Second House: Replacing the House of Lords

Lords_Chamber_(landscape)

Chris Napier

There are around four hundred actual seats in the House of Lords, yet as David Cameron hands out a batch of new peerages there are now in excess of 800 eligible members. This makes the House of Lords as the second largest parliamentary chamber in the world and the only upper house in a bicameral parliament which is larger than it’s respective lower house, and throws fuel on the fire of the enduring campaign to press for reform of the UK’s upper chamber.

I believe that the House of Lords is a bloated, undemocratic and expensive anachronism which attaches the government of the UK to an age of aristocratic privilege which belongs in the history books and acts as a block on the UK becoming a true democracy.

In this article, I intend to set out a blueprint of an institution to replace the House of Lords (or act as a second house to the Scottish parliament in the event of Scottish independence) which addresses the criticisms that the Lords is expensive, distant and undemocratic while performing a crucial role in acting as a check on the power of Westminster (or Holyrood) as well as further constitutional duties.

A New House

As a direct link to the UK’s feudal past, I believe that the House of Lords should be abolished with the building itself either converted into dormitories for MPs sitting in the Commons (removing the supposed need for ‘second homes’) and/or turned into a museum, which could generate income which could finance some of the costs of running parliament.

The new institution, which I will tentatively call a Senate as this is one of the most common names applied to an upper house around the world* would be a wholly new body, with new powers and a wholly new relationship with the UK parliament, reflecting the changed needs of the country in the 180 or so years since the current parliamentary balance was established.

* In suggesting the name of Senate, I acknowledge this might not be the best title due to the devolved Welsh assembly technically being called a Senate (or Senedd in Welsh) and the republican connotations of the word and widespread usage abroad may make the name distasteful to some.

Role

The House of Lords’ powers have been diminished over the years as it is only able to delay a parliamentary bill for a limited time and cannot interfere with a budget. With the Senate being elected and more directly accountable to the population, I feel it would be prudent to increase it’s powers to make it a meaningful balance to the House of Commons (or Holyrood in the case of an independent Scotland.)

However, the lower house would remain the more powerful house, responsible for initiating legislation and with government ministers expected to be drawn from the ranks of MPs/MSPs.

The role of the Senate would be to approve legislation, while sending unacceptable bills back to the House of Commons with recommendations for amendments. The Senate would also be able to propose legislation to be debated in the House of Commons and also to rule on constitutional* matters, being able to veto bills it deemed to be unconstitutional or against the interests of the country. The Senate would also be able to calla referendum on any issue they deemed to be suitably important and would act as a court of appeal on any issues of parliamentary discipline.

* Of course, this is dependent on there actually being a written constitution for the UK or Scotland, but I would argue that this would be a very desirable thing to have.

Candidacy

As party politics is one of the less appealing parts of the political landscape anywhere, with individual MPs often having more loyalty towards their party and it’s donors rather than their constituents, it would be a refreshing change for the upper house to be devoid of such divisions.

As such, prospective Senators would not be allowed to be a member of a political party or have been politically active (as an office bearer or candidate for a party) for at least a decade prior to their election. Of course, charity workers, union representatives etc. do not count as politically active.

Furthermore, to avoid the potential bias of big business or individually wealthy candidates, prospective Senators would have a strict campaign budget, but would receive a taxpayer funded freepost similar to that which is given to prospective MPs, as well as mandated coverage on regional television via the BBC.

In my mind, the Senate would ideally be composed of people with experience in a wide variety of real world roles, with academics, charity workers, businesspeople and so on all represented but I can’t think of a way to proactively make this happen.

Election

The Senate would be wholly elected with candidates standing in a single electoral region and the top candidates would be elected via single transferable vote (STV.)

The specifics of electoral regions etc. would depend on whether we were talking about a UK or Scottish Senate, so I’ll deal with each example differently.

