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Showing posts with label independence negotiations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label independence negotiations. Show all posts

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Truth and transparency in politics – unrealisable ideals or practical necessities?

JESUS: To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

PONTIUS PILATE: What is truth?

I am an atheist, and do not recognise the Bible as the word of God, nor as an objective historical account, but I do recognise it, in its many translations, especially the King James version, as a great work of literature, of poetry, one containing deep insights into human nature and behaviour.

Like most men, I lost my idealised view of  politics and politicians early in life, recognising that the ‘art of the possible’ involved compromise, and compromise sometimes involves avoiding tight definitions if the agreement is to hold across divergent viewpoints.

For example, in diplomacy and in negotiation, ambiguity is sometimes necessary; indeed on occasion – say, in collective agreements between management and union - it is the essence of an agreement clause that it be subject to more than one interpretation, which is the antithesis of legally drafted agreements. This is sometime called the “agree fuzzy now, fight detail later if necessary …” approach. So like Pontius Pilate, politicians only ask the question What is Truth? rhetorically, and don’t expect an answer.

The first duty of a politician is to gain power, the pre-requisite of any political programme, however high-minded. But in a democracy, a politician with any real values must constantly test expedient actions against two fundamental questions -

Does the greatest good for the greatest number outweigh the rights of the few or the individual?

Does the end justify the means?

Professors of ethics will tease you with many ethical dilemmas relating to these questions. Suffice to say, there is no absolute answer to either of them. To both, I say sometimes the answer is yes, dependent on circumstances and sometime the answer is an absolute no – for me, anyway.

The possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction provides my absolutes and I say that to possess them is absolutely wrong and to contemplate their use or to use them is absolutely wrong. I also say that it is at best naive, and at worst hypocritical to suggest that they can be possessed with no intent to use them, and without taking appalling, unacceptable risks.

There are sharply divided views on whether the United States of America and Harry Truman were right in their decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, or whether it was a crime against humanity, indefensible against any ethical standards. (I say ethical and not religious standards, because many ministers of religion then and now have defended the use of nuclear weapons.)

Their use then was justified by America by saying YES to both of the questions above. The only mitigation I can suggest for Truman is that it was the first use of nuclear weapons, no one knew for certain what their destructive power really was until that moment, no other country had them, so a nuclear exchange leading to Armageddon could not have resulted, and the destructive power, awesome and terrible though it was, was as nothing to what can be delivered today by a single Trident submarine.

Scotland will soon be facing great choices in its march towards what I hope will be its independence as a nation – a non-nuclear nation. If that great goal is achieved, the credit will be substantially the SNP’s – the great progress towards it could not have been achieved achieved without them, and without the belief, commitment and unremitting hard work over decades of many people with a great ideal. The campaign for independence is now being led by the SNP but with the involvement of  many other groups and parties, and groupings within the three major parties.

But there is now a worm in the SNP apple and that worm is NATO. NATO is a nuclear alliance, committed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and the dominant countries within it will brook no interference from the member countries within NATO with non-nuclear policies.

When the critical decision must be made on the first use of nuclear weapons since 1945, NATO will not seek the permission of the member countries in a democratic vote, nor will they seek the endorsement of the people or the UN. The dominant nuclear powers in NATO will act militarily and unilaterally to unleash the whirlwind – that is the stark, realpolitik.

If a nuclear strike is launched, every member of NATO will be culpable, whether they endorsed it or not.

For an independent Scotland to seek membership – or a continuation of present UK membership – of NATO is wrong and dangerous. Attempting to hide behind Norway’s stance and that of other non-nuclear NATO members is wrong because they are wrong to be members, and because membership of a nuclear alliance is incompatible, any way you slice it, with a non-nuclear stance. The current status of Scotland as the home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is also fundamentally different from any other NATO member country.

In recent months, the SNP has failed in transparency over their defence policy and failed in transparency over the intentions of the leadership in relation to NATO. They have allowed speculation to rage unchecked from their opponents, and they have not only failed to inform their supporters of their true intentions, they have actively misled them by pretending that no game was afoot, leaving many members – not me – defending the indefensible.

I intend to blog in detail on this, with facts and detail, but today, I had to say this to get it off my chest. But maybe all is not lost …

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Information, negotiation, the referendum and an independent Scotland

The UK Government and the Ministry of Defence have no contingency plans for the loss of their Scottish nuclear bases after independence because they don’t believe it’s going to happen – they don’t believe there will be a YES vote in the autumn of 2014. This has been stated by UK government ministers, including Nick Harvey. They have no contingency plan for a possibility that could rock the very foundations of UK defence policy, calling the very existence of a UK nuclear deterrent into question, not to mention the entire defence budget.

