Log in

Monday 22 September 2014

000a Mail-022 CBI.jpg

The torrent of FUD in the Scottish referendum from business enterprises is now having unwelcome repercussions on the EU referendum prospects.

Fortified by the apparent success of his own efforts and those of his business colleagues in turning the tide of independence movement, Sir Mike Rake chairman of BT and president of the Confederation of British Industry, now feels similar interference on the EU issue is legitimised.

With the Scottish referendum out of the way, EU membership is now Rake's biggest concern as a businessman and as the CBI's president, and - he says - the effect that withdrawing from the single market would have on British industry and jobs.

"Our biggest concern on the EU is that many members of Parliament are considering committing to vote to come out whatever happens. Business would see that as extremely irresponsible", he says, telling us that business should make its views known on the political issues of the day.

When it comes to how we are governed, this is crossing the line. Business is perfectly entitled to express its views on matters which affect it, but it has no business interfering in matters where its interests are not at stake.

The point here, of course, that leaving the EU does not necessarily involve or require withdrawal from the single market. In arguing that we should stay in the EU, Rake is propagandising about how we should be governed, which is not the business of business.

To an extent, that was the same issue in the Scottish referendum. In that case, business intervention achieved the "right" result, but it looks as if there is a price to pay. Through this campaign, FUD has been refreshed, and legitimised. We are going to find it harder to defeat it.


Richard North 22/09/2014 link

Sunday 21 September 2014

000a ST-021 Paterson.jpg

In the tiresome way that the legacy media conducts its affairs, the Sunday Times today is stoking up dissent in the Conservative ranks, writing openly of David Cameron facing "open revolt" from "Tory grandees" over his handling of the Scottish referendum.

This narrative has former ministers warning that Mr Cameron is on course to lose the next election, one of those ministers being Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary. Amongst other things he has complained that the prime minister did not consult the cabinet about details of the referendum, including the question on the ballot paper and the timing of the vote.

However, that is by no means the main thrust of Mr Paterson's comments who, in his first newspaper interview since being fired in the last reshuffle, is warning Mr Cameron that he must adopt "robust, genuinely Conservative policies" or risk the "criminal failure" of letting Ed Miliband into Downing Street.

In what the newspaper then calls an "open challenge to Cameron's authority", Mr Paterson is also said to have called on the prime minister to cut tax, tackle the "raw, open wound" of immigration and spell out what powers he wants to reclaim from Brussels, or he will be "walked all over".

Paterson complained that there was no consultation with the Cabinet before the prime minister let Alex Salmond set the independence question. He said: "I have talked to two cabinet ministers, one of them still serving, as to whether the detail of this referendum was discussed in cabinet and I don’t remember it being so".

Cabinet ministers might have sought to impose a 60 percent or two-thirds majority threshold for such far-reaching constitutional change, Paterson adds, which would have made a nationalist victory far less likely. "I don't remember it being discussed", he says. "We would have had some interesting discussions. The most obvious thing being why was there no threshold?"

"Why", he then asks, "was only one small constituent part of the United Kingdom empowered through a referendum to potentially tear up the entire constitution of the United Kingdom?", also criticising Cameron's lack of consultation with MPs or grassroots Conservatives before he agreed to offer Scotland new tax-raising powers.

"I think it would be good if there was more open discussion in cabinet", he declares. "I think it would have been good if there was more consultation with MPs. I think it would have been good if there was more forewarning of what was coming. We were all completely in the dark".

With the newspaper telling us that "Tory MPs [are] poised to revolt if Cameron, as promised, keeps the Barnett formula", Paterson then warns that: "The English will not tolerate another lopsided settlement designed to appease nationalist sentiment paid for by English taxpayers".

This, though, is not actually said in the spirit of rebellion that the Sunday Times is so keen to promote. Mr Paterson has said many times that his stance is one of "candid friend" to the prime minister, engaged in the common cause of getting the Conservatives into office at the next election.

Carswell's route is not for Paterson, and he remains a Tory loyalist, conscious also that the quickest route to an "in-out" referendum on the EU is to vote Conservative at the general election.