For the UK, I would use the electoral regions and number of representatives as used for the European elections, giving a total of 73 senators elected from the twelve regions.

For Scotland, I would use the eight electoral regions used for the Scottish parliament elections, each returning three representatives, giving a total of twenty four senators.

Senators would serve for a four year term and being barred from serving more than three terms, with elections offset from the main parliamentary elections to avoid confusion between the elections.

Location

The expense of building a wholly new Senate building and the inevitable bunfight about where to situate it are evident problems with the creation of a new institution. However, this can be countered in a way which also makes the Senate more accessible, inclusive and representative of the nation. Send it on tour.

The Senate would exist as a legislative body composed of its members, not tied to any particular building. The Senate would meet in locations across the country, rotating between electoral regions on a monthly basis, thereby ensuring that the Senate is in your part of the country at least one month a year, with the public able to view debates and so on.

Of course, the expenses accrued in travel and accommodation for senators and staff (both senator’s aides and the administrative staff of the institution) would be considerable, but given the restricted number of senators, this is still likely to be less than the running expenses of the House of Lords as it stands.

In practical terms, this means that the Senate would meet two days a week, while Senators would be expected to work in their home regions three days a week, holding surgeries, meeting constituents and working from their home office.

Remuneration

Being a full-time job which is intended to attract ordinary people, rather than simply the wealthy or a professional politician, I propose that the wage for Senators be fixed as twice the average UK wage – at the moment amounting to a wage of around £55’000. This wage is sufficient to reflect the level of responsibility implicit in the role and discourage corruption (as power without proportional remuneration will inevitably lead to corruption) while not being so generous as to attract those who could earn more as a CEO.

Senators would also receive expenses for travel between their residence and where senate is being held, plus an allowance for an office and staff.

Senators would be barred from holding any other business interest while in office* or from accepting any ‘figurehead’ roles with companies after their term. If they insist on profiteering, they can write a book…

* If they are business owners when elected, they would be allowed to continue as owner but only in a non-executive capacity, handing the running of the company over for the duration.

Accountability

Any senator or prospective Senator found to be claiming fraudulent expenses, favouring business interests or similar will be immediately stripped of their position and a by-election process started.

There would also be a recall procedure similar to the proposed Recall of MPs act, whereby electors would be able to recall a Senator if a sufficient number lodged their name against the motion to do so.

Obviously, many of these suggestions are in very broad strokes and reflect my personal preferences but the purpose of the article is largely to show that the way things are and have been done in British (or Scottish) politics does not have to endure.

By challenging the institutions and forms of our governance and having an open debate about what kind of country we want to live in and how we wish to be governed, positive change can move from seeming an impossible dream to something which seems logical, natural and inevitable.

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Groups, Crowds and Cliques

Photo credit: lewishdreamer, Flickr

Photo credit: lewishdreamer, Flickr

Pat Wylie

Where there are groups, there are group dynamics.

After thirty years as a left-wing backbencher, an outrider in parliamentary Labour politics, Jeremy Corbyn recently became Labour leader with the support of an overwhelming 66 per cent of those who voted. I welcome Corbyn’s leadership. Perhaps now Labour will return to being the party that promotes secure employment and universal human rights. Perhaps this symbolises a revival of the left in England and thus a narrowing of the gap between the political cultures at Westminster and at Holyrood. Perhaps not; Corbyn’s support appears to have come from trade unions and ordinary people rather than from many of his fellow Labour MPs. In any case, what does Corbyn’s victory tell us about group dynamics and group thinking?

Corbyn first became an MP in 1983, at the same time as Tony Blair. Many Labour MPs of his generation went on to form protective cliques around Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and each other, hitching their own careers to New Labour. Within a few years, this generation of MPs came to dominate the Labour party, reforming the party from the top and giving the general impression that there was “no going back” to anything resembling left-wing socialism.