This extraordinary posture can only have been arrived at by believing opinion polls, which indicate many things to many people, most of them flatly contradictory of each other. Have worked for and with global companies for a large part of my life, I can confidently say that any CEO, Board or senior management group that considered evidence showing  that it would only require a change of around 15 to 20 per cent in the probabilities to bring about a radical change that would nullify current key plans, budgets and strategic objectives, and did not have a contingency plan to deal with it would be regarded as incompetent, if not deluded.

Can I gently remind them that in late 2010, opinion polls showed that Labour was comfortably ahead and set to win the Scottish Parliamentary elections, and the odds being offered by major bookmakers reflected this. A few months later, the Scottish National Party, the party of independence for Scotland, was re-elected for a second term with a massive, unprecedented majority, something regard as impossible under the d’Hondt system of proportional representation.

The referendum that the UK Government and the MOD are so blithely confident will result in a NO vote to independence is more than two years away, in a time of major financial uncertainty and global confusion, with a decidedly shaky Coalition Government reeling from crisis to crisis day after day.

In the midst of this, unionist politicians and, it has to be said, profoundly misguided media commentators and pundits are criticising the Scottish Government and the SNP for not attempting to “seek clarification” from the UK Government, the Treasury, the MOD, the Scottish Office and Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all on matters such as the currency, a sterling zone, the status of an independent Scotland on the Monetary Policy Committee, the share of the national debt, the disposition of the armed forces, the sharing of assets, etc. Indeed, commentators with furrowed brows, not to mention opposition leaders in Holyrood are asking why Alex Salmond and his ministers have not entered into negotiations over these matters with these various UK bodies.

How in God’s name do they expect negotiations to commence with a government that is

in denial over the very possibility of Scottish independence

is implacably hostile to the very idea of Scottish independence


is actively campaigning against it?

Real negotiations can only commence against a mandate, and that mandate will come only after the 2014 referendum. Until then, the Scottish Government can only set out, in as much detail as it can access, what its objectives, plans and policies are. By definition, it will not have all the facts, because objective facts are being denied to it, or are being politicised and wilfully distorted.

It can reach no agreements, not even provisional ones, on any matter that involves acceptance by the UK Government of the possibility of Scottish independence and a YES vote.

Some measure of objectivity is being achieved by the Lords Committee under Lord McGregor. The Scottish Affairs Select Committee under Ian Davidson is a stale joke, reflected in its use of the word Separation in the title of its current enquiry. It is in fact the front end of the Coalition of Scottish Labour, Tories and LibDems against the Independence of Scotland, a body that will live for ever in the the annals of contempt in Scottish history.

18 Jun Peter Curran Peter Curran@moridura

The idea that we must know everything, every last detail, about Scotland after independence is unionist nonsense. We're recreating a nation!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Alistair Darling – naive, disingenuous, or just woefully unprepared for Isabel Fraser?

Alistair Darling has been an MP for 25 years. He served in the Labour Cabinet continuously from 1997 to 2010, and was Chancellor of the Exchequer for three years. Among the other post he has held are Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Sec. of State for Work and Pensions, Sec. of State for Transport, Sec. of State for Scotland and Sec. of State for Trade and Industry.

He is widely touted to lead the Campaign to Stop Scotland Becoming Independent, although he would prefer to call it Keep Scotland in Britain. (Since Britain has been an island for between 180,000 to 450,000 years, short of a drainage and infill plan for the English Channel, Scotland will remain part of Britain.) The campaign is, of course the campaign, to Keep Scotland in the UK, a political, not a geographical entity.

Given Darling’s curriculum vitae, one would expect him to be in command of his brief for an appearance on the Sunday Politics Scotland, a hugely influential news programme at this critical juncture in UK politics, not to mention European politics. Additionally, he was facing the programme anchor, Isabel Fraser, perhaps the most formidably effective political interviewer Scotland has produced, with a trained legal mind and forensic interviewing skills.

Watching his performance yesterday with increasing incredulity, I concluded that there were only three possible explanations for his lamentable performance -

1. He was politically naive. I think this can be safely rejected, except perhaps in the arcane area of negotiation, which politicians, unless they have a diplomatic background, are usually inept.

