We want YOU as a new recruit!

In an effort to reach out to politically and economically aware Scotland we have decided to open the pages of the Scottish Economic Analysis Unit to you.

Do you have ideas for a blog or maybe just one article but have never found the time to get round to it? Or is there one burning issue which really gets you going and you know you have the alternative smart answer? Or maybe you have already written that piece and distributed it to your own contacts but it deserves a wider audience? Whatever the scenario might be, now is the time to hit your keyboard.

What we are looking for is original material to publish on this blog relating to Scottish politics and economics with particular emphasis on May’s Holyrood election and the EU referendum. By original we mean material that is not simply a reprint of a mainstream journalistic work. If you want to submit articles from your own blog then that is ideal.

Unlike a traditional election the EU vote is going to define our relationship with our main trading partners in Europe – probably for most of us – for the rest of our lives. You would have to imagine that it is incumbent on the media to give us all the full and true story but with the track record of the MSM we know that will not happen! So let’s try to offer as wide a resource base of informed opinion as possible.

Please bear in mind that the editorial line here is pro-independence and pro-EU. That is not to say that you cannot play devil’s advocate on issues as we are not foolishly blinkered to the point of ignoring coherent opinion.

What we ask is that the content and conclusions of all articles submitted should, wherever possible, be verifiable and substantiated. We will also prefer positive arguments wherever possible but that is up to you.

Write to us at scottisheau@gmail.com and tell us your idea for a blog post or, even better, submit your piece now. It’s your choice. But do it now so that you don’t lose momentum!

Get writing now – for all our sakes.

The Editor

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Never Mind the Facts

The burden of proof is a fairly low encumbrance for the mainstream media in Scotland compared to alternative sources. No, let’s put this the other way around. For alternative information sources such as Wings Over Scotland and, if we may be so bold, the Scottish Economic Analysis Unit the burden of proof is a very high bar when compared to the MSM. Stuart Campbell can divide opinion from time to time but the certainty that one has when reading a piece on Wings is that he has got his facts absolutely straight before attacking his keyboard. Here at Scottish EAU we strive for the same integrity.

However the MSM feels justified in regularly trotting out pseudo-academic stories which have no justification in fact whatsoever. On these blog we refer to this as intellectual incoherence as that is just about as close to the real definition as we can manage. The modus operandi of the typical intellectually incoherent journalist is to take a seemingly reasonable premise and then contort unimaginably it to fit the MSM agenda.

The political feature writers across the MSM have been at it for years and sometimes the results are so hilariously transparent as to be worthy of praise for comedic value.

Please stand up Andrew Liddle of the Courier. Now, I have to confess to not being a reader of the Courier at all. In fact, I have never knowingly read any article by Mr. Liddle. At least that was the case until Thursday 12th February 2016.

Wings Over Scotland highlighted an article by Liddle in yesterday’s Courier. Probably the best way to start is to quote Liddle verbatim:

“The Courier can today reveal how Brussels rules could allow Scotland to stay in the European Union even if voters in England and Wales back Brexit.

“Senior officials have confirmed it would be possible to redraw the member state’s borders so only Scotland would be subject to EU treaties in the event of a Leave vote.

“Such a move would deal a hammer blow to pro-independence supporters who hope that Scotland ‘being dragged out of the EU against its will’ could trigger a second referendum on Scottish separation.”

The article then goes on at length to quote Professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott of Queen Mary University of London and an assertion of hers that, confirmed there is a ‘precedent’ for members to redefine what parts of their country are subject to EU rules and it may not even need a complicated treaty change.”

Yes, this is indeed the case.

Then Liddle interweaves the circumstances of how Greenland seceded from the EU whilst still remaining a part of Denmark with his narrative that Scotland could benefit from a similar deal. That’s an interesting position from an intellectual point of view. Until we consider that what Liddle indicates Professor Douglas-Scott is suggesting is a complete 180 degrees opposite of the 1985 Greenland Treaty.