Throughout the period 1983 to 2015, Corbyn was given no additional responsibilities within parliament, nor did he gain the media platform or public recognition afforded to other left-wing Labour figures such as Tony Benn, or controversialists such as George Galloway and Dennis Skinner. Corbyn’s hitherto low profile will have played some part in his recent success; he is an untainted outsider, who didn’t compromise and had the strength to resist the charismatic power of New Labour.

And so it goes in work and life. Not everyone will attain a position of great prominence, nor high salary; not everyone’s career ends with a flourishing up-tick as we reach our later years. In contrast to Corbyn, the nondescript recent lives of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Alastair Campbell illustrate the pitfalls of a career that peaks early. At one point or another, most of us will belong to an “in-crowd”, held in high regard by others and getting away with our mistakes. Most of us have also experienced an “out-crowd”, far from power and not expecting to be thanked for our efforts.

“Group-think” prevails in most white-collar workplaces, not just in government. It happens whenever crucial decisions are made by a number of close colleagues with the same priorities and vested interests. The good news is that these things tend to change over time. To take one example from social work and public services, today’s out-crowds are those who stood by and did nothing while young people were being sexually exploited in Rotherham, Rochdale, near celebrities, and in many other places besides. The tide is still rising and there remain many people who have yet to be held accountable for their negligence or active participation in the sexual abuse of children. But the group-thinkers who said nothing could be done have been undone by their own complacency; a new generation is determined to act to prevent these injustices in future.

I can think of two crumbs of comfort to the phenomenon of in-crowds and out-crowds. Firstly, times change and lots of people get their comeuppance at one time or another. Secondly, there is more to life than winning and leading. The recent flurry of publicity around Alex Ferguson’s new book, Leading, seems to revolve around the premise that life can only really be enjoyed if one spends it in a state of perennial “victory”, leading one’s team to ever greater triumph in perennial competition against others. Suffice to say, life doesn’t work like this and many leaders and winners probably wish that they hadn’t bothered to make the compromises and sacrifices necessary to reach “the top”.

Power should only be held by those who don’t desire it. Good luck, Jeremy.

Is tribalism a barrier to genuinely progressive politics?

Kingsley

Anna Crow

So, what team do you support?

How many of us remember those days when, particularly in Glasgow, to ask what football team someone supported might have been the most divisive question that could be asked of someone by a new acquaintance?  I must admit that when faced with this particular question, I very rarely have given whatever the asker would consider to be the right answer.  I am fairly indifferent towards football in general.  If pressed for a more specific answer I might express support for Partick Thistle, if largely because I like that they are not caught up in the sectarianism which can divide Rangers and Celtic supporters and associated groups, and I like their new mascot Kingsley, who was designed by David Shrigley, one of my favourite artists.

That answer and its basis some may find controversial enough; however any controversy which could be provoked by asking the question above so often pales starkly compared to that generated in response to the question posed to those able to vote in Scotland last year – the question of whether we should become an independent country.  I and so many others grew to feel very strongly about our personal viewpoint regarding this.  I imagine how I felt when walking past others in the street who were wearing Yes badges is similar in many ways to how avid supporters of a football team may feel when seeing others wearing the same colours, proudly displaying their affiliation.  I remember that urgent sense of wanting to find out from acquaintances both new and old their answer to that question – were they a Yes or a No?  In essence, what team did they support and why?

Nearly 1 year post-referendum, I don’t feel that precise urge so often anymore.  I certainly do not regret that Scottish independence was a large part of the draw for me and many others to engage seriously with politics, but I believe that to focus on independence as a single issue will always risk hampering a broader sense of perspective and understanding regarding politics and society in Scotland and beyond.  I still support Scottish independence but it is clearer to me than ever that this is from the viewpoint of it being a means to the kind of significant progressive change that I feel is so desperately needed, rather than from a point of view of nationalism for its own sake.

