Pages tagged with "independence"

Too wee, too poor for independence? Malta didn't think so - lessons for Scotland

Today, Malta is a successful small independent country, the smallest in the EU. But when it sought its independence from Britain, it was told it was too wee and too poor to make a go of it.  Sound familiar?

In fact, Malta is much smaller than Scotland. Its population has grown 20% in the last decade to about 525,000 but it is still only about the size of Edinburgh in terms of inhabitants. There are three inhabited islands in the Maltese archipelago, the biggest, Malta island is 27 miles long and 9 miles wide.  It is not particularly rich in natural resources. At the time it began its independence journey, it suffered widespread poverty. 

Despite being a lot more wee and initially poorer than Scotland, Malta found the confidence to reject British rule in a referendum in 1964 and since gaining complete independence in 1979, it has built a thriving economy. Now it has a smaller percentage of its population in poverty than the UK does. 

Malta celebrates Freedom Day to commemorate the day in 1979 when the British Navy and army forces finally withdrew from the islands. In recent years, Malta has emerged as a top tourist and foodie destination. In 2024, the Michelin starred AKI opened a branch in London.

What the Brits said about Maltese independence

In 1959, The Times published the following:

“Malta cannot live on its own ... the island could pay for only one-fifth of her food and essential imports; well over one-quarter of the present labour force would be out of work, and the economy would collapse without British Treasury subventions. Talk of full independence for Malta is therefore hopelessly impractical.”. 

The Times was not alone in this view - it was shared by many in the British establishment.  In his memoirs, the former secretary of state for the colonies, Olivier Lyttelton, described Maltese problems as ‘amongst the most difficult to deal with in the whole world’, adding that the ‘underlying reason which makes them so intractable is that

"The Maltese aspire to political independence and to financial dependence’ 

Referring to Malta in 1953, Lyttelton remarked: ‘She lacks minerals and is poor in other natural resources, and her whole economy therefore depends, directly or indirectly, on expenditure by the Services and could be disastrously affected by contraction of defence requirements in the Mediterranean’. Seven years later, a Colony Office official warned

‘Such measure of political and economic stability as there is is largely dependent on the ballast provided by the presence of the British Services in Malta. If that ballast is removed, and assuming that we cannot adequately replace it, the place becomes a cockleshell and simply capsizes."

The long road to independence

Situated in the Mediterranean, Malta has a rich history - it was colonized by the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and assorted other empires. It became a British colony during the Napoleonic wars.

The Maltese fought off the French under Napoleon and signed a deal with the Brits that the British navy would protect it in return for providing a strategic naval base. But the administration of the Island was to be in the hands of the Maltese, who had democratically elected representatives and a constitution modeled on the American one. However, the British did not keep to the terms of the agreement and Malta soon became a colony.

Malta continued to be a strategic naval base, most importantly in the Second World War, when the islands were under siege and held out bravely from 1940 to 1942 - it was one of the most heavily bombed areas in the entire war. Retaining Malta was thought to play a significant role in Allied victory in North Africa. The entire island was awarded the George Cross. 

After the war, demands for independence grew from both major parties, both the Maltese Labour party and the Independence Party. Initially, the Labour Party under Dom Mintoff backed a plan for Home Rule in 1958 which would have given Malta three seats in Westminster. 

In the event, it was the Brits dragged their feet on this. They were concerned that a good devolution deal for Malta would set a precedent for Scotland, among others. 

Mintoff fell out with the long-running Secretary of State for the Colonies Alex Lennox-Boyd, (whose mother Frances Begbie was a Scot). Boyd was angered by what he saw as Mintoff’s failure to show proper deference and essentially accused Mintoff of being a liar.

Mintoff was well known as a tough negotiator -  his hard bargaining once caused the NATO secretary-general, Joseph Luns, to say of the Labour Party leader:

‘I have negotiated with Sukarno, with Nasser, with Krishna Menon. But never have I met such a bastard!’

After the British cut defence spending and sacked 40 people from the docks, relations deteriorated and the Maltese Government started to push for full independence. Malta held an independence referendum in 1964, where Yes won a marginal victory - about  55% of the vote and 42% of registered voters voted for independence. But many of those who voted ‘No’ did support some kind of independence - there were disagreements about the form it should take. For some years during the transition to independence, Malta charged Britain  £14 million a year for the use of the naval base. 

In 1974, when Mintoff was again Prime Minister, Malta became a Republic and in 1979, the Brits finally left - on the day now known as Freedom Day.

Post-independence 

Malta joined the EU in 2004 and the Euro in 2008. With an educated, multi-lingual workforce it has strong services, financial and tourism sectors plus some electronics and technology manufacturing. Around 20% of the Maltese population lives below the poverty - whereas it is a quarter in the UK and that percentage is growing. 