Thus, while the Sunday Times rightly observes that Paterson is viewed as a key figure by Eurosceptic and rural Tories, he is not – as the newspaper asserts - moving "to position himself at the forefront of the prime minister's right-wing critics".

This is no David Davis or Redwood, carping from the edges, sour grapes from an ex-minister who still has not come to terms with rejection. Paterson is determined to take a much more positive, pro-active role.

When the ST thus has Paterson warning Cameron that he has less than two months to turn round Tory fortunes, and that he is running out of time to convince voters about their economic arguments, the former environment minister is offering genuine advice, based on a determination to win.

"There is a rule", says Paterson (actually quoting "Booker's Law"), that whoever is ahead with six months to go [of a general election] will normally win".

"Lynton Crosby is good on this", Paterson says. "You cannot fatten the pig on market day. We should be making the bold statement that free markets provide employment, and they generate wealth which delivers taxes which deliver public services".

And this is where Paterson feels that the Conservatives could be stating their case more clearly. The leadership, he says, had not been clear enough with voters about the benefits of free market capitalism. "We have begun to control public spending. We have begun to control the deficit. But we are still borrowing far too much and we are still taxing people far too much", he says.

Paterson would like every citizen to go into the voting booth knowing if they vote Conservative, they are absolutely guaranteed they can trust the Tory party to reduce their tax burden. Asked if he supported cutting income tax rates and raising thresholds to take people out of the higher rate of tax, he said: "Everything".

Moving into more fraught territory, Paterson also calls on Cameron to spell out what he intends to achieve with his renegotiation of relations with Brussels and be prepared to campaign to leave the EU, something the prime minister has so far refused to do.

"I think in any deal, if you don't get the deal you want, you walk away from it", he says. "Otherwise you get walked all over during the negotiations because they don't think you're serious". He then adds: "You've got to wish the prime minister all the best, but it would be good if he outlined exactly where he wants to end up. He's been very canny not to outline anything".

With what amount to a tactical statement, Paterson is still prepared to signal that he is prepared to lead the group of Tory MPs who would prefer to leave the EU. Paterson say the countries in the euro "effectively want to form a new country — and that gives us the opportunity to get our country back. We're much better making laws in our own parliament".

He is also demanding action to "manage immigration", warning that UKIP was exploiting the "raw, open wound" of immigration to steal Tory votes. Students of nuances will note that Paterson is talking about managing immigration, rather than closing borders. He is to address the fringe on this, at the Conservative Party conference.

And this is where Paterson aims to make the difference. He has established a think tank, the ST rather archly saying that this is "to promote his interests". Actually, it is in the interest of promoting "robust, genuinely Conservative policies", with Paterson insisting that his intervention "is intended to help the Tory party".

Paterson intends his think tank to outline areas of policy "of real concern to our citizens" and which "could improve their lives by 2020". Not only is he to make several speeches on the fringes of the Conservative party conference, he is also to give the annual lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, where he will be offering his ideas for genuinely innovative energy policy.

The Sunday Times reports Senior Tories saying that some donors are now funnelling cash to Paterson, which would otherwise have been sent to Tory high command for its election war chest. But it is Paterson's intention to produce serious policy contribution, and these cannot but help Conservative fortunes.

In a warning shot at Cameron, he says: "The message is: I am bloody well not going away. I've had a huge number of letters of support. I represent a clear strand of opinion in the Tory party and I intend to keep expressing that in a constructive manner".

The thing about Paterson - in a climate where it is fashionable to denigrate politicians as a breed – is that he is a skilled and experienced politician. Then, he learned his craft not in the protected cloisters of Westminster, but in the altogether tougher crucible of trade politics, as President of the European Tanners Confederation, after becoming the director of his family leather business.

This is a man with real world experience, in real jobs and real politics, with a better grasp of how the world – and government – works than any dozen ministers. His new think tank is the one to watch. Provisionally called UK 2020, it is in the market for real ideas.


