The real north

I have been feeling grim about the prospects of the union, should there be another referendum. I’m trying to figure out what we can do to stop it breaking apart, beyond the empty soundbite of “working together for now, cross-party, towards a better Scotland, regardless of its constitutional state”. Basically making some progress on “the day job” stuff for a while. To do that, we need to figure out what it is nationalists want, because like it or not, there is no Scottish Parliamentary election result in 2021 that doesn’t see us having to find some common ground with the SNP to achieve positive change for Scotland. If we can offer them some of what they want, even without the flags, unicorns and different coloured passports, all the better for Scotland; but also for the Liberal Democrats, and the campaign we may have to fight to remain in the union.

This isn’t about bribery. The passion of independence activists and supporters will not be bought. Anyone that thinks otherwise knows nothing of (or has forgotten) the Scottish people. We have our own character, just like the English and Welsh and Northern Irish. Our own particular brand of stubborn pride. It cannot be a zero sum game. We need to allow ourselves to be proud of our regions and national identities within this union. To be competitive at times and stand in solidarity at others. We can do so by refocusing on the federal nature of our party’s aspirations. But nationalists do not want to hear the F-word. Not when it isn’t feasible and represents another boon to buy time. And that’s all federalism in name only would buy us, even if it were within our gift.

We need to find out what substantive policies we can work together with nationalists – or any party in Holyrood – to address Scotland’s unique problems and challenging, but promising, future. We can stand strong on the need for a better immigration policy, pushing for differentiation without abandoning our values in the south. It’s just pragmatism. We have the numbers to make a difference and present an almost united front to pursue the policy Scotland needs (perhaps fully united, if the Scottish Conservatives’ fury at the new regime is true). The debacle of calling two party-political conferences to tackle the resurgent drug and alcohol death crisis should shame our politicians. But if we can drop the point scoring and sit around the same table, maybe we can start to build more constructive working relationships and start helping these desperate individuals to change their own lives.

There is much the can be accomplished by working together on our common causes north of the border. Unionist ideology will not sway swithering anti-Boris voters any more than the nationalist equivalent will convert pragmatic No voters. We need to prove what we can do when we put that aside.

If people see us make progress, they will see how little the ideology matters. Or perhaps not. Perhaps they’ll still want a new passport and national anthem. But it’s our best chance. And it’s best for Scotland. Our whole union has been stifled by ideological warfare for too long. Like the climate crisis, these issues must be addressed now. They cannot wait. But we can make no progress while entrenched. We must move a little, be open to the unspeakable – another referendum, one day – if it helps them to move a little closer. Only then can we make any progress on Scotland’s unique issues, and those of importance to the whole world.

Sometimes I worry this party might forget where the real north is. It’s a little further up the road than York.

* Johnny McDermott is a Glasgow University Law graduate who is studying for his Masters with a focus on moral and political philosophy.

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  • I am an Unionist albeit one that lives in England. But I’d suggest several things to preserve the union.

    1. We and the other unionist parties are more than entitled to campaign on the basis that we will not hold a referendum if returned to the Scottish parliament at the next Scottish Parliament election.


    If the SNP and the Scottish Greens get a majority of MSPs at the next election especially if they get over 50% of the vote the UK should not deny them a referendum. This is just good psychology. People always want things that are being denied them. To get children to eat vegetables, tell them that they won’t like them and only adults can have them! They will soon be demanding them! But more than that surely as Lib Dems we believe in the right of people to self determination.

    2. We should amend the referendums legislation in 2 regardsm

    A percentage of a population in a region – say 20% should have the right to ask for and get a referendum.

    And a referendum on the same subject should not be allowed for a defined period of time – say 10 years.

    3. We should campaign hard to rejoin the EU. It is clear that Scottish independence has gained ground following Brexit. As a Remainer (a Rejoiner ?) If I was living in Scotland I would have to have a serious debate with myself (!) on how I’d vote in a second indy ref. I think the union would win but I’m not sure!