More and more I find myself questioning this instinct that drives people to think about things in terms of teams or sides and to focus so often on what divides us rather than what may unite us.  The prevalent tendency is to simplify, to present issues as a strict dichotomy when most things are much more complex.  With this can come the mentality where people assume all of those on what they perceive as the same side are friends and all on the opposing side as enemies, and even perhaps view the enemies of their enemies as friends by default.  I feel that there are many flaws in such a way of thinking.  I believe that the time has come to pose this question: is there really any place for this tribalistic mentality in progressive politics?

I do not seek to belittle the value of the way in which to align with a defined group can be a positive thing in terms of engagement with others who share the same beliefs and values to work together for the common good.  However, it is vital to remain aware that not all within groups we choose to join may share the same inherent views concerning important issues and there may even be times when we find have more in common with those some may view as being on the other side rather than those in the groups we may be affiliated with.

In terms of the Scottish independence debate there are prominent figures including elected politicians on both sides – to conform to a dichotomous way of thinking – whom I respect and admire because of the principled and progressive values shown by their words and actions.  There are also those in both groups who seem more interested in their own power gains than the common good or whose words and behaviour have displayed other attitudes which I believe to be bigoted and completely unacceptable.

Moreover, thinking more broadly about politics in Scotland and the rest of the UK, could anyone really argue that the sheer level of animosity frequently displayed between certain political parties, between Labour and the SNP for example, is a productive influence for the common good of wider society?  So often televised pre-election debates descend into shouting matches rather than any thoughtful and reasoned discussion where all are given equal time to make their case and be questioned and held to account by the general public.  What is of even more concern is that the same attitude seems so prevalent within all levels of government – the political happenings that we as the general public will not have easy access to see.

A culture where tribalism is so prominent can foster an unhealthy sense of hierarchy and lead to bullying and intimidation of individuals who may at times be unwilling to side with the dominant view in their affiliated group for good reason – how can this be representative of genuine democracy?  This mentality also creates an unnecessary barrier between different groups being able to communicate honestly and work together when possible while retaining the ability to take a stand on areas of irreconcilable disagreement.

To challenge this may not be simple or straightforward to do but I believe that is what we and our elected representatives in government must do and keep doing in order to further progressive politics.  We need politics that represents genuine democracy, a greater sense of cooperation and solidarity regarding issues we agree upon, and most importantly, politics that is centred on the common good of all in society.

The Value of Opposition

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Chris Napier

It goes without saying that most of the attention paid to parliament tends to be concentrated on the party (or coalition) in power because they are the ones capable of getting things done, changing laws, changing lives and in theory representing the majority of the nation’s voters.

However, like many things which are not appreciated until they are gone, the value of a functional opposition in a parliamentary democracy is often overlooked.

Parliament is not supposed to merely rubber stamp government policies but to dynamically debate, refine and reform them before being enacted into legislation by a vote.

A strong opposition can pressure a government into changing or at least mitigating their policy, they can press the government on details which expose unwelcome facets of their legislation and they can offer a genuine alternative to the populace, making elections a vital process by which the general public can choose between distinct political ideologies.

On the other hand, a weak opposition effectively leaves the government with free reign to do whatever they like, fails to pick holes in dubious legislation and reduces elections to a formality which results in voter disengagement, low turnout and a degradation of the whole concept of representative democracy.

In both the UK and Scottish parliaments, Labour are the second largest party and thus form the backbone of what should be the opposition* but the party’s inability to process the reasons for their fall from government over the last eight years, their ongoing leadership turmoil and seeming loss of identity has left them unable to perform that task.

* Indeed in Westminster, the Labour leader is the formal Leader of the Opposition, while Holyrood’s less adversarial format means that no such official analogue exists in the Scottish lexicon.

In both parliaments, Labour stand too close to the party in government, not wanting to seem too different lest they be deemed ‘unelectable’ while attempting to distinguish themselves from their opponents on evidently disingenuous ideological terms.