Richard North 21/09/2014 link

Sunday 21 September 2014

000a Booker-021 Ref.jpg

"Some 40 years ago, having observed a common pattern to several high-profile elections in Britain, the US and France", writes Booker, "I coined what, in a playfully journalistic way, I called "Booker’s law". In each case, six months before election day, one side had looked to be well ahead in the polls".

"As the day neared, however, the gap closed, to the point where we were being excitably told that it was 'too close to call', 'neck-and-neck' and 'going right to the wire'. But then, in each case, the easy winner turned out to be the side that had looked likely to win six months before".

Last week, as he wondered whether Scotland would again follow this pattern, he reflected on how, from the success or failure of either side, we could draw at least one clear lesson. If the "yes" vote had won, as many have pointed out, the lesson would have been that this was a further terrifying indictment of how, in recent decades, we have all felt betrayed by Westminster's political class.

Somewhere in the Nineties, a fearful gulf began to open up between politicians of all the major parties and the rest of us. Right across the policy spectrum, and certainly aided by the ever-increasing amount of our law that was coming from Brussels, our politicians seemed to have floated off to another planet, no longer capable of speaking in language we could relate to.

Never was this alienation more obvious than in this recent campaign when, at the last minute, our three party leaders – David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband – all rushed up in a panic to Scotland, with such extraterrestrial ineptitude that it seemed that "Team Westminster", as Alex Salmond so aptly called them, had become his most powerful weapon.

But if, despite this, Mr Salmond was still to lose, it became clear that his own fatal weakness was that he so obviously didn’t have a plausible "exit plan" to convince voters that an independent Scotland could prosper.

To not one of the key practical questions did he have a convincing answer, from what would happen to the currency or our Armed Forces, to the future of North Sea oil. "With one mighty bound Scotland will be free" was all he had to offer. As it turned out, the vacuum at the heart of that fantasy was a key factor in his losing the day.

But we can see exactly the same fatal flaw in all those who clamour for Britain to leave the EU. Not one of the recent flood of half-baked pamphlets produced by "Better off Outers" has shown any grasp of the complex issues that would be involved in making this possible.

And without a plausible exit plan, any In/Out referendum campaign would be successfully dominated by a tidal wave of what my friend Richard North calls "Fud" – fear, uncertainty and doubt – about how Britain outside the EU would lose “three million jobs” by being shut out of the EU's single market.

A properly worked out case to show how Britain could indeed thrive outside the EU (and still have full access to its single market) has no more been put by the Eurosceptics than Mr Salmond could explain how Scotland might happily survive outside the UK.

Now we have got this terrifying diversion behind us, one of our next priorities must be to come up with a properly worked-out strategy whereby our now still United Kingdom can sensibly separate itself from the increasingly dismal mess that is the European Union.


Richard North 21/09/2014 link

Saturday 20 September 2014

000a Mail-020 Home.jpg

The Mail could not have got it more wrong with its front page, calling for "home rule" for England. This is typical media fluff, reacting to the hystérie du jour without stopping to harness a single brain cell.

For sure, up here in Yorkshire, we no more want to be governed by "Westminster", as the Salmonites so quaintly put it, than do the Scots. But that does not mean we want another load of politicrats dumped on us in some Brummie squat carrying an English Parliament label, telling us what to do. The very last thing in this world we want is more politicracy – more politicians feathering their own nests, lording it over us and telling us what's good for us.

Tam Dalyell had it right on the button when he spoke on Radio 5 live today, calling for the abolition of that abortion in Edinburgh – the Scottish Parliament - and the Welsh Assembly to boot. Instead, we need proper devolution, down to county level and below, where there is a true demos - a community of interest.

Furthermore, decisions can be made by the people who pay the bills. That is the other half of the equation. Owen Paterson spoke of the link between the provision of services and paying for them having been broken.  Local democracy requires local tax raising. If you are going to have tax and spend, then the money should be raised locally. 

Then, of course, local democracy means local power. "Politicracy" means politician-power. We want people-power. The demos is not enough. We want kratos as well - power to the people. And the only way known of achieving that is through direct democracy, with an annual referendum on the budget. He who controls the purse strings holds the power.