2. He was disingenuous. This seems the most likely partial explanation, namely, that he had been given (by who?) a brief to block questions about just what the hell David Cameron, his boss in the Campaign to Stop Scotland Becoming Independent - disorientated, full of Quaker Oats and full of emotional **** – meant when he delivered his jam-tomorrow ultimatum to the Scottish electorate – Vote No to your country’s independence and we might just give you some unspecified additional powers.

3. He was woefully unprepared. Whatever his state of mind or brief (1 and 2 above), Darling was undoubtedly woefully unprepared for the interview, both in factual terms, in strategic and tactical terms and above all in behavioural terms. (Half an hour with a bog-standard presentational skills consultant before the interview would have mitigated the disastrous consequences.)


Alistair Darling opened with what became his broken record theme, one that echoed the Prime Minister – the question “Are we staying in the United Kingdom or are we leaving” must be answered by a referendum “- sooner rather than later -” and must be answered first, then you decide what the consequences are. He also stated that tax raising powers had to be fundamental in any further devolution of powers.

Isabel Fraser: If what you are seeking is clarity in the debate, then isn’t it entirely reasonable that voters go into this referendum debate knowing exactly what you are proposing because here, today, you’re saying we could have more tax powers, they could be income tax powers …  I mean, within that, before we just leave that concept – are you talking actually about the rate of income tax or the threshold? Could we vary the threshold? And equally, if we have income tax powers, there's no point in having that if you want to be fiscally coherent unless you have borrowing powers which allow you to offset any fall in income tax revenue?

Alistair Darling: You could – but I mean, look -

Isabel Fraser: Are you saying all of that is up for discussion?

 Alistair Darling: Look, I don’t think anybody would argue that the status quo – what we have at the moment, erm – is satisfactory. It was fine in 1998. Things have moved on – the constitution is always something you need to look and see what’s best. But the first question you’ve got to ask before you get on top any change at all, is – Are we staying in the UK – or – are we going to leave? If we’re going to leave, a whole lot of other questions then arise: if we’re going to stay, then we can look at what further we need to do.

But I honestly cannot see for the life of me why we’ve got to wait till 2014 before we can actually answer that question. Why don’t we get on with it – we could easily have this referendum –eh – next year and decide that and then decide if – if we’re going to stay, then let’s look at what more we can devolve – what more powers the Scottish Parliament can have  - and I think, y’know – most people, I mean, y’know – David Cameron – in actually a welcome step for the Conservatives has said – look – he’s moved from the position of being – y’know – the traditional Tory position of being outrightly against any change to that there could well be change – and equally on the nationalist side … You know, if they’re going to leave the United Kingdom, then let’s look at some of the consequences of that …

Having just transcribed this rambling statement –which confirmed in spades my initial impression of it in the broadcast – I look again with incredulity at Darling’s c.v. above. I would have expected such fractured syntax and confusion of ideas from John Prescott, but from a former Chancellor of the Exchequer? Note the transition from ‘we’ when initially talking about the referendum decision to ‘they’, as in “You know, if they’re going to leave the United Kingdom ..” That confusion of identity is going to dog the Campaign to Stop Scotland Becoming Independent throughout. The Scottish electorate know who they are – the unionist coalition do not.

But back to the interview …

Isabel Fraser: But Mr. Darling, it would seem that what you’re proposing is a one-sided debate. I mean – why do we have to wait for the alternative? This is going to be the most important vote in 300 years of Scottish history. What you’re saying is – trust us, and we will deliver. You’re requiring this enormous leap of faith. Why, if you accept now the status quo is no longer an option, why not spell out clearly what the alternatives are so the people can make an informed judgement about whether we stay within the United Kingdom – or not?

Alistair Darling: Well, isn’t the first question you have to ask is – Are you staying or are you going?

Isabel Fraser: But people are already asking the other question. Is the fact that you’re not raising the possibility of further powers a concession that actually Labour in Scotland have been completely out of the game on this – you are so far behind the curve? Why don’t you seize the initiative and outline a coherent and positive case where people can make a judgement about whether what you’re proposing is what they want or not?