In Westminster, Labour feel they cannot oppose the right wing austerity agenda lest they be seen as economically irresponsible – effectively accepting the Conservative narrative rather than challenging it and offering an alternative. Since long before the recent general election they have repeatedly voted with the government or abstained on major votes, effectively negating their worth as an opposition – and in my eyes, making themselves unelectable in the process. After all, if you want a neoliberal, corporate sponsored government, why would you vote for the equivocating, vanilla version when the full throated Conservative version was right there?

In Holyrood, Labour suffer from being diametrically opposed to the SNP on one issue (independence), at odds on a few issues (notably how to deal with the ongoing financial crisis & austerity) and on most others, their manifestos could be copied and pasted from one another. This leaves them unable to tackle the SNP on most policy areas as they would not suggest wildly different approaches, they cannot wholeheartedly campaign for austerity knowing the mood of the Scottish electorate and are left picking at the edges and harping on about the SNP’s obsession with independence.

This leaves the SNP, with only 56 MPs to the Conservatives 330 as the main functional opposition in Westminster and they have set about doing their best despite the 6-1 odds (which are even worse when you consider that Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the DUP are as likely to vote with the Conservatives as oppose them.)

What makes this even more frustrating is that the majorities enjoyed by the governing parties in the both parliaments are laughably small, meaning that a strong opposition would be ideally placed to affect government policy and take advantage of any dissension in the government ranks.

It is necessary in the name of democracy that the Conservatives and SNP are confronted by a strong opposition in both parliaments, either by Labour rediscovering their principles or by increased representation at the next election for parties who are actually willing to provide that opposition.

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If you like what you read please check out some of our other articles and if you don’t like what you read please give your own perspective and contribute! As a new venture we are always looking for talented writers with something to say about Scots politics and culture and if you have never written before, give it a try. Please contact scotsperspective@gmail.com or message our Facebook page.

Roundtable – “What is an appropriate timeframe for the next Scottish Independence referendum and why?”

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Every week we’ll be asking our pool of contributors a topical question and presenting their responses, with the aim of fostering debate around an issue.  For this first week our question is…

“What is an appropriate timeframe for the next Scottish Independence referendum and why?”

Of course, we’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the issue, so please feel free to join the debate or even join our team of contributors!

Anna Crow

In a time of unprecedented political change very much ongoing in Scotland and beyond, I find this an impossible question to give a specific answer to. I voted Yes not for independence as its own cause but as an opportunity for the kind of radical changes I feel we are very unlikely to see while tied to the Westminster establishment. I still largely feel this way, especially with events of recent months including the general election result.

However to rush into another referendum too quickly without comprehensive planning or a clear majority – eg upwards of 70% supporting a Yes vote – would be a mistake. There is benefit to seeing how things will play out regarding issues such as the EU referendum and also changes within the Labour leadership while carefully considering when a next referendum should take place if circumstances are still much the same in terms of the detrimental effect in many ways, as I see it currently, of remaining part of the UK rather than being independent.

I certainly would be less opposed to being part of a UK with someone such as Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. As with so many things, I feel it is important to remain equally open-minded and critical. Scottish independence should not be regarded as a single issue, and neither should it be focused on in an unhelpful way at the expense of considering much more immediate and pressing concerns.

Chris Napier

My answer to this has to come from two viewpoints.

From an objective point of view, a second referendum cannot be rushed, after all the first referendum took place almost three and a half years after the SNP’s majority in the 2011 election so a similar timeframe (assuming an SNP majority in next year’s election) points to a referendum in autumn 2018. This is the minimum amount of time which should be allocated to organise, legislate and campaign for a plebiscite of such magnitude.

However, such a swift revisitation of the question is problematic for a few reasons. Firstly, the Conservative government in Westminster is not amenable to another independence referendum and would block it at every opportunity, so waiting for a change in government – or at least Conservative leadership (likely in 2018 or so) may be necessary.