“The Queen Mary University academic argues this could allow Scotland to remain and the rest of the UK to leave, if voters support Brexit south of the border,” which far from Scotland seceding from UK obligations to the EU would be, in fact, England and Wales seceding from EU obligations and leaving Scotland as the de jure United Kingdom in all matters related to the EU whilst the exercising of those obligations would, to all intents and purposes, remain within the de facto purview of Westminster – Scotland alone remains in the EU from the UK but London sets Scotland’s European agenda. What? How would that work? And that arrangement would require Westminster to totally ignore the outcome of a LEAVE vote and gerrymander an entirely new solution.

Confused? Well, you certainly should be as the intellectual incoherence is baffling. How could a senior and respected academic make such controversial statements and assumptions?

Except that if we read Liddle’s narrative closely we find that although he attributes specific quotes to Professor Douglas-Scott in her explanation of what EU member countries and their parts can do, nowhere in that narrative do we see one single mention from her of how this explicitly relates to Scotland and the UK. It is all written in the context of Denmark, Greenland and other specifics with no threat to Scotland, neither implicit nor explicit.

The intellectual incoherence appears to be singularly that of Andrew Liddle. I have to commend him on his writing style as he cunningly conflates a completely distinct and very dissimilar academic treatise with the consistent misinformation of his newspaper’s editorial line.

As I say, the burden of proof is high for the alternative information sources but a low encumbrance for the MSM so that’s that for Liddle and the Courier. Job done.

Except that when we took our responsibility seriously and looked more deeply into the subject matter to fulfil our requirements regarding our burden of proof we discovered some very interesting things relating to Liddle’s “hammer blow.”

All of the quotes attributed to Professor Douglas-Scott are taken directly from her briefing to the Scottish Parliament on the implications for Scotland of EU reform and the EU referendum of 8th December 2015. She does indeed mention the Greenland Treaty and some other bits and pieces, particularly involving what she refers to as “federacies,” specifically outlining arrangements in force in Germany, Austria and Finland.

What Liddle fails to mention is the Professor’s final flourish on Page 21 of her briefing. I shall quote in full:

“However, it is nonetheless the case that, if the UK proposed to radically alter its relationship with the EU then the Scottish Parliament could potentially veto any changes proposed by the UK Parliament that had a profound impact on its competences. These could include any changes resulting from the withdrawal of EU membership, which would have a significant impact on the competences of the Scottish Parliament.”

There might indeed be a hammer blow dealt but NOT to pro-independence supporters!

Liddle has cherry-picked this briefing paper without giving any reference to its true purpose and content. Furthermore he then ignores the headline conclusion to pursue his own agenda. This is as disingenuous as picking the parts out of a judge’s summing up of a court case from the losing side of the argument which he would indicate did not persuade him or the jury but then failing to report the actual verdict.

Shameful.

Just to avoid any doubt the full text of Professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott’s briefing can be read by clicking here.

If you find this blog post useful and/or interesting please click on LIKE below. Thank you.

Denial is not a river in Egypt

Following the piece published on Saturday looking at a potential Brexit scenario there has been a bit of background noise but the oddest feedback came through a Facebook group which goes by the name of Sensible Politics Debate.

I realise that the LEAVE camp is not unwilling to put confusing and plainly false information out there but I am still trying to get my head round how much of the rubbish I saw posted had been caused by official LEAVE propaganda and how was down to genuinely stupid people.

I’ll give a few short examples of this denial of clearly verifiable information and its replacement with utter nonsense.

One contributor named Liliana led with the assertion that the UK hardly exports anything to the EU and, anyway, that market is stagnant. She then indicated that only 5% of UK exports go to Europe. An interesting number. Now I am not the biggest fan of the Office for National Statistics but a report issued by that body last summer states the following:

“The UK has traditionally had strong trade links with the EU. Despite changes in the composition of the global economy, the EU in 2014 accounted for 44.6% of UK exports of goods and services, and 53.2% of UK imports of goods and services.”

