Monday, 22 February 2016

Why I'm Voting To Leave The EU

Almost 18 months ago, we were asked a question about who we were and who should govern us.  At the end of June, a similar question will be asked of us if framed differently.  Though the question is different, scratch beneath the surface and you will see the same issues.  A country, part of a larger union of countries, wishes to leave that union due to various issues.  Except this time the SNP wish for us to remain within that union even though there are serious issues within that union.

Tusk with Cameron (in the foreground) with Hollande &
Schultz (in focus in the background) at last weeks EU summit
Most of the arguments relating to staying within the European Union relate to the economic benefits as well as the benefits of being part of the largest trade bloc on the planet.  The pooling and sharing of resources, alongside the harmonisation of regulations and laws.  Hmmm, ‘pooling and sharing’ – heard that somewhere before.  An example of this being the argument being put forward that a lot of employment law and employee rights would not have happened were it not for the EU.  There is merit to this argument, given the Major Government’s policy of not adopting the ‘Social Chapter’ element of the Maastricht Treaty. 

The big problem with this argument though is that this version of the EU in so much that it ever existed is no longer a true likeness.  The Social Chapter was essentially an add on to Maastricht therefore always had an air of being something of an afterthought to the main business of a pan-European currency.  The other pro-worker directives (like Working Time) came in an age where the European body politic was still influenced by Social Democratic values. 

Essentially the post war left-wing consensus did not die in mainland Europe like it did here in 1979. It is certainly dead now as we have seen the EU undertake a more Thatcherite tone in its policymaking.  The argument that the EU is a protector from the big bad Tories is therefore a false argument and the Left in this country should grow up and stop relying on something that isn’t there.  We on the left have become lazy and complacent in our arguments and will now need to dramatically up our game to influence something that is infinitely more democratic than the EU – Westminster. 

The biggest manifestation of the lazy thinking on the left has been the insidious infestation within the Labour Party of what is now Progress but used to be Blairism.  The acceptance that ideas should be shaped around ‘the centre ground’ rather than ideas & policy being produced to bring voters to a party has stunted the Left since…  well Thacher really.

The other argument that is being floated by those on the left is that we should stay in to help shape a better EU.  This argument is nothing but a display of the breathtaking naivety of people who should know better.  The fact that the current TTIP negotiations are being conducted in private and with zero transparency is ample evidence that really, the EU is currently not interested in being reformed.  If you need further evidence, look at the veiled threats that the Cameron agreement could be subject to legal challenges or ultimately change (after the referendum, of course).

This more Thatcherite European Union cannot be attributed to the ascension to the throne of Jean Claude Junker as EU President, merely his appointment confirming something that had been happening for some time.  No, the moment where it was apparent that the EU had become the preeminent source for pro-Thatcherite policies, more so than the current Conservative and Unionist Party, was the Lisbon Treaty happily signed by that well known ‘socialist’…  er… Gordon Brown.

Alongside being a reforming treaty for the existing institutions, like the European Parliament receiving more powers but being made smaller, the Lisbon Treaty was also a land grab for powers – more in terms of setting limits on the powers of the nation state.  Cameron’s manifesto pledge for a UK Bill of Rights, already on the rocks thanks to the devolved settlements and the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, would well and truly be toast under Lisbon.  The European Union was already the closest thing that there is to a dictatorship in the ‘West’.  Lisbon does nothing but concentrates and consolidates that power within the EU.  It’s a good job there have been no huge financial scandals engulfing the EU…

Except that we wouldn’t know if there was any corruption within the EU, such is the lack of transparency.  We know that their audits have not been ‘signed off’ and that this has been the case since the days when Neil Kinnock was a commissioner.

The big game changer for the EU though has been the pro-Privatisation agenda at the heart of the Lisbon Treaty.  An agenda which, truth be told, the current Scottish Government have been in resoundingly not ‘Standing up for Scotland’ mode.  How else do you describe their policy regarding the tendering process for our Ferry routes.  True, Scottish Labour are right to be outraged with their pathetic “Save Caledonian McBrayne” twibbons, but their ire really should be directed at the EU, and the last Labour government, for signing the Lisbon Treaty that enabled this to happen.

The Thatcherite tool of ‘compulsory tendering’ for public services is at the heart of Lisbon, and will be a key tool for the next step of the dismantlement of our public services – the afore mentioned TTIP.  Under Lisbon, EU rules mean that all services will be subject to “economic and financial conditions” and the EU would be able to enforce the rule of the free market on those services – public or private – and ensure that competition is not distorted.  The treaty itself stipulated that postal services must be liberalised by 2010 – hence the privatisation of the Royal Mail simultaneously appearing as a policy in the manifestos of the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democratic parties.

As I’d hypothesised during the Independence Referendum, the Scottish NHS will be as much under threat from the EU and the ongoing TTIP negotiations as it will be under a Tory led Westminster government.  The threat identified by Dr Philippa Whitford was that the Scottish NHS would be under threat because the English NHS would already be “TTIP compliant”.  My point would be that the Scottish NHS would be forced under EU law to become TTIP compliant in any case and that argument was always a false prospectus.  It already seems as if some council services are already “TTIP compliant” in no small thanks to Stephen Purcell’s wheeze of ‘spinning off’ council services into ‘arms length’ companies.  Noticeably, Scottish Labour led Renfrewshire Council has also done this with their Health & Leisure services.  Privatisation in the offing chaps?