Post-Brexit, Malta has become an attractive prospect for Brits who want to retire to an EU country as it is one of the easiest to get permanent residency. It has a special scheme for third country pensioners who can get permanent residency, as long as they can afford to buy a house and make a one-off payment to the Maltese exchequer.  Most people speak English, it has a good bus service and it uses the same three-pronged plugs as the UK, adding to its ex-pat attractiveness.

The EU has, however, raised concerns about Malta's "golden passport" scheme - which can be an entry route for individuals whose wealth is of dubious origin. In 2017, investigative journalist Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb attack in Malta, after investigating corruption. 

Lessons for Scotland

Malta started out on its journey to independence from a position of weakness. Its economy was extremely dependent on British defence spending. There was a lot of poverty on the island. It did not have many natural resources to draw on. Its population was tiny.

Yet it pushed ahead with independence and has made a go of it, with a smaller percentage of its population now at risk of poverty and exclusion than in the UK. 

Why Norway Chose to Become an Independent Country - Lessons for Independent Scotland

Norway, of course, is one of the richest countries on the planet -  in part due to its sovereign wealth fund which holds a share of the oil profits from Norwegian waters and stands at $1.3 trillion. It is also one of the most egalitarian, with a strong sense of social cohesion. Norway celebrates its national day on May 17, as a community event, with picnics, sports and festivities. 

But Norway has only been an independent country since 1905 -  for 500 years before that it was not. First it was in a union with Denmark and then with Sweden. In both cases Norway was the junior partner. 

When the country finally had a referendum, the question asked was whether people supported the step the Parliament had already taken to dissolve the union with Sweden. Support was virtually unanimous. 

There was no concern then about how Norway would manage its border with Sweden, or about what currency it would use. In fact it continued to be part of a Scandinavian monetary union with both Denmark and Sweden for the next two decades. The borders between the countries continue to be passport-free. Norway is not in the EU but it is an associate member of the Schengen Zone that allows free movement (before it was in Schengen it was in something called the “Nordic Passport Area’). Norway is in EFTA, the European Free Trade Area, but not in the Customs Union. That means there are sporadic customs checks on goods vehicles but that around 30,000 people a day travel seamlessly between Norway and Sweden to work. 

So what were Norway’s reasons for breaking away from what many historians regard as successful union with a neighbouring country? 

Here we take a look at three of the motivating factors that caused Norway to seek independence.

#1 Lack of control over foreign policy 

Norway was a junior partner in its unions with Denmark between 1521 and 1814 and then Sweden from 1814 to 1905. Although Norway retained its own national identity in some ways, it was unable to set foreign policy. As a result, Norway was often caught up in wars that were not of its making. 

The best example is when Norway was transferred from Denmark to Sweden in the Napoleonic Wars. Denmark-Norway at that time had a significant navy. Britain was concerned this could end up in the hands of Napoleon and so demanded the fleet. The Danish King refused and the British navy mounted a massive attack on Copenhagen from the sea, destroying 1,000 buildings in a single night

The Danes were on the losing side of the war. When the Swedish King helped the British to defeat Napoleon a few years later, he demanded Norway as a reward - and he was handed it in a treaty after the Battle of Leipzig. There were no Norwegians present when the deal was done and Norwegians weren’t even informed until some time later.

The Norwegians were outraged. They demanded to be independent instead and to elect their own head of state, ratifying a Norwegian Constitution on May 17, 1814. In the short War of Norwegian Independence that followed, the British navy blockaded Norway to prevent supplies from getting in.  Despite winning some battles, the Norwegians were overwhelmed by the Swedish army, and they had no international support. 

The Norwegians eventually signed a compromise deal where they kept their own Parliament and administration but became subjects of the Swedish Crown. They also had to hand over control over foreign policy to Sweden. 

For almost a century under Swedish rule, Norwegians felt they were represented abroad and on international bodies by people who knew little about Norway and who didn’t understand what Norwegians wanted. When the Norwegian Parliament eventually decided to set up its own consular service, they were at first overruled by the Swedish King and that was the point at which Norway finally declared independence. They held a referendum where almost everyone who voted supported the decision of the Parliament. 

#2 Frustration with colonial rule 

Despite officially retaining its own separate identity, when Norway was subject to the Danish Crown from 1521 to 1814, it became a puppet state. This period is sometimes called the “400 year night”, because the centre of power and control moved to Copenhagen. Some historians point to the fact that the two countries together did become more prosperous, but Norway consistently struggled for more autonomy. 

Norway was not initially in favour of the Reformation, for example, but this was imposed on it. The Crown seized church lands and valuables which were transferred to Denmark’s ownership.  Widespread resistance was defeated.  Danish was imposed as the official language. 

The Danish Crown became absolutist and hereditary. It ruled over Denmark with the aid of sheriffs, military officers and government officials who were all answerable to Copenhagen instead of to local authorities. Norway was subdivided into districts, each of which had to produce a certain number of men to fight for the Danish King.