    4. Have a serious debate and common proposals on how the UK can become a more federal, more devolved country – particularly with Labour but also the Tories and indeed the SNP and greens. A federal UK with more devolution is our policy anyway. But this would help not only in Scotland but Northern Ireland as well as Wales and the English regions.

  • If there is another referendum then the terms of the exit should be agreed beforehand, so that everyone who votes will know what they are voting for. The level of debt the Scots will taking on, their currency, who will pay for the new border – can’t see the EU letting them join without one… the other point is that logically, having rejected the overall verdict of the UK on the EU, the Scots then can’t force parts of Scotland that want to remain in the UK to leave, so they will have to accept moving the border northwards if the border counties want to remain in the UK, without ending up with a Berlin style situation. Once this all seeps into the minds of the Scots they may not be so enthusiastic about leaving.

  • Scottish Independence is an emotional argument, in the same way Brexit is. Nationalists cannot be persuaded by reason and logic and it’s pointless trying.

  • Johnny McDermott 25th Feb '20 - 9:29am

    Hi Michael 1, thanks for the considered response! I get point 1, and the Scottish Tories certainly will campaign on that message, but feel we need to be a unionist party that doesn’t shut that door. You make the reverse psychology point yourself, and I fear the longer Boris has to make a mess, the worse for our prospects of remaining in the union. Fully agree with the logic, and the second point if the result is obviously pro-ref, but not sure it appeals to anyone but hard Remainers (like Revoke A50).

    I like the idea on referendums in 2! Certainly based on the likes of Article 138 of the Italian constitution, where confirmatory referendums must be held on constitutional matters, or one can be invoked by under certain conditions. It isn’t about making it “easy” to call, as many will panic hearing “more” and “referendum” in the same sentence! But in principle, it gives people far more ownership – and like reply from Frank West says, people also know what they’re voting for.

    YES to the time limit! It was my hope pre-Brexit that a deal could be done for SNP support in return for our support on a 2030 referendum, provided they work in good faith to address the day job issues they have scandalously ignored. Any that is held in the next decade needs to be the last for at least 25-30 years or something. A third would be ludicrous, regardless of how close the result (as even Quebecois movement ceded – the best outcome we can hope for).

    I worry about 3’s national impact, and our sincerity if I say “definitely in Scotland”. It may go down better here, but it might go down worse. We had 2014 and a couple of extra parliamentary elections on top of everything else. Electoral exhaustion is definitely a consideration. I think the EU policy should fit the union as a whole, too. Separating ourselves from too many areas reaffirms the nationalist case.

    Agreed on 4. Can be used to craft policies that aren’t one size fits all, but are coherent and designed to work in harmony with other regions (or even friendly competition). Perhaps they might hear the F-word if they see it’s a really well considered and genuine system. Building that into our plans could be the positive edge we need.

  • Johnny McDermott 25th Feb '20 - 9:40am

    Frank West – I’m a unionist but even I find the dismissive tone frustrating. An example of how not to respect the Scottish people’s “unique sense of stubborn pride”. Talk of what can and can’t be forced (or allowed), what’s logical and what will seep into our brains… it does not go down well. Like the reverse psychology Michael 1 mentioned, telling people what to do rarely works. Logic has little role in ideology. Brexit showed us where talking down to voters/ not coddling their egos a little more costs.
    But I think you’re partially correct: the facts are on our side. Just wrong in the negativity our campaign would be centred on should we pursue that angle. I thought as much myself last year: play the Scottish WAB soundbite hard – hard border, divorce bill and troublesome citizens rights (more akin to Northern Irish citz rights than EU, tied to identity in fundamental way). We shouldn’t be afraid to say: do we want to go through all of this again? Weariness can work there, but hardly inspire.