Speaking for myself, counties are far too big a unit for proper democracy. My city of Bradford – and administrative unit with more than half a million inhabitants – is too big. We have to get smaller.

But then, when it comes to constitutional settlements, we also need to think small. If a golf club can have a constitution, why can't a local authority? And if there is to be a local constitution, then it should be agreed by the people, not the politicrats.

The big problem, though, is corruption and of local domains falling into the grip of the one-party mafias – the Rotherham and Doncaster syndrome. We need, therefore, to revert to the doctrine of "local administration – central supervision", with Westminster watching the watchdogs

This is a system where HM inspectors reach out, make their reports, and the district auditors bite. Officials who waste our money pay for it out of their own pockets. This is a system where we have two police forces – one national, one local. We set them against each other, one set of thieves to watch another.

As for new parliaments, burn down the gilded buildings. The old practice was to hold parliaments once a year, in the open – preferably in winter - with the business conducted standing up. And when it was finished, the delegates went home and got on with their honest business.

Sometimes, the old ways are the best ways.


Richard North 20/09/2014 link

Saturday 20 September 2014

000a Cameron-020 Scot.jpg

A quick review of the papers and some of the commentary does suggest that the "no" vote caught some in the media by surprise, having believed there own propaganda that it was a close-run contest.

However, I don't think the result was ever in doubt. If there ever was a time when the "yes" campaign did draw ahead, it peaked too early and thus triggered an inevitable backlash, which brought the status quo back into play.

Within the political classes – and especially the Conservative Party – there were also those who thought the "yes" side might prevail, in which event David Cameron might have been on the line, with his leadership threatened.

One scenario I heard was that Mr Cameron might have been fatally wounded by the referendum result, and then brought down in the wake of the victory by Mr Carswell, leaving the slate clean for a new leader to take the Party to victory in the General.

These are the sort of rumours which seem to entertain the denizens of the Westminster bubble but, in reality, the successful – and convincing "no" vote has strengthened Mr Cameron's hand. Then, the Carswell victory has already been discounted as an irrelevance, so the stage is set fair for Mr Cameron to take us through to the General which, on current form, he will probably lose.

The tradition fate of a failed Tory leader is, of course, that he very quickly becomes an ex-Tory leader, but even that may be in doubt. No one is particularly keen to take over the poison chalice of the Tory leadership, for a prolonged period of opposition.

Nor is there any serious head of steam behind Party moves to force through a constitution settlement in England. Few of the backbenchers have really thought through their stances, and they are all over the place – most illustrating that they had given the aftermath of the referendum any serious thought.

One view is that Mr Cameron will capitalise on the disarray and kick constitutional reform into the long grass. The Scots had their chance and they've blown it, and there is no mood to give the losers consolation prizes that put the rest of the UK at a disadvantage.

As for the English, they have yet to get their act together, and there is no mandate anyway for fundamental change. Soon enough, another crisis and yet another will displace the issue, and the pack will move on. 

000a Paterson-020 Scots.jpg

But, on Newsnight last night, both Tam Dalyell and Owen Paterson put their fingers on it. As you moved further away from the Glasgow-Edinburgh corridor, support for independence fell away. Said Dalyell, the result showed that the people of Aberdeenshire wanted their government to be in Aberdeenshire.

This is our view, and that's where The Harrogate Agenda lies. We want real devolution, and that means giving power back to the people, not just to another bunch of politicians. Demos is not good enough ... think kratos.


Richard North 20/09/2014 link

Friday 19 September 2014

000a Scotref-019 lessons.jpg

Looking at the failure of Mr Salmond to carry the day on his independence campaign, we have already ventured the possible causes, so much so that further analysis is almost like shooting fish in a barrel.

In the first instance, the "yes" campaign's exit plan - despite its length – was terribly slender, relying on unproven (and in some cases unprovable) assumptions – such as continued Scottish membership of the EU, and the ability to continue using the pound.

Therein lies the point of Flexcit, which stands for flexible response and continuous development. For our primary exit pathway from the EU, we suggest EFTA/EEA membership (the "Norway Option"), but we recognise that this might not happen, so we have a fallback position, with our so-called "shadow EEA".