In order to fund its wars, the Danish Crown eventually started to sell parcels of the land it had seized from the Church to Norwegian farmers, increasing the number of people who owned their own smallholdings.

While recognising that this period was one where Norway did make some advances, many Norwegians see it as a time when Norwegians were unable to progress in the government, law and administration of their own country. Many went abroad instead. Many Norwegians became seafarers. Large numbers went off to the New World - the lack of opportunity at home as well as disagreement with religious laws for some, led to a brain drain. 

Under Swedish rule, May 17 the date of the Constitution signing became an annual independence rally. Celebrating it was banned by the Swedes - but after soldiers broke up a rally at the “Battle of the Square” in 1829, it was allowed and became increasingly seen as independence day.

#3 Control of their own assets

In the past, Norway was often portrayed as a poor country, on the periphery of Europe, mountainous and hard to farm, full of narrow-minded people with backward notions. Its people were looked down on by the Danish and Swedish elites who governed it for centuries. 

The reality was far different. Norway has a wealth of natural resources and it has often been at the forefront of technological innovation to make use of these. It was quick to embrace mechanised methods of harvesting timber and its forests were vital in providing ships for centuries; it was at the forefront of hydro-electric power which was a valuable energy export before oil; it was one of the first countries to provide electric street lighting.

Increasingly, Norwegians wanted to have more control over their own assets. They felt there was an unfair transfer of wealth going on. Towards the end of the Union with Denmark, about two-thirds of Norway’s audited annual national income was transferred to Copenhagen each year. Norway was also forced to pay the debts that the Danish Crown had assigned to it in the treaty that ended the Napoleonic war, even though the Norwegian Parliament never ratified this debt. They tried to refuse to pay but were threatened with military attack so they paid up. 

In trade, the terms that were set by the Danish and later Swedish Governments, were often seen as unfavourable to Norwegians. When it came to monopolies, Government contracts, and the granting of rights to exploit Norway’s assets, many Norwegians grew frustrated with what they saw as the lack of a level playing field, and that also fed into the desire for independence. 

Conclusion

Today,  Norway ranks as the best place to live in the world, on the UN Human Development Index Report, which takes into account a number of factors like life satisfaction, health, gender equality, financial security and education. It has made good use of its independence. 

When they finally took the step of having a referendum on the issue, there was no disagreement over arrangements as to borders, currency or trade. Norwegians had the confidence to believe they could they work those things out successfully - and they did. 

Lacking independence, Scotland's elected Parliament has less power than the shadowy House of Lords

Evgeny Lebedev is a member of the British House of Lords

The latest scandal to hit the House of Lords is the news British security services warned that granting a peerage to Russian Evgeny Lebedev - bankrolled by his oligarch father Alexander - could be a risk to national security. The Sunday Times, which broke the story, reported that the warning was subsequently withdrawn after a personal intervention by the PM. The extraordinary story of Lebedev’s relationship with the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson demonstrates the lack of checks and balances on the UK Parliament's undemocratic Upper House.

The latest twist in the Lebedev story came as the British Government lagged international efforts to sanction Putin’s moneymen.  Another Peer - Greg Barker who was energy minister under David Cameron - this week resigned his role working for a company founded by the sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska

And there are likely more stories of Russian links to come out - the Intelligence and Security Committee's Russia Report into interference in the Brexit vote concluded that “a number of Members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state.”  

And yet the House of Lords has the power to debate and amend legislation which affects Scotland - more power than Holyrood has. Despite being fully elected, by the Scottish people under a fairer proportional representation system, the Scottish Parliament gets no say at all over controversial laws such as the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Elections Bill and the Internal Markets Act.

The half-reformed House of Lords put shadowy patronage in place of heredity

The House of Lords has never been democratic but in recent years it has become more and more subject to the PM’s personal patronage, with little in the way of checks and balances. Since the 1999 Reform Act, when the Labour Party under Tony Blair abolished the rights of 600 hereditary peers to sit in the Upper House, it has been entirely appointed, largely by the head of the ruling party. (What was touted as a democratic reform was seen by some as a Lords' power grab, as hereditary peers tended not to support Labour. The old hereditaries were arguably more independent, owing no favours to the Government of the day.) 

There appear to be few checks on the PM’s power - Johnson appointed Peter Cruddas to the House of Lords despite the fact he was judged unsuitable by the House of Lords’ own selection committee. That appointment came after a donation to the Conservative Party of £500,00.  

Johnson has also ennobled Brexit ultras like Ian Botham, Kate Hoey and Claire Fox - he even ennobled his own brother Jo Johnson. Johnson has created close to 100 peers. The House of Lords is the largest governing body in the world of any democracy. It is the biggest overall, after the Chinese People’s Congress. 