    Tory MSP and deputy leader Annie Wells released the most tone deaf rallying cry for an ideological “army” of Tories to get “tore into” (urgh… “intae” would’ve read better) the SNP because she knew her supporters were “sick of the SNP winning elections”. Like Michael said, even as a unionist, I find myself sometimes bitterly musing on the question: is independence the fastest survivable way off of this ship? I don’t think it is, actually, but I’m certainly not the only one thinking it. We must take care. It’s hard. We have so many facts on our side, the experience of Brexit, yet I think it is we who haven’t learned. That experience informed us just how little facts matter when passions are involved. It is crucial Scottish LDs deal with the next referendum, or UK ones take a refresher on Scotland before wading in (Lisa Nandy proved how damaging it is; Catalonia comment was horrific). We can’t afford to wind up votes we desperately need. So we need that positive case, and to prove we can instigate positive changes. This will demonstrate that the SNP are capable of far more progress than they are permitting to happen and Westminster is rarely the barrier they claim. Hitting their lies is fine, but not project fear style. We must make a positive case – if they come out with a massive white paper on our future, we really should have one too, on our future in the union/ federal Britain.

  • Johnny McDermott makes a good response to Frank West’s rather loaded comments. I too voted ‘No’ last time, but events have moved on. I now regard independence as an open question with a touch of Morton’s Fork about it.

    Mr West makes much of the financial consequences (I don’t dismiss this), but he conveniently forgets Scottish taxpayers contribute about 10% to the cost of replacing Trident ( £ 205 billion plus), HS2 ( £ 100 billion plus) and Crossrail (£ 20 billion plus) none of which they benefit from …… and they’ve lost EU membership, which, if regained, would have positive benefits. They have also lost the benefit of inward migration from the EU so desperately needed in social care and the NHS.

    As a Yorkshireman who has lived (and held elective office) in Scotland for over fifteen years I can tell Mr West not to patronise Scotland. It is counter-productive….. his comments about the Borders is imaginative to put it mildly.

    I’m not over surprised. Mr West has exhibited enthusiasm for a form of little England
    retrenchment to the right of Mr Gladstone on previous occasions….. but at least W.E.G. had some respect and sympathy for Scotland.

  • Peter Hirst 25th Feb '20 - 2:32pm

    What do the Scottish people really want? I don’t suppose there is an easy answer. I suspect they don’t want a hard border and they want free movement. It seems ludicrous that we can’t meet their needs without independence. They are pragmatic though their politician might not be.

  • @David Raw “he conveniently forgets Scottish taxpayers contribute about 10% to the cost of replacing Trident ( £ 205 billion plus), …. none of which they benefit from.”

    How strange, and there was me thinking that the Royal Navy has it’s nuclear submarine base at Faslane (which, though I’m no geography expert, is not far from Glasgow); perhaps there is some benefit to the Scottish economy after all.

  • David Raw, I hover somewhere between anarchy and creative capitalism which often collides with Liberal views but surely after all the angst and anger on this site about Brexit – and all those Lies – that the exit deal should, this time, be agreed before any new referendum so everything is in plain view. On the borders it is not my logic but the SNP’s (in not accepting the overall views of the UK on Brexit) that leads to a possible northwards drift if that is indeed what the populace of the border counties want. The detailed fiscal pluses and minuses of leaving the UK I will leave for others to extrapolate on but judging by Brexit’s fiscal reality will meet cloth ears again (I wanted to remain before I am accused otherwise again). Meanwhile I will be putting my pension funds into such companies that can cleave a new hard border somewhere in the real north, an extended process that will probably mean I will expire before it is completed.

  • @ Peter Hirst “They are pragmatic though their politicians might not be.”

    Hi, Peter. Having dealt with many of them frequently (Lib Dem, Green, Labour and SNP) as a Council Cabinet member, and later as a lobbyist on Minimum Pricing and Organ Donation, I can tell you that in my experience most of them are pragmatic, accessible and very pleasant.

    There’s a lot less pragmatism in Westminster than there is in Holyrood. I was even (shock horror) on tolerable chatting terms on a Charity with a Tory MSP whose views on welfare matters (I hope) would make your hair curl.

    It’s just that south of the border it suits the Tory press to paint Holyrood and the competent Nicola as ranting extremists.