Alistair Darling: Well, actually you know – if you look at, erm – in the pipeline there are changes being made – the Calman Commission, and so on, which we set in train, but what – what, what I do think is that the way in which you address the question of whether we’re staying in the UK or whether we’re leaving is – is got to be a positive case, it’s got to be what is best for Scotland: and my answer to that question is – the Scotland will derive huge benefits from the strength of the UK, just as the UK has huge strengths about – eh, through being in the European Union. You’re part of a bigger – eh – country, you’re part of something that’s much stronger, that benefits can flow from that …

Now – the first question you’ve got to ask so far as the current debate is going on is – are we staying in the United Kingdom or are we leaving? Now, we could easily have that question decided far, far sooner than Alex Salmond wants. I understand why he wants to put it off – because he doesn’t think he can win at the moment. We need to answer that question now, and then once you’ve decided that,  then you decide – if you’re staying – well, what more, eh, powers does, eh, the Scottish Parliament need – that is best for Scotland. If you’re leaving, then – you know, you then have to ask all sorts of difficult question, to which at the moment, there are pretty vague answers. You need to get that discussion now!

Isabel Fraser: If, as you want, Scotland says no to independence, what kind of political leverage do you really imagine Scotland would have in going to Westminster and asking for more powers after a No vote in Scotland? It would have no leverage at all.

Alistair Darling: No, it – I think it would – because there is – you know, in a way that, eh, would have been unimaginable even a year ago – I think there is a consensus amongst all the political parties, and more importantly in some ways amongst Scotland itself, and, y’know, other parts of the UK that, that, that the settlement reached in 1998 – eh is – is not what we want at the moment – we need to move on from that. People fully understand that – and of course there’s going to be a lot of debate as to what you devolve or what you don’t, y’know, and what the arrangements might be … But the first question – I’m sorry to keep going – coming back to this is that – I understand fully well the nationalists don’t want – eh – they want to another option on the table to sort of muddy the waters here. Let’s answer the question – Are we staying or are we going? Once you’ve answered that question then, you know – then there does need to be, y’know, an immediate debate about what further powers the Scottish Parliament needs, and so on. 

And remember whilst all this is going on, an awful lot of people in – in Scotland are facing losing their jobs, who are worried about their children or their grandchildren – and so on … y’know, its the economy, that’s the thing that actually matters – these are the big questions. But let’s get this constitutional question decided one and for all -  it’s being raised now – let’s put it to the people and let the people decide, and then you know, the politicians have to get on with it And – and do what they what they need to do as quickly as they can.

Isabel Fraser: So, Mr. Darling, what message does Johann Lamont as leader of Scottish Labour have to give to the Labour conference in a few weeks, then? Fairly briefly, if you don’t mind – and clearly. What’s the message she has to get out?

Alistair Darling: Well, I think the message is very clear  - it’s got to be about – y’know, it’s about all the difference a Labour administration can make at the local authorities which are coming up for election in May – the difference that the Scottish Parliament already have in relation to training, in relation to education, in relation to our universities and so on. You know, this is a very powerful message – Labour can make a difference. and on the constitution, y’know – yes, we have moved – and yeah, we needed to move. Eh, but on the fundamental, question, we are much, much stronger – we will be a far better nation, eh, within the United Kingdom than we would by breaking ourselves apart from that. It is a very powerful message, and I’m quite sure she’ll make it.

Isabel Fraser: Alistair Darling, thank you very much indeed for that.

MY VIEW: Anyone who thinks Alistair Darling would be the right person to lead the Unionist campaign after this showing needs to think again. Coherence and charisma were notable by their absence from this  performance.


I can offer a negotiator’s summary of the situation  -

There is going to be a referendum in 2014 on Scotland’s independence. It cannot be stopped by the UK Government without risking a political upheaval, and they have, de facto, accepted this.

The UK don’t want Scotland to leave the UK.

The UK didn’t want a referendum at all, but since there will be one, they want it as fast as possible, with one question only.

The Scottish Government intend to hold a referendum in 2014 on Scotland’s independence. The SNP as a party want full independence, but opinion polls indicate that a substantial number of the Scottish electorate (and a body called Civic Scotland) want greater powers for Scotland but want to remain in the UK.

The Scottish Government, as the government of all the people of Scotland, are obliged  to ascertain what questions and what options the electorate want to see on the referendum ballot paper. This will be determined by a large-scale consultation, now underway.

No unionist (UK) political party has set out their views of what extra powers – if any- they envisage being granted, and no comprehensive arguments for remaining in the UK, other than vague emotional ones, coupled with the assertion that Scotland is better in than out, have been offered.

The UK Prime Minister has offered only tentative commitment to as yet unspecified powers, but only if Scotland votes no in the referendum on a singe YES/NO question to independence.

No agreement exists between the UK and the Scottish governments on -

1. The timing of the referendum.

2. Its legality.

3. The wording of the independence question.

4. Additional question on the ballot paper.

5. Votes for 16 and 17 year olds.

Since the referendum is a consultative referendum, a YES vote to independence would be followed by negotiations on the mechanics of implementing independence.