Lacking flexibility, Salmond didn't have a fallback. So when key people (including Barroso) said Scotland couldn't stay in the EU, he had no alternative, and was forced to bluster, the argument degenerating into a "yes we can, no you can't" squabble that he could never win.

In fact, Salmond could have adopted roughly the same strategies we have, with Notre Europe setting out his options.

Lord Ashcroft lists issues which influenced voters, with 15 percent citing the EU issue as a reason for voting "no". On that question alone, it is conceivable that satisfactory answers could have brought Salmond his victory.

On the issue of the pound, even more were influenced, with 57 percent citing this as a reason for voting "no". But with Salmond claiming that the pound was "Scotland's currency just as much as it is the rest of the UK's", he could have, at the very least, taken note of Irish independence and come up with ideas of what to do in the event of a refusal of the (remaining) UK to co-operate.

The same goes for tax and spending, pensions, the NHS, defence and security, and the other matters raised. But these should have been discussed years ago, the questions raised and answered long before they were to become issues in a referendum.

Salmond had not done the early preparation, though, so when the FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) started to fly, he was unprepared, lacking the in-depth treatment these issues need. The short time of the campaign was too short for him to work up the answers, and then deliver them convincingly, which meant that the FUD prevailed.

Therein lies our lessons for the EU referendum. Defenders of the status quo can and will rely on FUD, and to counter it we need to be properly prepared – and well in advance. And it isn't just a question of defeating the FUD. We have to drive past it, in order to plant our own narrative.

One other aspect which has been raised is the personality of Salmond, and the similarity of his approach with a well-known "eurosceptic" leader. Both tend to come to the party unprepared, relying on bluster and force of personality to make their points, without in any way mastering their respective briefs.

In the Scottish referendum, this cut no ice, and in the EU referendum it is unlikely to do any better. And, in this event, Salmond has paid the personal price, preparing to stand down as leader of the SNP at an annual conference in November, when he will resign as Scottish First Minister.

With him is likely to die his obsession, as did Quebec independence in 1995, after the independence movement lost by a margin of just over one percent.

David Cameron certainly thinks so, declaring that the question of Scottish independence has been settled for a generation. "There can be no disputes, no re-runs, we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people," he says, doubtless hoping that, if we do have an EU Referendum, he will be able to say the same thing of us all.

One can only hope that the Scottish referendum is taken as a warning by the anti-EU movement. If we follow the path of Salmond, we could be following him in defeat.

Meanwhile, before we even get there, Owen Paterson, who was sacked as environment secretary in the July cabinet reshuffle, has called for the recall of parliament - currently in recess for the party conference season - and said the "chaotic" narrow "no" vote "undermines" the UK.

He described the promises made to Scotland as "rash" and "unacceptable", saying that the preservation of the Barnett Formula for calculating Scotland's share of cash, was "unfair". "It's such a lopsided settlement, it cannot last," he added.

"It is unfair Scottish politicians will continue to vote on taxes raised from the English, while voting special tax raising powers to Scotland alone … Such a lopsided constitutional settlement cannot last; it is already causing real anger across England. If not resolved fairly for all the constituent parts of the UK for the long term, it will fall apart".


Richard North 19/09/2014 link

Friday 19 September 2014

000a Scotref-018 001.jpg

One interesting thing about yesterday's referendum is that it stems directly from the Scottish "pre-legislative" devolution referendum of 11 September 1997, when 1,775,045 Scots voted for their own parliament, representing 74.29 percent of the votes cast (as against 614,400, or 25.71 percent who voted against).

But then, only 2,401,431 out of 3,973,673 eligible to vote took a trip to the polls, representing a turnout of 60.43 percent or 44.89 percent of the electorate. In terms a mandate, the Scots were not even able to give their own parliament a majority.

The trigger for the current referendum was, of course, David Cameron, who became prime minister in 2010 on the back of a 36.1 percent Conservative vote, on a turnout of 65.1 percent, giving him a mandate of 23.5 percent.