We have already seen what happens to those who do not follow the will of the EU, Ireland have been forced to submit their budgets for approval by the EU and the ECB before they are enacted as a condition of their bailout.  The fact that Ireland flouted the terms of the Eurozone fiscal pact with their policy of aggressively slashing Corporation Tax (in an attempt to be attractive to large corporations like Dell & Google) is entirely coincidental.  More recently, we have seen Greece become a testing ground for TTIP with their public services being forced to be sold off, Pensions slashed and reduced living standards forced on the Greeks as the terms of surrender…  sorry the terms of their bailout from the Troika.

Of course there are other, regrettably more high profile, arguments in favour of leaving the EU.  These points mostly being propagated by right wing Tories and UKIP.  I’ve always been perplexed at UKIP’s consistent conflation of immigration and freedom of movement, though clearly this is spin which plays within certain blue collar constituencies, hence UKIP attracting 4 million voters at last years Westminster election.  Indeed it is somewhat distasteful that Cameron has used concern over ‘immigration’ as the basis for his negotiations, as the issues he has chosen to negotiate are not the big issues with the EU.  Of an equally distasteful manner is the emerging smugness from pro-EU supporters, principally that well educated people are more likely to be pro-EU.  This is not because they are well educated, but because they are better placed to take advantage of freedom of movement.  This is also an issue, but not with the EU.

That’s not to say that there are issues with freedom of movement within the EU area, but that issue should have been dealt with by identifying weak borders and ensuring that those borders are strengthened, pooling and sharing is showing to have not worked then.  When Farage says that potentially 500 million people could come to our country, he misses the point that this is the case for every country.  That the UK is attractive to EU residents should be celebrated.  Essentially by peddling this myth and by constantly making this case, both UKIP and the Tories are undermining the very real case against the EU. Farage himself only gets around to the EU’s lack of accountability after he satisfactorily completes his Enoch Powell impersonation. Again this is a symptom of the poor EU decision making process rather than an issue with a key plank of EU policy (and one of the few good policies the EU have enacted since possibly the Amsterdam treaty of 1997.

The case for leaving the EU is one that revolves around a union that has become less transparent and less accountable the more it has chosen to change and damage the things that we hold dear.  It is a case that has nothing to do with migrants or freedom of movement but has everything to do with power, corruption and lies.  The Credit Crunch, the Banking crisis, the Eurozone crisis and the reaction to the rise of Daesh has shown that the EU has become a League of Nations for the 21st Century and is not fit for purpose.  We should leave the European Union not to destroy it but to save it.

Monday, 8 February 2016

It's Just A Step To The Left

You know, just when you think that Scottish Labour are going to blunder through this election campaigning on the SNPBad tagline.  From nowhere Dugdale has pulled something that shockingly resembles a policy with the pledge for a 1% rise in taxes.

As a policy, it unlikable and unworkable.  Unlikable because of the across the board rise in taxes – thanks to the sack of bric a brac that was Calman coming into force at the start of the next parliament.  Hence this is not a targeted tax rise but an across the board rise.  Applicable to low wage earners as well as much as the Scottish based captains of industry.  The SNP, and in particular John Swinney are justified in saying his aim is to protect the poor and those on low wages from tax rises.  Less kind souls have flagged this up as Labour taxing the poor to pay for Tory austerity.

Unworkable due to the clawback facility Scottish Labour are talking up.  They plan to rebate £100.00 back to those earning under £20,000.  I’m not sure this is workable under the Calman inspired Scotland Act.  There is also the thought that this is yet another bit of admin that taxpayers are being asked to do, just to get ‘their own money’ back.  I’m sure that most voters remember how labyrinthine the tax credits process became, especially when HMRC recalculated and found that they’d overpaid, and are looking forward to this process returning should Dugdale become the next resident of Bute House.

As a policy then, this is an utter stinker.  Not something that will work at all.  And yet, as an act of politics, it’s actually quite a smart piece of thinking, if somewhat risky.

The attack line that Scottish Labour have been pursuing has been the line that they’re putting kids before cuts, which is somewhat disingenuous (given Scottish Labour’s own history with education finding, see those nice PFI built schools and the funding hole they created).  What this does signal though is a willingness, unseen since Donald Dewar, to pursue centre left policies from Scottish Labour.  The other thing this policy has done is put the SNP on the defensive.

Swinney’s performances this week, articulate as they have been, are nether the less performances in defence of their own stance on not using any of the ‘new’tax powers.  Indeed, for someone reputedly on the right of the SNP, Swinney’s performances have been leftish in tone and a reminder of how MacNew Labour-esque the SNP still are.  Indeed the impression that is being formed is that the SNP will put together another steady as she goes manifesto which will not contain the reforming or revolutionary policies that will give this administration a historical context. 

As I’ve said before, Dewar has the scrapping of Clause 28 (the wounds of which clearly haven’t healed hence Labours reticence to devolve Abortion Law to Holyrood).   McLeish has free care for the elderly while Jack McConnell, yes even Jack ‘do less better’ McConnell, has the Smoking Ban.  What does Salmond have and what does Sturgeon want to have?

However, back to Scottish Labour though.  In spite of this policy being something of a non starter, Scottish Labour should be commended for at least thinking of policies to run on and for kick starting a debate on what sort of fiscal policy we should be following.  Keeping tax rates as they were was never a good option for a country that values its public services, though the best way forward and how any new powers are used does provide scope for debate down the line.  This line of thinking holds true regardless of the outcome of the referendum. 

On a cautionary note however, one swallow does not make a spring.  In other words more policies like the tax rise are desirable before we can confirm a genuine return to Scottish Labour’s roots. Dugdale & Scottish Labour faces a long road back to power and the penny for education policy only represents the first step.