalition.

Alex Salmond, a statesman and a master tactician, has a wide range of effective responses to this, and with his usual sure touch, will select the best one.

The one I would love to see, just for the sheer delight of watching the response to it, would be to calmly ignore the playground taunting. This would produce the following risible scenario -

Iain Gray: (with Bluetooth link to advice from The Three Journalist Stooges) See ! he’s feart, he’s feart! We say he’s secretly planning UDI, and will declare independence on May 6th, with a simultaneous erection of border posts, withdrawal from NATO, the waving of the Saltire and the standing down of the army.

But he can’t do that, because Parliament would have to approve a bill to request a referendum, and that would go the Westminster - and they widnae let him dae it! Naw, they widnae …

SANE JOURNALIST IN THE AUDIENCE (probably Angus Macleod) Why then are you asking him to “bring it on” and demanding a referendum, Mr. Gray?

Iain Gray: (after long pause to listen to Bluetooth Trio) Because he widnae win it! And he’s hiding the fact he wants independence …

Sane journalist: But he’s the Leader of the SNP, committed to independence, and he has said he will request a referendum within the life of the Parliament, Mr. Gray? Do you believe him?

Iain Gray: Naw, I don’t - he disnae really want independence. And I cannae wait - I want it right now, so he cannae have it. Anyway, a referendum would be a distraction from managing the economic crisis which Labour created … (pause for Bluetooth advice)  … which the global ConLib bankers created and which Gordon Brown had nothing to do with. And I want that distraction right now! Gie’s is a referendum, Mr. Salmond - you know you want it!

Sane journalist: What if he agreed to your request and set a provisional date for say, 2014?

Iain Gray: What? 2014? The Scottish people cannae wait that long for independence! (more Bluetooth) What I mean is - if he waited that long, they might vote in favour of independence. But if we have it right now - today, or even next week, they widnae … But even if they did, we’d find a way to stitch up the result, like we did the last time. They’re no gonnae get it, OK? Anyway, he disnae want independence - he’s feart, and we’re determined to show that he is.

Sane journalist: If he doesn’t really want independence, he’s on your side surely, Mr. Gray? Don’t you think there are  logical inconsistencies in your argument?

Iain Gray: You would do well to emulate your colleagues, Angus - they’re as logically inconsistent as me … (plaintive aside to aide   That didnae come oot, right, Andy …)

Wendy Alexander, at rear of crowd, in dark glasses and a big hat: Oh, Jesus Christ …