Secondly, the EU referendum is pencilled in for autumn 2017 and it’s implications should be made clear before Scotland is asked to decide on it’s own constitutional future again. Thereby it would be preferable to wait rather than potentially have a predictable material change in circumstances midway through the campaign.

Lastly, four years is a very quick turnaround to revisit a constitutional question of such magnitude and more time for analysis, reflection and for attitudes to change in either direction is only seemly. Of course, the ‘once in a generation’ rhetoric is unreasonable, because if there is popular demand for a vote, no administration should stop there being a vote in the name of some arbitrary 25 year moratorium on the issue.

From the point of view of a Yes voter, who took that position in the informed belief that Scotland could thrive economically and socially as an independent country and that the progressive change needed could only happen shorn of the Westminster establishment, I don’t wish to rush a second referendum when the possibility of another loss exists.

Quebec took fifteen years between their independence referenda and the second result was still a No vote. Since that second (incredibly narrow) loss, the issue has not been revisited in twenty years…

I’m also of the belief that if progressive change becomes possible within the UK, then many of the most compelling reasons for undergoing the turmoil of secession from the union fade away.

Both points of view indicate that a second independence referendum should not take place within this parliament and that it would be best for both sides to fully analyse the reasons for the first result before even considering a second ballot.

There is also a lot going on at the moment, between the EU referendum and Jeremy Corbyn’s potential to revitalise the Labour party as a progressive force and it’s worth letting these issues play out before rushing back to the polls.

As such, I’d say that a referendum in the next parliamentary cycle is perfectly reasonable, perhaps initiated by the result of the EU referendum or an SNP majority in the next Holyrood elections, making anything between 2021-2024 a plausible date for the vote.

Louise Wilson

I agree that suggesting any specific length of time on this would be arbitrary. Should another referendum on independence go ahead, it ought to be as a response to the calls of the electorate – whether that is in two years or ten years or longer doesn’t matter, that’s just how a true democracy functions.

That being said, I think there does need to be a reasonable length of time to pass before the question is posed again. At the end of the day, any referendum will somewhat detract from other issues of importance, and that must be taken into consideration. Further, and as many politicians themselves have pointed out, there needs to be some change in circumstance to mean a referendum would be required, or simply risk repeating the same outcome we saw in September without actually addressing any new issues or for there to be a reasonable suggestion that voters have changed their minds.

Having a Conservative majority at Westminster does not qualify – we were all well aware that this could happen in September, and votes were cast with this knowledge. Any referendum that would fundamentally change a composition of Scotland and the wider UK should not be called on the basis that people don’t like the government of the day – after all, this is subject to change at least every five years (under current legislation).

I also believe that a ‘landslide’ win for the SNP next year would not necessarily provide the ‘mandate’ the party has been talking about. Many who vote for the SNP may not be supporters of independence, but rather their other policies. Poll after poll has actually indicated that many No voters trust the SNP to deliver on other issues – notably devolution.

On the EU referendum, this could qualify as a shift in circumstances – with a caveat. The difference between the Scottish and rUK vote would have to be more than just marginal. It could happen that the rUK vote 51% out whilst Scotland votes 51% in – though this marks the difference between In/Out, is also means thinking is similar enough than nearly as many people rUK would feel exactly the same about a result as Scotland. However, I genuinely don’t believe the UK will opt out of the EU, so have doubts that this would be an issue anyway.

Essentially, it’s a very difficult question to answer. Of course a referendum should be held if people are calling for one – but exactly how to measure those calls and what is deemed as a shift in circumstance are very complex issues.

Pat Wylie

I am wary of a kneejerk response to the ‘no’ vote and its immediate aftermath. When I narrowly fail a test or an exam, my first reaction is usually to wish to try again straight away; but the correct reaction is to learn from why I failed – while not forgetting what I did right, how hard I worked and how close I came. I think we have a lot of reflecting and learning still to do.