Could Liliana have possibly meant 50%? No, not likely, she was just quoting made up numbers.

In fact reading on from that initial ONS quote the report points out the following, “Faster growth in the value of UK imports compared to exports with the EU has resulted in the UK’s overall trade balance with the EU deteriorating (value of imports exceeding exports), with the trade deficit widening notably, reaching £61.6 billion in 2014 compared with £11.2 billion in 1999.” But let’s not permit the facts to get in the way of a good porky from Liliana, eh?

Rob simply stated that under EU treaty obligations and WTO rules there had to be a good deal. Really? Nothing guarantees that at all.

Vanessa insisted that, “by staying in the EU we are guaranteed to adopt the Euro, be part of TTIP, and VAT on food will most certainly be introduced. The EU are already threatening the latter. If we go, the EU falls apart.” What can one say about such levels of ignorance? The euro? Forget it. TTIP? The Conservative government would sign up to that in a heartbeat and Better Together made a huge deal of hushing that up in our own referendum in 2014 due to the implications for NHS Scotland so don’t blame that on the EU. VAT on food? Europe certainly wants to look at reviewing VAT exemptions but as there is nothing that Brussels can do to enforce anything under current regulations then it is certainly never going to be a done deal. Vanessa then went on to insist on the matter of tariffs that, ”No country will introduce them. It’s foolish to even suggest it. Wow! Just take a quick look online Vanessa and the prevalence of tariffs is abundantly clear. As for the EU falling apart, that is Eurosceptic wishful thinking on such an inflated scale as to be clinically certifiable.

I was genuinely amazed at the preponderance of what Stephen Fry might refer to on QI as General Ignorance. If this is the level of discussion that is being conducted out there on the ground then I might have to reassess the extent of my own fears about Brexit. If this blatant misinformation is being widely distributed then there could be a real chance of LEAVE doing considerably better than I might have imagined to be likely. I have to hope that what I encountered is a localised clique of very misinformed and very malign individuals as opposed to a concerted campaign of untruths.

With that in mind please can I ask that those of you who find this blog useful or in any way informative to share it with others who might take something from what we are trying to offer here.

Looking Forward to Brexit? Welcome to Minsk…

In early September 2003 the Estonian Kanal 2 TV channel aired a program to explain a few details about the upcoming referendum on that country’s membership of the EU. The host was well-known politician Toomas Hendrik Ilves (now the President of Estonia) and the guest was a leading figure from the European Parliament. The show outlined to the viewing audience the implications of the outcome of their referendum and near the end the host asked his guest, “If Estonia votes No then what is Plan B?” The answer from Europe was unequivocally clear, “There is no Plan B. If you vote No then you are with Belarus.”

Well that was pretty stark and Estonia, much as expected, voted by 2 to 1 to join the EU and the rest is history.

Consider this though, outside the UK and with very few exceptions the EU is immensely popular even if it is certainly recognised as flawed and imperfect. The EU is the target, and indeed the source, of much dissatisfaction from the Black Sea to the Baltic to the Bay of Biscay but that does not alter the fundamental need that is attached to the institution of the Single Market. There are 27 members out there who could not conceive of a Europe without the EU, warts and all and a number of candidates for entry waiting impatiently in the wings.

Why in the name of anything sane would the UK seek to leave the EU?

Only last week there was a major role-playing exercise conducted by real-life senior political figures. The scenario which was acted out was the pre-amble to a UK European referendum followed by negotiation of a Brexit following a vote to leave the EU. Malcolm Rifkind played the role of PM in the first part of the role-playing. However, under the assumption that David Cameron will resign should he lose the referendum, Rifkind was replaced by Norman Lamont in the second part of the war-games. When the issue came down to carving out an exit deal the UK faired rather badly.

