Indy 2

Nicola Sturgeon enters a fantasy world

nicola sturgeon 2 by TIMBritain’s first referendum was held on June 6th 1975 to approve or reject the EEC agreement reached 2 years’ earlier by Edward Heath. Clement Attlee said that referendums were “a device for despots and dictators.” In the 1970s, Mrs Thatcher thought Lord Attlee was probably right. Louis Napoleon (Emperor Napoleon III) used 2 referendums just over 12 months to overturn the fragile French Republic in 1851 and confirm his December coup d’état as legal and constitutional. Hitler held 4 referendums in 1933 (to leave the League of Nations),  1934, 1936 and 1938 (they were then banned for 60 years), so did Mussolini in 1934 (ostensibly an election, it was seen as “the second referendum of Fascism”) as did Pinochet in 1980 and Ferdinand Marcos (who used 3) and JR Jayawardene in Sri Lanka who used a referendum to prolong parliament by 6 years. Colonel George Papadopoulos and the Greek Generals seized power using a referendum in 1973 to legitimise their rule. Putting too much trust in Referendums, in other words, is to cosy up with some very disturbing bedfellows. We have just had two referendums in two years. Surely that is enough for now.

Today, when we might have expected the news to be dominated by the final stages of the Brexit bill going back through the Commons, the First Minister of Scotland said she planned to trigger Indy 2.

While I think there is a case to be made for a version of Brexit that recognises the 62% vote for remain in Scotland, and while I think a compromise approach may well give the UK overall some access to the EU, however we pursue Brexit, I also think that now is not the time to be discussing these details. More than that, Nicola Sturgeon demonstrates today that she is prepared to pick and choose which referendums she accepts and which she rejects. Either we accept in principle what is returned in a referendum or we do not hold a referendum at all. I am not a fan of the referendum as a concept-I think it is a very clumsy tool, but we cannot keep rerunning referendums until we get the result we want. Isn’t that what is done in Europe? Isn’t that why we have rejected Europe?

In 2016, Greece voted in a referendum by 61% to 39% to reject the Austerity measures. No one paid any attention. In 2008, Ireland voted against the Lisbon treaty by 53% but it was ratified nonetheless after Ireland held a second referendum (as it also did in 2001 when it rejected the Nice treaty and had to try again). The Lisbon treaty was a replacement for the TCE which was roundly rejected by referendums in France and the netherlands in 2005. Significantly, Lisbon was not the subject of a second French referendum.

As for the actual substance of Indy 2, this is very confused. The first Minister might have a case that the Brexit decision represents a “significant and material” change and chimes in with the SNP manifesto, but the practice of holding another referendum and getting the result she wants is by no means certain. More than that, even if she gained a “Yes” for independence, which is far from certain, there is no guarantee that Scotland would even be allowed to stay in or moreover re-enter the European family as a separatist state. The Spanish, for instance, mindful of their own Catalonian issues, might well be reluctant to reward such displays of independence.

Three Last Things

Three issues have dominated this week. The first is the vote in the House of Lords that frankly at this stage comes across as self-indulgent and posturing, and the second is the continued failure of Mr Corbyn. I think the two things are linked. It is, of course, Corbyn who should have questioned whether the Government’s current approach to Brexit is “unreal and optimistic”, but it fell to Sir John Major to make that point and in those words. In both cases, of the Lords and Corbyn, there is a manifestation of ideology over realism, and this is not good for the way we are seen in Europe. At  a time when we need to be united and strong, we look divided and weak. That brings me to the third point which is “Indy 2” and Nicola Sturgeon’s flirtation with yet another referendum.

A change is always an opportunity for a fresh start. I wish more had been achieved between Mrs May and Nicola Sturgeon at the beginning of Mrs May’s premiership. But when article 50 is triggered that is also a significant change and a time once again to mend fences and move forward. I hope we are ready for that and Mrs May has shown with her visit to the US that she is ready to bite the bullet! Certainly, there is an opportunity to think of flexibility in the way Brexit is implemented across the UK and Nicola Sturgeon’s recommendations should perhaps be taken seriously. At the same time, her threats to break up the Kingdom are foolish because she cheapens what amounts to a solution by tying it too strongly to the tails of her Independence kite.