The Lebedev story - the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

The story of how the Lebedev father and son entered the upper echelons of London society is told in a recent podcast by investigative journalist Paul Galizia on Tortoise Media. The initial launch party cost £2 million - more than it raised for charity. Johnson has attended many other Lebdev parties over the years -  including one in Italy when Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, dismissed his security detail and was spotted returning in a disheveled state. 

In a piece entitled “No one drooled over oligarchs like British toffs — I know, because I helped them“, Sunday Times columnist Camilla Long questioned how London society laid itself open to the money flowing from Russia’s kelptocracy, putting the PM front and centre of this.

Long wrote: “To say Lebedev is intertwined with Johnson is to seriously understate the amount of time the pair spend together. Johnson went to a party thrown by Lebedev the day after winning the general election. Lebedev is known for Instagramming his wolves — one of whom is called Boris. How can the prime minister remotely hope to clean up the mess Putin’s mercenaries have made in this country when he is up to his neck in it himself?”

The House of Lords has more sovereignty than Holyrood in the eyes of the British state

The courts have interpreted the devolution settlement as meaning that Holyrood has no sovereignty - unlike the Lords.

Despite the fact that the referendum on a Scottish Parliament was passed by an overwhelming majority in 1997; the Commons and the Lords hold all of the legitimate power to rule the UK. They can and do overrule Holyrood on any point. 

The House of Lords is the place where legislation that is imposed on Scotland is debated and amended. Many Acts have been explicitly rejected by the Scottish Parliament - the Internal Markets Act; the Immigration Bill. The Scottish Parliament has no power to amend this legislation. Its recommendations are ignored by the UK Government. 

The contrast between the democratically elected politicians in Holyrood and the spectacle of the House of Lords is becoming increasingly stark. But independence is the only way to ensure the democratically elected Government of Scotland has more say than the characters who currently sit in the House of ‘Lords’. 

Five Reasons Why Independence is the Best Way to Protect Scotland's NHS

Fears Are Growing for England’s NHS

Former Conservative PM John Major famously said that the NHS would be as “safe as a pet hamster in the presence of a hungry python” if Boris Johnson and Michael Gove rose to power after Brexit. New developments are causing many to fear that he was right and that bars are being bent on the hamster’s protective cage. 

How does this affect Scotland - surely health care is devolved?
At the moment, health care is devolved to the Scottish Parliament - but the UK Supreme Court has ruled that Westminster only ‘lends’ powers to Holyrood. The UK Government can overrule the Scottish Parliament whenever it wants. There is little that can legally be done to protect Scotland’s NHS without independence. 

FIVE recent developments are causing concern

#1 The Internal Markets Act mandates that any international trade deal the UK Government signs will cover Scotland

The UK Government has made it clear it will not hesitate to override devolution in regard to international trade deals. The Internal Markets Act, which became law a year ago, has the specific goal of ensuring that these deals automatically cover Scotland. 

The UK Gov announcement said the Act would protect businesses, jobs and livelihoods by ensuring there are no “harmful new barriers to trade between all parts of the UK”. It also said “world-leading standards” would be maintained after leaving the EU. However, they have been watered down in many cases - one example was the post-Brexit relaxation of rules on pumping raw sewage into rivers. 

As a result many fear that the UK Government will make deals, especially with US-based, privately owned healthcare providers that impact the NHS in all four UK nations. 

#2  A clause protecting the NHS from being on the table in trade negotiations was removed from the .

The House of Lords inserted a clause into the Trade Bill as it passed through Westminster which would have protected the UK's ability to provide “a comprehensive publicly funded health service free at the point of delivery”. The amendment would also have restricted “the sale of patient data” and protected NHS drug prices but those protections were rejected.

But 357 Conservative MPs voted to remove this amendment to the government's bill.  Trade Minister Greg Hands said: “We do not see the need for this amendment, as protecting the NHS is already a top priority in negotiations.” The Trade Act was passed last year. 

#3 The UK Government is trying to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

After leaving the EU single market, the world’s largest trading bloc, the UK Government wants to make up for some of the huge loss of trade by joining another trading bloc at the other side of the world - the TPP.

To succeed in joining, it will have to sign up to the bloc’s terms and conditions, which include rules to protect drug companies’ intellectual property. These allow them to bloc generic drugs. That would affect the ability of the NHS to negotiate cheap prices for medicines.

Joining the TPP would be seen as a stepping stone to a trade deal with the US. US officials and businesses have repeatedly said that the NHS must be "on the table" in trade talks, with US pharmaceutical companies and healthcare businesses eyeing the UK health market as a source of profit.

#4 Trade deals are likely to give legal protection to trans-national companies’ profits, tying future UK Governments’ hands

When the Conservative Government enters into new international trade deals it signs legally binding contracts. These deals will enable companies to bid for contracts within England’s NHS “market” for services and products. 