We are still in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. The aftermath will last for many years to come, as the short term destinies of Scotland, the UK, the Eurozone and the EU develop over the next ten years or so. Much of the referendum campaign, rightly or wrongly, hinged on popular predictions around what was going to happen in the global economy. Factors such as North Sea oil, the destiny of the global economy, and the ability of ‘the left’ to stage a revival among floating voters in the South of England, all need to be given time to play out. It will be time to consider Scotland’s constitutional future when these grand macroeconomic and political positions have fermented.

I also feel uncomfortable even considering a second referendum while relations between our two biggest parties, Labour and the SNP, remain tribal and, at times, hostile. I do not blame London Labour alone for this; Miliband’s stance at the recent General Election was ill-considered but the SNP government has behaved provocatively towards Labour activists and Labour-run councils in Scotland over recent years, and this will have stoked the tension between the parties.

On the left, we also have to use our parliament and our local government to back up our discourse of a more equal society with well-resourced public services. Regardless of the pathetic dilution of ‘the Vow’, we have some (not enough, but some) powers over taxation and planning. We need to use these to defend our long tradition of universal public services, while finding creative and fair ways to discourage the creeping trend for better-off Scots to use private health and education services, to show that Scotland really is different, a place that knows, deep down, that we are all equal.

Then, and only then, will we be ready to sit the exam again.

Liam Muir

As much as it pains me to say it. I do not think a Scottish Independence referendum is a sensible decision in the current political climate. It hasn’t even been a year since the last one and given the significance of the recent developments in Greece, there are quite simply more pressing issues on the horizon!

Pressing issues such as the EU referendum. It is all relative. If (and thats a big ‘If’ given the Left’s recent loss of patience with the EU) Scotland is dragged out of the EU against its wishes, then of course there would be legitimate cause for protest. Nicola Sturgeon has often spoke of a material change in circumstance and this eventuality may well be it but we will just have to be patient. I believe some in the Yes camp are making a mistake by pushing for another vote as soon as possible!

We all know how little effort the House of Commons have made to keep their promises on devolution but this is going to take a while to sink in with the general public. The bottom line is, we need to convince more people of the practical benefits independence has. Now I fully accept there was significant influence from the state media and business last time around but asking people to contemplate our nation’s sovereignty again so soon is only going to alienate the people we need to sway!

I do not have an exact year and date I think another referendum should be called, but before we start thinking about when, we need think about how. There are arguments we must win that we didn’t last time. The currency was for most people the biggest obstacle. So if we return to this debate with the same arguments as before, we can expect the same result.  Once the EU referendum, the Holyrood election and the 2020 UK General elections are out of the way, Scotland will have a much better insight in to public opinion and what lies ahead. Timing is incredibly important regarding ‘Indyref 2’ because if we lose again, it really will be ‘settled for a generation’.

That’s what our contributors think, but what do YOU think?  Next week’s question will be “Would Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership be good for Scotland?” and we’d love to hear your take on both this week and next weeks topics.

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If you like what you read please check out some of our other articles and if you don’t like what you read please give your own perspective and contribute! As a new venture we are always looking for talented writers with something to say about Scots politics and culture and if you have never written before, give it a try. Please contact scotsperspective@gmail.com or message our Facebook page.

What is happening in Greece marks the beginning of a new chapter in politics

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Liam Muir

At the heart of the EU is supposedly a message of peace. Recently however, it seems Greece is being subjected to a different kind of warfare. Financial warfare. This has truly marked the beginning of a new chapter in politics. Why? Because everything done from this point onwards will be done with Greece in mind. The austerity that has been enforced on behalf of the European Central Bank (ECB) has widely been discredited by economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for that matter. Despite the clear failings of this economic ideology, it continues to be used as the excuse for the erosion of human rights.

So desperate was the situation leading up to Greece’s No vote, cash machines were running out of money. People were facing the prospect of losing the money in their accounts. This is how far Greece’s creditors were willing to go. It was just how ‘out in the open’ it was that was so alarming.