There are two negotiations in this situation, one of which has already started – which I will call the pre-referendum negotiation – and one which will start after the referendum result is known, which I will call the post-referendum negotiation.

The pre-referendum negotiation will be a prime determinant of the referendum negotiation, which negotiators sometimes call the context and agenda negotiation. It is critical from a power dynamics situation, since failure to reach agreement at this stage can result in unilateral action by one or both parties.

Political negotiations take place in a very different context to commercial negotiations because of the media spotlight and the information needs of the electorate. In this negotiation,  the Scottish Government is the change agent and the UK Government represents the status quo. The Scottish Government derives its mandate from the Scottish people, but within a devolved settlement controlled by the UK Government.

To use a very old negotiating classification, this is a conflict of interest, not a conflict of rights under UK law, although international rights do exist. Conflicts of interest are settled by agreement or by power: conflicts of rights under existing agreements are settled by negotiation or by law.

Essentially, the context is one of negotiations between nations, i.e. diplomacy, even though the Scottish Government is not yet independent. In the case of any nation seeking independence, the subordinate nation has to behave as though it were independent before that independence actually exists, i.e. it has to emphasise its capacity to act unilaterally even though the status quo does not theoretically permit it to do so. This is why much of the legalistic discussion that rages is peripheral and essentially meaningless.

The implicit unilateral action here is that the Scottish Government will hold a referendum on its terms and on its timing, with or without the permission and imprimatur of Westminster.

This has in fact gone beyond being implicit – it is explicit, and, de facto, has been accepted by Westminster, because the alternative would be civil unrest on a scale that would make the poll tax riots look like a tea party. Everybody in Scotland knows this – few are willing to publicly acknowledge it.

It is therefore vital that the UK Government gets its act together for the pre-referendum negotiation so that the referendum itself can be conducted in a national climate of consensus about its purpose, if not about its outcome.

The outcome of the referendum has to be accepted equally by those who voted YES and those who voted NO – and perhaps those who voted for other options on the ballot paper or papers. Only then can the negotiations that follow a vote for full independence – the post-independence negotiation – take place in the right atmosphere.

Only then can the negotiations – if any – that follow a vote for remaining in the UK be meaningful. Whether those negotiations take place at all will be determined in part by the balance of the vote, and critically, by whether or not choices other than straight independence, e.g. devo plus, devo max or devo something are offered on the ballot paper.

I therefore offer the following recommendations to the parties -

To the UK unionist parties and anti-independence campaign

Drop the pejorative, emotional language and concentrate on setting out the factual benefits of remaining in the UK

Stop pretending that Scotland being a free sovereign state within the European Union would be the same thing as being a devolved, non-sovereign part of the sovereign state of the UK. In the first case, it would be a free association of inter-dependent cooperation between nations: in the second, it is being a subordinate region of a sovereign nation within Europe, with no place at the European table and no capacity to influence the agenda.

Exactly the same recommendations in respect of the United Nations, and to membership of NATO or Partnership for Peace.

Stop trying to influence the outcome of the independence referendum by vague, unspecified commitments to offering a little more power conditional upon a No vote.

To the SNP and pro-independence campaign

Sharpen the vital democratic distinction between the SNP, as a political party and the party of government, and the Scottish Government as the Government of Scotland.

Make it clear that the SNP does not want anything other than independence and a single question referendum, and that this is the party’s unified consensus.

Make it clear the the Scottish Government will only include a devo max or devo plus type question in the referendum ballot if the consultation exercise clearly demonstrates a wish for such an option, and that if it doesn’t, no such option will be included, regardless of the views of Civic Scotland or any other non-democratic body.

Set an early deadline for the conclusion of the pre-referendum negotiations on the points of disagreement. i.e.

1. The timing of the referendum.

2. Its legality.

3. The wording of the independence question.

4. Additional question on the ballot paper.

5. Votes for 16 and 17 year olds.

A negotiation without deadlines is an endless negotiation – be prepared to call time if negotiations fail, and unilaterally state the Scottish Government’s position on items one to four above. (It is probably a bridge to far to unilaterally commit to votes for 16 and 17 year olds.)

Publicly acknowledge and reiterate at every opportunity(it has already been stated at road shows, meetings etc.) that the independence of Scotland is a bigger question than the manifesto of any single party, nationalist and unionist, and that how Scotland is governed - and by which party or parties - after independence will be the decision of the Scottish people in democratic elections.