In the Scottish Parliament election, though, the turnout was a mere 50 percent, and Mr Salmond with his SNP, the driver of yesterday's referendum, snuck in on a list vote of 44 percent, picking up a mandate of 22 percent.

Two men, therefore, carrying the support respectively of 23.5 and 22 percent of their electorates, have brought us to the pass, where the entire UK is under threat – giving more powers to a Scottish Parliament that only ever got 45 percent of the electorate to bring it into being.

Whatever the outcome, therefore – and the latest opinion poll we have is from YouGov which has the "yes" side on 46 percent and the "noes" at 54 percent – this is a minority, on a minority on top of a minority. A celebration of democracy this isn't – and that is without the huge anomalies on who was and wasn't allowed to vote.

In my mind, there should never have been a vote, and if the collective politicians had really been interested in democracy, they would have been focusing on giving people real power.

The thing is here that people are quite used to talking about the "demos" when it comes to democracy, but there are two parts to the word. The other half is kratos - power.

If this referendum supports a "yes" decision, we will not be seeing devolution, There will be a transfer of power from London to Edinburgh – from one minority group with no mandate to another minority group with no mandate. There will be no transfer of power from London to the people of Scotland. They don't get a look in.

And if then – as we expect, there is a "no", there is no mandate for giving Scottish politicians a compensation prize and more of our money. They don't have a mandate anyway, so they have no greater claim to our money than they ever did.

The sad thing, though, is that for all the prattle on democracy, real democracy took a back seat yesterday, as it always does. Even the near 90 percent turnout makes no difference. Democracy was not on offer - something that may have occurred to the Glaswegians, who only managed a turnout in the order of 75 percent.

Yesterday, the people of the UK had no real power. Today, the people of the UK, whether under different management or not, have no real power. As long as the politicians play their minority games, nothing really has changed, and nothing will change.


And, of course, nothing has changed. With 55.3 percent to the "noes" and 44.7 percent "yes" on an 84.6 percent turnout, the result was never in doubt. The status quo held and the Scots decided not to shuffle the pieces across the board - not this time, not yet. And now the fun really starts.

At least, though, Barroso is a happy bunny. The Scotland vote is "good for stronger Europe", he says. "Vote 'no' for Europe!", as he might have said.  Next time, I'll be happy to oblige.


Perhaps the most telling statistics of the night come from Salmond's own constituency of Aberdeenshire. Even there, he was convincingly defeated, with 108,606 votes backing the "no" campaign (60.4 percent), compared to 71,337 voting "yes" (39.6 percent). This was on an 87.2 percent turnout, which means that only one in three of Alex Salmond's own constituents (34.5 percent) voted for independence.


Scottish independence would have been "cataclysmic" for Europe, spurring separatism elsewhere and creating an "ungovernable" continent of rival nationalisms, says trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, a Belgian liberal politician, of Flemish origin.

Speaking to Belgium's VRT radio, he confided that he had feared a "yes" vote, saying: "If it had happened in Scotland, I think it would have been a political landslide on the scale of the break-up of the Soviet Union", adding: "It would have been cataclysmic for Europe. That was what I feared".

"A Europe driven by self-determination of peoples ... is ungovernable because you'd have dozens of entities but areas of policy for which you need unanimity or a very large majority ... Moreover it's about countries, or parts of former countries, that would behave in a very nationalistic way".


Richard North 19/09/2014 link

Thursday 18 September 2014

This is a guest post by Autonomous Mind. 

000a EngP-018.gif

The Scottish referendum has at last captured the interest of the world's media. As they struggle to find different angles in order to fill airtime and column inches, and twist themselves into contortions in an effort to extract previously hidden insights from the last opinion polls, on the English side of the border a critical debate is beginning to develop.

For no matter what result is announced on Friday morning, the unauthorised and mandate-free pledge of Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem politicians to extend the powers afforded to the Scottish administration in Holyrood, has ignited a flame in England that will slow burn until such time as conditions combine to bring about a flashover (backdraft, for American friends looking in).