The small print protects these companies’ business and profit - any future Government that wanted to get out of these obligations would find the trade agreements contain multiple obstacles and financial disincentives. This means they could incur massive legal costs and have to pay compensation.

5 The new health and care bill (England) allows private company reps to sit on commissioning bodies

The new health and care bill passing through Parliament is the latest in a series of Conservative reforms which aim to create a pretended free market within the NHS with private companies “competing” for public money which is “spent” by commissioning bodies.

This latest form of this allows people with an interest in these private companies to sit on the boards of the commissioning bodies. The rules and protections that were in place under EU procurement rules will no longer apply. The UK Government’s poor track record on public procurement in the pandemic has caused international comment.  Its lack of oversight of the loan scheme caused government minister Theodore Agnew to resign this week, which does not inspire confidence. 

It is difficult to predict with certainty what effect this will have on Scotland’s NHS. But the concern - which is shared by many in England - over the increasing role of private companies is profound. It may make the provision of health care in the UK more profit-orientated and less universal. While Scotland remains part of the UK it may be difficult to resist that pressure. 

Conclusion

There is a degree of urgency in taking steps to protect Scotland’s NHS. The UK Government under the Internal Markets Act has assumed the power to effectively sign Scotland’s name on international trade deals as it wishes. This could burden Scotland with legal obligations which are costly to escape. 

There are challenges for health care provision in the 21st century - dealing with an aging population; implementing new technology; increasing mental health support. An independent Scotland would be able to plan, budget and make policy decisions in line with its democratic choices.

An independent Scotland would be in a much stronger position to pursue its own course with confidence and clarity.  

HOL report says “Anglocentric British nationalism” could end the union - We agree 

A House of Lords report on the Union published last week has gone further than any before in recognising the possibility of Scotland gaining independence. It also criticises the UK Government's “Anglocentric British nationalism”, which it says is undermining the UK’s legitimacy. 

The report says the UK Government has “undermined trust” by continually legislating without the consent of the devolved Parliaments. The committee’s recommendations to increase “respect and co-operation”, however, are general and unlikely to have much effect. 

Report ignores declining legitimacy of the Lords north of the border

The report does not discuss whether the House of Lords’ legitimacy in Scotland is in decline. Since 2007, a majority of Scottish MPs have been from the SNP and they do not sit in the Lords - or on committees such as this. The committee therefore has just three Scottish members  - former Labour MP Tommy McAvoy, former Conservative Andrew Dunlop and law Lord David Hope. The House of Lords is now the world’s second-largest unelected legislative body second-only to China’s - PM Boris Johnson has added around 100 "nobles" since taking office. 

The recent ennoblement of Tory donor Malcolm Offord who was appointed to the Scottish Office after failing to win election in Scotland was also ignored by the committee’s report, although it has a strong bearing on the subject under discussion. 

Growing support for Scottish independence is echoed in rest of UK

The committee notes that support for Scottish independence has increased significantly since their last report in 2016, now polling at about half or above in all parts of the UK. 

The report notes: “In the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP won 48 percent of the vote... The Scottish Green Party, which also supports independence, won eight seats…The current level of support for Scottish independence and the SNP—which are not necessarily the same thing—has inevitably had a significant impact on discussions about the future of the Union.”

This support for independence is echoed in the rest of the UK. Professor Ailsa Henderson and Professor Richard Wyn Jones detect “a clear sense of ambivalence about the Union, particularly in England, where around 40% of respondents are happy for one or more other parts of the UK to go their own way. If this is added to the proportion who want independence or reunification, in the case of Northern Ireland and the proportion who hold this ambivalent attitude to the Union, then we reach half or more of the electorate in each of the four parts of the UK.

“Professor Wyn Jones went as far as describing this as the “tectonic plates shifting”, saying: “If you look at public attitudes and if you are a Unionist, you have cause for alarm.”

Insistence on Westminster’s absolute sovereignty has undermined trust in devolution

One view of devolution is that “Westminster has merely lent powers to the three devolved territories, which can be reclaimed at any time…. This view has been generally sustained by the courts, including the Supreme Court,” the report says. 

But “some witnesses” argue that because the devolved Parliaments - especially Scotland’s where 75% of voters said Yes in 1997 -  was established by a referendum with strong popular support, they should be recognised as sharing sovereignty with Westminster.

The Institute for Government warned that: “if the UK government decides to make a habit of legislating without consent in devolved areas, without making serious attempts to secure that consent, then the implications for the stability of the Union could be severe.”

Professor John Denham of Southampton University told the committee that “leadership depends crucially on respecting others within the system who have their own autonomy and their own legitimacy, and leadership becomes one of managing those relationships, not simply of saying that the Union Government decide and that is it.”