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As for the EU citizenship thing-

For what it is worth, I think we should have offered unilateral residency to all EU citizens currently in the UK and it should not have been dependent on what Mrs Merkel agreed or thought. The Lords agrees with me, now, though my argument has actually hardly been mentioned- specifically I have argued that granting citizenship now effectively offers no more than is already on the table, but it signals so much more and it provides security. It is the right thing to do. Because, by the time Brexit is negotiated and implemented, almost all those here on the date of the referendum would have qualified anyway for British residency, assuming they have collected the relevant paperwork. I also think, incidentally, such an offer would have established a claim to the moral high-ground, would have been a show of goodwill at a time when there is already and going to be a good deal of nastiness and would have put pressure on Brussels to match our goodwill removing this issue from the negotiations. We could not be blamed for using people as leverage, and we could have got on with the important issues of how we will do trade and politics together. There are better things to negotiate than this issue of citizenship and we need all the goodwill we can muster to get the best deal. More to the point, while I am mindful of the 900,000 Brits abroad, the fact remains that they are spread over diverse countries each with its own naturalisation processes. The EU does not have a “one-size fits all” approach to granting citizenship. For example, in Greece, citizenship might well come packaged with demands for military conscription. We would have done well to have set the terms for this debate, but we missed that opportunity. Whatever the Lords recommend at this stage is all a bit late and it looks shabby. If this offer was to have been on the table at all, to be effective, it needed to have been divorced from Mrs May’s triggering of article 50.

Bluntly, whether an undertaking by Britain now to grant unilateral citizenship to 3 million EU residents when or just after we trigger article 50, amounts to much the same thing and Theresa May is right: At this stage, it must become part of the package of Article 50 negotiations, because that is how it will now be perceived. We missed the boat. The ideologues were too late and quite simply, in pressing the issue at this stage, they have weakened the argument.

There is a time for action, and that time passed a while ago!

So, while I support the idea, that is what it should remain. A great idea, and one that should indeed have been enacted nearly 6 months’ ago. But it is too late now.

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Mr Corbyn suffers from the same nonsense. He does not know when to speak and when to shut up. Of course, he should have been more vigorous in leading his party against Brexit. He was not. And as a follow-on, of course, he should not have whipped the same MPs who followed his pathetic lead in arguing to Remain into now supporting for the Brexit bill. It is not that his support of the bill or his lack of support would have seriously damaged its passing through the chamber, anyway, but his job is to challenge the government to present the best possible case, to make our legislation more robust. Instead, he thinks he imagines he is still on some sort of activist campaign. Mr Corbyn seems to have given up his effective role in the commons- if he cannot govern, maybe he thinks, and even he must recognise that he will never be Prime Minister, then he might have concluded that it is not really worth the effort at all. He is wrong and he is arrogant: he thinks there is something noble about the idea of contra mundum, but this King Canute approach to politics is simply stupid. Politics is about getting things done- governing the Polis, the city. It is entirely practical. It is not the slogans of the banners of protest that matter- it is the quality of the debate that Corbyn leads that dictates the way policies are defined- and he has long-since abandoned that responsibility. A shame because it is actually the one job he might have done well. As a result, other peoples and groups, whether they be the Ken Clarke’s, (Wonderland!) the Judges or the Lords have taken on the job Corbyn demonstrates he is incapable of doing- the debate on Brexit has shifted, therefore, to an unsightly squabble with the House of Lords. It is unnecessary. Good debate is about raising the issues that matter before they hit us. Today, when we should be controlling the Brexit issue, instead, because of Corbyn’s arrogance, we are increasingly reacting to events as they hit us. If the debate does not take place in the proper forum, it moves elsewhere. Paul Drechsler, the President of the CBI who should have been on board the Brexit bus, was left to observe recently that he feared the PM would open “a Pandora’s Box of economic consequences.” There is another vote coming that many Lords think is more important than the issue of the EU Citizens here (and note the numbers 3 million to 900,000: in terms of parity, it simply does not add up, but there we are! This is about principle not some sort of straight-forward tit-for-tat) — that parliament should be given the chance to veto whatever is agreed by the negotiating teams, so once again all a bit late, and why would anyone want to enter negotiations with the fear that everything will be rejected anyway- not by one of the 27 countries in the EU but by our own parliament! It is madness. But once again it confirms that because Corbyn has failed to do his duty, others, including two of our recent Prime ministers feel they must take over and do it. They are all playing catch-up, they are washing our dirty-linen in public and it is all too undignified. The man responsible for this mess is Mr Corbyn- he is not only messing up the Labour party- he is seriously damaging our Government and our reputation at a time when we need to pull together.