There has long been a small, dedicated band of Englishmen who have pursued a campaign to resolve the inequality which spawned the West Lothian Question, through the creation of an English Parliament.

The logic seems irresistible. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved matters on which only their elected representatives can vote in their Parliament and Assemblies respectively, but English-only matters are decided in the UK Parliament in Westminster with Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs voting on legislation that will not apply to their constituencies. It is fundamentally undemocratic.

So, runs the argument, to ensure equality England must also have its own Parliament with the same powers devolved from Westminster. That way, only representatives elected in England can vote on English-only matters. Simples.

But now the notion of an English Parliament is being given coverage by the media, which has long ignored or dismissed such calls as evidence of extreme and disturbing English nationalism run amok, the time has come to examine whether an English Parliament is indeed the right solution.

While the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies are the houses of devolved government for an estimated 5.3 million, 3.1 million and 1.8 million people respectively (ONS estimates published June 2014).

An English Parliament, on the other hand, would be the house of devolved government for an estimated 53.9 million people. The constituent parts of England are far from homogeneous. There is substantial diversity in the much smaller populations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so it's not hard to reason that the diversity between many different parts of England is more akin to a gulf.

The whole point of a house of government is the administration and delivery of services to people in a given area. For this to be done in a manner that best reflects the circumstances and addresses the needs of people in a given area, the administrative territory needs to be sufficiently localised.

The circumstances, strengths, weaknesses and needs of people in Essex can differ wildly from those of people in Merseyside. Similarly those in County Durham are markedly different to those in Hampshire.

Effective administrative territories already exist in the form of counties. In 2010, excluding Greater London there are 12 English counties with populations exceeding one million. Three of them exceed two million.

Counties already have a relationship with central government. There are clear benefits to be had by English people through having government devolved not to country level with the formation of an English Parliament, but to county level where people would have more of a stake in local governance and government has the capacity to be more responsive to differing local needs.

As the debate about the future of governance in England begins to emerge from the shadows, fuelled by the fallout from the Scottish referendum, an opportunity to think beyond the default "initial reaction" of calling for an English Parliament, with all its attendant costs and additional bureaucracy, has been presented to us.

Surely now it is time to demand a settlement that puts decision making and control of resources at the more local and established county level where people can be better served at little additional overhead, and where the settlement would be superior to anything the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish currently have.

Where feasible, governance could be devolved even closer to the people in cities and larger towns. With such an advantage to be had, why on earth would we aim for an English Parliament?


Richard North 18/09/2014 link

Wednesday 17 September 2014

000a Flamanville-017 nuke.jpg

Time is slipping away, and we are still a long way from finishing Flexcit. Hence, for the last week or so, I've been concentrating on the plan, which explains the relatively light blogging.

Currently, my focus is on energy policy, and in some respects it is difficult to argue that leaving the EU would afford us any relief. We have firmly shackled ourselves to the warmist agenda with the Climate Change Act, so even if we were not tied to EU policy, we would still be committed to the 2050 target of reducing emissions by 80 percent.

However, once we have left the EU, if we then decide to repeal the Climate Change Act, which in theory Parliament could do at any time, we would have restored to us some policy flexibility – notwithstanding our international treaty obligations.

With that in mind, I have been looking more closely at the 2050 target. The implications are horrendous. What I hadn't fully taken on board is that, in order to reduce emissions by 80 percent, the plan is to completely "decarbonise" electricity, and then use it to power as much as 60 percent of the private car and light van fleet, and provide most of the space and water heating for which gas is currently used.

This is common to both EU policy and the UK and, in both instances, the expectation is that, by 2050, electricity production will have to double, in order to accommodate the extra load.

For the UK, that means that peak consumption will expand from just under 60GW to about 120GW. To achieve that, we are told, "the UK intends to make significant use of the UK's wind resources, onshore and offshore. It also assumes building new nuclear plant at a rate of 1.2 GW a year, and that carbon capture (on gas and coal plants) and storage on fossil fuel plants is successful and rolled out at a rate of 1.5 GW a year after 2030.