Professor Ciaran Martin, Philip Rycroft and Professor Denham referred to the Government’s approach to the UK Internal Market Bill and Northern Ireland Protocol as symptomatic of a predominantly ‘Anglocentric British nationalism’ ”.

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said the Government acted as ‘judge and jury’ on when they wanted to legislate without consent. He said the Government should be required to publish its justification for deciding to legislate without consent, with both Houses then invited to vote on this justification, with the relevant devolved legislature having the right to contribute

However, the report confined its recommendations to asking the UK Government to formally report its reasons for legislating without consent to the House of Commons before doing so. 

Internal Markets Act

One example of legislation without consent is the Internal Markets Act - before Brexit, the devolved parliaments had a lot of say over how restructuring money was spent, but the UK Government used this Bill to say it can decide how and when to spend that money. 

The report quotes the Scottish Government, which said the UK Government’s approach to the UK Internal Market Bill,  demonstrate it is “willing to reshape the devolution settlement, unilaterally and in the most fundamental way, setting aside any rules of the UK constitutional system that it finds inconvenient”

Report Recommends that Boris Johnson should be “the grown-up in the room” 

Jim Gallagher (a leading figure in the 2014 No campaign) who is a visiting Professor to Glasgow University, said the SNP and other independence supporting parties are looking to use disputes with the UK Government as a political platform. 

The report quotes Gallagher saying: “The obligation of the United Kingdom Government is to be the grown-up in the room. This is the Government of the Union … the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the Prime Minister of the Union, not just of Unionists.”

The report concludes: “We believe the Prime Minister has a critical role to play in making the new intergovernmental structures a success and maintaining strong relationships between the four administrations. Given its importance to the working of the Union, we recommend the Prime Minister and Heads of Devolved Governments Council should meet at least twice each year.”

Looking ahead to Scottish independence and Irish reunification

The report calls for more communication between the UK Government and the devolved Government at all levels, and does raise the possibility that these could be useful in the event of independence for Scotland or reunification of Ireland.

It quotes former Clerk to the Committee Paul Evans and former Chair of the Welsh Devolution Commission Paul Silk, who advocate a formal body to replace the InterParliamentary Forum on Brexit.

They said: “Mechanisms established now, while the Union continues, could form the basis of structures that would be needed if the constitutional position of its component nations were to change.”

Conclusion

The report is interesting largely because of its acceptance of the dominance of Anglocentric British nationalism in Westminster’s approach to Scotland and the other devolved nations. Sue Gray is also mentioned - among her other tasks, she is apparently to play a key role in saving the Union. 

The objectivity of the report could be criticised because of the narrow range of witnesses it called. It also uses some partisan language - Scottish Cabinet Secretary Angus Roberston “claims” while journalist Alex Massie “urges” or “considers” his statements. 

Its recommendations are extremely weak and are likely to be ignored in any case - Boris Johnson is unlikely to meet Nicola Sturgeon as often as twice a year whatever the committee says. The UK Government, having established that it can legislate without consent at will, is unlikely to use “self-restraint”, as the report advises.

There is likely to be a referendum on Scottish independence in 2023 and so this report may be regarded as the committee waking up late only to smell the coffee boiling over. 

Devo Max won't be on the indyref2 ballot paper - here are five reasons why

Why are we even talking about devo max again? In Scotland today, a vote for Labour is first and foremost a vote against self-determination for the people of Scotland. As the demographic trend towards independence continues, the Labour Party in Scotland finds itself battling the Conservatives for a dwindling hard Unionist vote, largely in older age groups. They would like to be in a position to challenge the SNP but that looks like a distant prospect. 

Anas Sarwar’s strident Unionism is not polling well - a recent Opinium poll showed Labour’s revival south of the border is not matched in Scotland - they are predicted to get just one seat in a General Election. The May council elections will be another test and the omens are not good for Labour. 

Labour leader Keir Stamer is waiting for, or rather banking on, the result of Gordon Brown’s Commission on the Constitution and says that he does not support the status quo. The Labour Party may then try to break the political deadlock by moving to a more nuanced position - such as that they support another referendum if devo max is on the ballot paper - but it won't be. 

They may see devo max as positioning themselves as being in the political centre. There is evidence that if you offer people three choices - eg “large”, “medium” and “small” drinks, people will choose the middle one regardless of what they would select without that prompt.

If the devo max position had been adopted straight after the 2014 referendum, as promised in the Vow, it might have helped Labour to hang onto more of their support. But now, it seems too little too late. How could Scotland vote No for a second time based on the same promise made in 2014 but never delivered? Here are five major reasons why devo max is not a good option in the Scottish context. 

1 Devo max can’t address the Brexit issue

A lot of people voted No in 2014 largely because they thought that was the best way to preserve Scotland’s EU membership. One of Better Together’s strongest arguments was that a newly independent Scotland might find itself out in the cold for years. 