Let’s take up the narrative as described by The Economist:

“Lord Lamont, a former Tory chancellor of the exchequer representing Britain, argued that an ‘amicable divorce’ was in everybody’s interests. Britain could negotiate a trade deal similar to Canada’s, liberating it from EU rules, including free movement of people. He even volunteered to pay something into the EU budget. 

“Yet other countries were unimpressed. John Bruton, a former prime minister representing Ireland, said Brexit would be seen as an ‘unfriendly act’ and would threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland (Enda Kenny, Ireland’s real prime minister, made a similar point after meeting Mr. Cameron on the same day). Steffen Kampeter, a former deputy finance minister representing Germany, said Britain would not be allowed to cherry-pick the benefits of membership without the costs. Mr. de Gucht noted that a new trade deal would be negotiated by the European Commission and national governments with minimal British input. He and others added that they would try to shift Europe’s financial centre from London. 

“The starkest warning came from Leszek Balcerowicz, a former deputy prime minister representing Poland. He said the priority would be to deter populists in other countries who wanted to copy Brexit. For this reason Britain would be punished by its partners even if that seemed to be against their interests.”

Why indeed would the EU wish to make a Brexit easy for the UK? The OUT camp tells us repeatedly that it would be in Europe’s best interests to reach a good accommodation with the UK as these islands have such a large share of trade with the continental Union.

Conversely it would seem to be the ideal opportunity for those countries which regard the UK as a bothersome rival in various markets to level out the playing field. The previously stated opportunity to shift financial markets away from the City of London is only the most blatantly obvious tip of a huge iceberg – every British company currently relying on exporting to the EU had better start to consider what the impact might be to their bottom line if Brussels imposed tariffs on their products and/or services. For instance, why would Europe offer British carmakers such as Land Rover Jaguar favourable terms to compete with the major manufacturers in France, Germany, Italy and beyond? There is no logic to such easy assertions from OUT campaigners.

In fact, Brexit would almost certainly be viewed from the continent as a fundamental betrayal of the European Project. Under those circumstances why would the betrayed offer a get-out-of-jail-free-card to the betrayer? Again there is no logic to the assertions of OUT.

Part of that impending betrayal has further geopolitical implications. Many of the 2004 expansion countries of the EU have a perpetual eye to the east and that has become more acutely focused since Vladimir Putin has been conducting his adventures in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. This is primarily an issue for NATO but a Brexit would certainly send the wrong kind of signal to the Kremlin. For Moscow to imagine that Europe is unravelling all by itself would offer a green light for all kinds of alternative scenarios in the Baltics for instance. This is not a suggestion that Russia might invade Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania but it would open up a whole new Pandora’s Box of opportunities for Putin to interfere in his ближнее зарубежье, his so-called “near abroad,” which would suit him just fine and play massively well to domestic Russian public opinion.

It is certainly the case in modern politics, especially in the UK and the US, that joined-up-thinking has been consigned to the dustbin in favour of sexy sound bites. It suits politicians to treat each policy subject in splendid isolation and to utterly disregard any and all other attendant issues. This is insulting in the extreme to the electorate who are supposed to suck up this intellectual incoherence but that is what the IN and OUT sides of the argument are both offering – complete and utter intellectual incoherence. To expect the wider electorate to make an informed decision on the future of the UK’s involvement with Europe whilst being deprived of a coherent narrative examining all the implications is both disingenuous and dangerous. The IN camp is following this route as they really don’t know what, if anything, of substance David Cameron can secure from Brussels whilst OUT simply wants to polarise opinion and sow enough seeds of doubt to make IN just too big a risk to entertain.

But just in case there is any room for doubt let’s go back to the top:

“What is Plan B?”

“There is no Plan B. If you vote No then you are with Belarus.”

For Europe IN is the only way and OUT is the non-existent Plan B. So here’s to Britain and Belarus…