Despite this, there no movement on the nuclear programme, while we also heard news of the Finnish 1.6GW Olkiluoto 3 plant, the fifth and biggest nuclear reactor in the country. Originally due to start operating in 2009, commissioning has now been delayed to 2018, with costs originally estimated at €3.2 billion and now expected to double.

Meanwhile, the new French Flamanville 3 reactor, on which work started in 2007, is still nowhere near completion, even though it should have started operations in 2012. With a nameplate capacity of 1,650 MW, it should have cost €3.3 billion, but costs have escalated to €8.5 billion, and there is no indication of where the escalation will end. 

Then, to add to French woes, one of the existing reactors on the site stopped working recently, for unexplained reasons (pictured), while Bloomberg is reporting that France faces possible power shortages during the winter months starting next year.

The problems here are that the planned closing of two nuclear reactors widens the gap created by the shut down of fossil-fuel generating capacity (the LCPD strikes again), while Flamanville won't be producing enough electricity to compensate.

All of this augers ill for the UK prospects, and therefore for the decarbonisation programme, while the idea of successful carbon capture is still moonshine. The chances of any CCS plants making any useful contribution to UK energy policy remains extremely remote. Thus, we are going to be struggling just to maintain our current capacity level, much less double it. With or without "Brexit", the UK is going to have to rethink its current energy policy.

Nevertheless, one would like to think that, having left the EU, we could come up with something better that we have so far, although I suspect that policymaking has deteriorated so far in the UK that we no longer need the EU to cause catastrophic failures. We can, it seems, do this all by ourselves. But, at least, outside the EU we will only have ourselves to blame.


Richard North 17/09/2014 link

Tuesday 16 September 2014

000a Reuters-016 Scot.jpg

A fascinating article from Reuters explores the relationship between the EU and an independent Scotland.

As to what its status will be, partial legal precedents are cited for and against the Scottish case. They include Algeria, which kept some access to European markets for a time after it broke from France, Danish-ruled Greenland's exit from the EU and Kosovo's disputed statehood, as well as the EU's absorption of 16 million East Germans with minimal fuss.

Ultimately, however, we are told that "it may be less lawyerly argument and more messy but flexible EU politics that win the day". A compromise could prevent five million EU citizens being cast out against their will while easing fears in Spain and beyond that it opens a Pandora's Box of centrifugal spirits - Catalan, Basque, Flemish, Breton, Lombard and many besides.

We then get this priceless comment from an anonymous Commission official in Brussels: "Whatever the lawyers say, this will come down to politics," he says: "It's the EU way. Whatever politicians eventually negotiate can be made to fit the texts".

The article goes on to tell us that many who reject the idea that Scots risk expulsion from the EU cite David Edward, a Scottish former judge at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). He has written on the implications of Article 50 of the EU treaty, which spells out a negotiating period of two years or more to unwind relationships before a state can leave the Union.

If the treaty rules out an abrupt departure "at the midnight hour" for those who want out, then, Edward argues, it cannot be in the spirit of the law to demand it of those who want to stay.

"The EU institutions and all the member states ... would be obliged to enter into negotiations before separation took effect", Edward wrote in a commentary cited by nationalists who want to begin talks with Brussels immediately after a "yes" vote.

Other legal experts say Barroso ignored views that EU law is not just a matter of state treaties, in the manner of classic international law, but gives citizens individual rights, to live and work across the bloc for example, that could not be removed.

Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, professor of European and human rights law at Oxford, wrote recently: "How could ... the EU ... dispossess Scots of their acquired rights and EU citizenship as a result of Scotland using the democratic right to vote for independence? This would seriously undermine the EU's credibility and its claim to be a promoter of democracy".

At Edinburgh, politics professor McEwen forecast Europe's politicians could bridge the legal void, if needed: "The European Union is very good at finding ways around things", he says.

And that is about the size of it. For the "colleagues", the treaties are a moveable feast. They tend to have them mean what they want them to mean, when it suits them. But, of course, for us simple people, with our naïve belief that words like "no" don't actually mean "yes", when it comes to EU referendums, that is far too sophisticated a concept for us.


Richard North 16/09/2014 link