In the 2016 EU referendum, there was a clear division between Scotland and England. Scotland voted 62% Remain and every council area in Scotland voted to Remain. Only a third of voters and a much smaller percentage of the total electorate than in England voted to leave the EU.

And yet this huge constitutional change was forced upon Scotland without any attempt to respect its democratic will. The Scottish Government’s offers of a compromise - something like the NI protocol were dismissed out of hand.

Brexit is hurting Scotland’s economy. The only part of the UK that exports more than it imports, since Brexit, its export trade has suffered a major hit. Imports are becoming more expensive, pushing up the cost of food and consumer goods. Supply chains have proved most vulnerable at their endpoint - rural areas in the Highlands and Islands which have seen repeated breakdowns in suppl

Scotland’s agriculture, food production, hospitality, and care sectors have been hit by the exodus of EU staff. Not being able to recruit from the pool of EU citizens is pushing many of these industries to breaking point and only by rejoining the EU can Scotland regain the substantial benefits of being part of the largest trading area in the world.

Opportunities for Scots are also much reduced - the ability to live and work freely across Europe has gone. Looking across the water, we can see Ireland’s people embracing everything the EU has to offer; from opening Irish bars in European towns, to encouraging the young to aspire to be the next Ursula von der Leyen  (the Irish Government “A Career for EU” strategy aims to increase the number of Irish people working in EU institutions).  

2 Devo max can’t deal with immigration 

One of the events of last year that will make it into the history books was the Kenmore Street protest when a peaceful crowd surrounded a van that was attempting to deport two people from the area, eventually winning their release.  

The UK Government’s “hostile environment” has little support north of the border. Scotland has an aging population. It needs to attract young and talented people to come here in order to build a strong society.  But the Home Office mandates that asylum seekers and refugees who live in Scotland can’t work - despite evidence that this is the best way for them to integrate and that they often have a great deal to offer their communities. The EU is adopting a much more enlightened policy on this. 

This week, Bloomberg ran a story headed Migrants Are Saving Germany From a U.K.-Style Trucker Shortage reporting that a quarter of German trucks are now driven by migrant workers who also fill a quarter of chef roles. 

Another example - Scottish universities are now much less able to attract EU staff and students and their ability to offer work visas to global international students post study is under Home Office control. 

3 Devo max would not confirm the“Rights of the Child” 

In 2021, the Scottish Parliament ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law. This was the culmination of many years of work by children’s rights campaigners. Any attempt to protect children from abuse starts from a position of respecting their human rights as individuals. 

This convention is the most widely recognised in the world. It mandates that children have a right to be consulted over decisions that concern them. They have a right to housing, food and education.

These rights were unanimously accepted by every party in Holyrood. But the UK Government chose to go to court over it. There may be cases, for example, where the UK’s determination to deport children and families could conflict with the Convention. 

In October, the UK Government succeeded in establishing that because the UK Constitution rests on the principle of Westminster’s Parliamentary Sovereignty, Holyrood could not ratify this convention.

4 Devo max can’t get rid of Trident

Devo max would leave defence in the hands of Westminster. They would retain Trident at its base in Scotland. It is unlikely that any area of England would consent to have nuclear submarines based there. With defence being one of the powers that would still be reserved to Westminster not only nuclear weapons policy but the decision to send troops to war would be out of Scotland's hands.

Devo max would indeed leave all of the great offices of state in the hands of the UK Government. Whatever its political colour, Westminster would appoint the Secretaries of State for defence and foreign affairs, it would appoint the UK’s representatives abroad such as ambassadors, consuls, people nominated to international bodies and committees. It would determine the policy choices for the UK at state level, whether that was NATO, the UN or climate change conferences. History suggests that these choices would often be against Scotland’s wishes. 

5 Pensions would still be subject to Westminster cuts 

The UK Government pays the worst state pension in the developed world and has recently broken its manifesto pledge and removed the triple lock protection on state pensions which will see Scottish pensioners lose £520 in 2022, and a cumulative £2,600 over the next five years. In direct comparison, the Scottish independence movement is campaigning for a pension rise in an independent Scotland to £200.00 from the standard basic UK pension of £137.60 a week. 

Conclusion

We have seen over recent years how defenceless Scotland is against a hostile UK Government determined to cut pensions and Scotland budgets in real terms with austerity budgets. Westminster has declined to pass to Holyrood the powers that have come back through Brexit, even the ones that were already supposedly devolved, making its own decisions about Scotland’s spending priorities without consulting Holyrood. 

UK Government in 2014 rejected the opportunity to add Devo Max to the ballot paper - probably because polling shows it would be likely to split the No vote more than Yes. On the eve of that vote, the Gordon Brown made a Vow that devo max would effectively be delivered anyway. It wasn’t. Devo max won't be on the ballot paper in 2023 either and Scotland wont fall for that trick twice.