€240 billion (£260 billion) was given by the German banks to Greece in the form of a bailout fund. This would have gone a long way towards easing the severe suffering if it wasn’t for the fact that 90% went towards avoiding the failure of the German and French banks. Is it any wonder ex finance minister Yanis Varafoukis accused Greece’s creditors of terrorism?

The perpetual debt Greece had thrust upon them before Syriza’s election in January, was as disgraceful as it was pointless. The sinister piece of this puzzle is how easily the ECB could write off the debt entirely, just like Greece helped to write off Germany’s massive post Second World War debt. When we factor in to the discussion the amount of money spent bailing out banks globally being literally trillions, something tells me that if there was a profit to be made in Greece’s recovery, this would already be yesterday’s news by now.

Initially, it looked as though Greece had breathed new life into the European wide fightback against neo liberalism. Instead what did we get? Germany just smacked its disgruntled employee in the face for publicly speaking out, told it to sit down, shut up and looked around at the rest of the room full of employees and asked, ‘Anyone else want to be a hero?’ The ECB needed someone to make an example of in order to make it clear just where everybody stands. Greece have been set up to fail and used as a lab rat in a twisted neo liberal Frankenstein experiment.

This is nothing new of course, but the impact of these developments on a newly found politically engaged generation has given Greek events great significance. It has brought the control the financial sector has to the forefront of its consciousness.

It’s not as if there is a shortage of support for human rights across Europe. Look at the Labour leadership race for example. Why has Corbyn raced ahead in the polls? It is not due to socialist idealists looking to make trouble. It is because the English public have been given the faint scent of progressive politics and grabbed it with both hands. Just because Tony Blair thinks Corbyn is old fashioned, doesn’t mean what he is saying isn’t resonating with people. The same thing happened in Scotland last year.
Whenever there is a whimper of opposition to the status quo, it causes near hysteria within the ranks of law makers. No surprise then, when Greece became the first country in the EU to default on its IMF loans, the state media’s reaction was largely typical. Belittling the honest intentions and priorities of Syriza. Many of Britain’s leading intellectuals expressed their contempt with how a political party elected to raise the living standards of its most deprived citizens, was being portrayed as an errant charity case. The Herald’s Iain Macwhirter noted the similarities between their depiction of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and their caricature of Alex Salmond as an arrogant renegade, motivated purely by ego and self-interest. The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore said the politics of ‘project fear’, all too familiar to progressive Scots, are spreading across Europe.

And what is David Cameron’s mentality towards the struggles of the Greek people? It is similar to his attitude towards the thousands of drowning migrants or ‘people’ as they are sometimes known. Neglect. This is what I find so upsetting. The UK shows no empathy towards its fellow Europeans, purely to ensure that the figures look good. To our unsympathetic Conservative Government, Greece is the benefit scrounger of Europe, doing anything it can for a hand out. And to give it would mean hurting our economy and preventing our precious 0.7% acceleration.

All things considered, Syriza knew they could never accept the Troika’s proposals, so they played the only hand they had and called for a referendum. However, by allowing the Greek people to decide, they have highlighted how willing the European elite is to undermine democracy. Greece’s No vote in the referendum has apparently fallen on deaf ears as Syriza are being forced to implement the austerity they have been given a clear mandate to fight against. Now the curtain has been pulled back and the will of the people has been undermined for all to see. How a country’s citizens want to live is of secondary importance and as we pass through the looking glass, into the next chapter, many are left traumatised. George Monbiot hit the nail on the head when he described Greece as the ‘Latest battleground in the financial elite’s war on democracy’.

The objective of the European elite has never been more clear. Narrowing the scope of ideas and institutionalising the free market mentality. If we are to regroup as a Europe wide movement, we have no alternative but to accept that any hope for a reformed European Union has been significantly set back.