Biggest Scottish independence campaign since 2014 launches today

The “Yes Challenge” is set to take place over the next three months and aims to convert as many undecided voters as possible to independence.

The new initiative, a collaboration between Believe in Scotland (BiS) and The National, has been described as a potential “gamechanger” for the independence campaign.

BiS founder Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp said: “With 20 polls in a row showing a majority for Yes and support for independence as high as 58%, now is the time to build momentum and our ambitious grassroots campaign will do just that.

“May’s Holyrood election has the potential to cause a seismic change on the future of Scotland and we are going to be ready to harness that opportunity.”

The 12 week Yes Challenge aims to achieve:

  • 5,000 people to sign the Yes Challenge pledge
  • 2,000 undecided voters to participate in the Open Minds to Independence journey
  • 1,000 confirmed new Yes voters after 12 weeks
  • 200 “Yes from No” conversion testimonials to share via print and social media

The concept is simple to understand and easy to engage with; members of the Believe in Scotland community (12,900), members of local Yes groups and readers of The National will be asked to sign up to the Yes Challenge pledge at yeschallenge.scot and will be encouraged to sign up undecided voters amongst their friends, family members or work colleagues. Over the course of 12 weeks, BiS and The National will take up the challenge of sharing with those undecideds the tangible opportunities of independence through content that will answer their questions and allay their doubts.

Once an undecided voter signs up (no card details required) they will be sent a new series of 24 articles, written by Believe in Scotland, which will make the case for independence step by step. The articles will highlight the democratic deficit in the UK, dispel the myths of the Union, tell the truth about Brexit and share facts about the potential that independence could deliver for Scotland.

Additionally, they will also have access to all of The National’s usual news stories, columnists, fact-checks and features.

There will be a series of virtual events exclusively for undecided voters, offering a welcome and safe space in which they can ask questions of real experts who can address any fears and answer queries about the case for Yes.

MacIntyre-Kemp said: “We all have at least one friend whose heart says Yes but their head isn’t yet convinced, that’s who we want you to connect us with, someone that is open to the idea of independence but still on the fence. We will engage them, listen and answer their questions, then hopefully put their heads in touch with their hearts by sharing the evidence that shows why independence is the right path.

"We are aiming big and we need the help of all dedicated and true independence supporters to make this work.

We can’t win by talking amongst ourselves and this Yes Challenge is the single biggest independence campaigning initiative for years. We hope our Yes family will unite behind this major campaign and help us engage people outside of the Yes community."

Sign up to the Yes Challenge today – and help us convert undecided voters to independence.

Virtual Burns Supper raises thousands for independence campaign and poem recital goes viral

Believe in Scotland’s virtual Burns Supper featured Scottish stars in a fantastic video production of "A man's a man", which topped 11,000  views in less than 24 hours.  Headlined by Brian Cox, the video also includes supermodel Eunice Olumide, Lesley Riddoch and Alistair Heather.

More than 550 independence supporters attended the BiS event and raised more than £4,000 for its independence campaign.

The event, rated by 91% of attendees as “excellent” or “very good”, was hosted by BiS founder Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp and featured talks, toasts, recitals and songs from a host of well-kent Scots.

McIntyre-Kemp, who hosted the event from his kitchen, said he was delighted with the success of the virtual Supper.“We didn’t let lockdown stop us celebrating the Bard and having a great night in. In is clearly the new out!

“We raised a fantastic amount of money for our billboard and Facebook advertising campaign being launched in February, this will be a major part of our bid to reach an increasingly independence-voting public and share our message of a better, fairer, greener, healthier and happier independent Scotland.

“But just as importantly, it was great to see so many independence supporters getting together and enjoying the event; some said even though it was only online that it was the best Burns Supper they had ever attended and 74% said it was better than or as good as a normal Burns Supper.”

The stellar line up of entertainers ranged from the best Burns and folk performers to TV and radio presenters, leading politicians and even a major TV and movie star. Guests enjoyed:

  • Readings from Brian Cox, Lesley Riddoch, Kate Forbes MSP, Eunice Olumide, Alistair Heather, Billy Kay and Brandon Malone
  • Musical performances from Iona Fyffe, and youth performers Rhianna Boyle and Eala McElhinney
  • Toasts and talks by Mike Russell MSP and Philippa Whitford MP, Alistair Heather and Bill Nolan
  • All hosted by Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

One of the highlights of the evening was A mans a man for a’ that, the Bard's thoughtful expression of the ideas of equality and fairness in society - which makes it so relevant for today’s society.

The poem was recited by a star cast led by actor Brian Cox with supermodel Eunice Olumide, historian and presenter Alistair Heather and presenter and academic Lesley Riddoch. The music was also provided by Oscar winner Patrick Doyle.

Click here to watch the video on our facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/105247661026106/videos/115686417102822