  • @michael1

    “If the SNP and the Scottish Greens get a majority of MSPs at the next election …”

    They did in 2016 but the British nationalist parties say this is not a mandate.
    The SNP winning the 2017 UK General Election by a landslide in Scotland is also not a mandate according to the British nationalist parties.
    Now you seem to be proposing another hurdle: pro-independence parties should win 50% of the votes in the Scottish General Election.
    The message to Scotland’s voters seems to be: vote how you like but we will always come up with another hurdle to prevent you exercising a democratic choice in a referendum. After all didn’t you leader say in the UK General Election say there should never be another independence referendum.

    “Have a serious debate and common proposals on how the UK can become a more federal, more devolved country…”

    It has been reported that Willie Rennie said at the “These Islands” conference that Holyrood should not be given any more powers which, if true (I haven’t seen his actual remarks), suggests that the Lib Dems are not going to be leading the other British nationalist parties in a radical devolution of powers for Scotland at least (perhaps the party’s focus in this regard is on England?). In any event, the time for debate really has passed (haven’t the Liberals and subsequently the Lib Dems been debating home rule, federalism etc for over a century) and action is required.

  • @ Frank West It must be very difficult for you, Frank, and you have my sympathy.

  • @johnnymcdermott

    ‘We must make a positive case – if they come out with a massive white paper on our future, we really should have one too, on our future in the union/ federal Britain.’

    There will not be a federal Britain. England isn’t interested in federalism (why cede power when in effect you control the UK with 550 seats in the UK Parliament ?) and if it isn’t interested, federalism won’t happen. This is even before you deal with the practical problems of a federal structure in which one of four (probably three as NI will be out the door quite soon) make sup about 85% of the population.

    British nationalists interested in preserving the union might concentrate firstly on stopping the Tories from destroying devolution which is clearly their intention over time and secondly on making it work so that the views of the Scottish Government supported by the Scottish Parliament are at least taken into account. So respecting the legislative consent process in substance (remember the Brexit legislation which said that consent would be deemed to be given even if withheld), not rejecting compromise proposals from the Scottish Government out of hand (sensible proposals for a Scottish visa were dismayed about one hour after being published), actually making the Joint Ministerial Committee machinery an effective means of engaging with the devolved administrations ( it did not meet for several months during key periods of the Brexit process despite repeated requests from the devolved administrations) and so on.

  • Here we go again, ‘liberals’ who want to deny even democratic mandates leading to acts of self determination, and the old imperialist trick of clinging, oh clinging and clinging on to territory with the hackneyed old ‘if they don’t all want to go we should keep the bits that dont’. Fixing referenda rubric now too!
    Scotland is a nation state, currently in a union with England and Wales and Northern Ireland. If a majority in its Parliament is elected on a pro-independence platform, then it should be independent. If a majority is elected wanting a referendum on independence then it should have that referendum. Yes, even if it means re-running it every 5 years. To support shenanigans and wheezes intended to frustrate that is simply to be illiberal and undemocratic.

    As to Mr West, your wheeze to turn the borders and, presumably, Shetlands, into a new Northern Ireland has the attraction only of being very likely to make sure that folk in those parts also vote not to remain with England! However it might be nice to conceive that if you would also like to let northern England decide where its future lies, you might find the border heading south at a rate of knots!

    Finally, the idea that Scotland would assume any of the UK’s debt assumes (I) it has had an opportunity to consent to the creation of that deficit (it hasn’t, it almost always has governments in Westminster that it opposes) and (ii) the issue of reparations. The latter is not trivial, and isn’t just based on the oil industry money being squandered by Whitehall, but also whisky duty and the appalling abuses of the clearances by the Hanoverians. Expect a big bill!

  • Nicola Sturgeon has a more difficult job selling independence this time around.

    North Sea oil is no longer the great treasure chest. Scotland has a large financial deficit and relies on the Barnett formula to fund all the benefits available in Scotland but not in England. There is still a question about the currency that Scotland might adopt. The Bank of England will not underwrite Scottish debts so they can forget about keeping Sterling.

    Scotland has left the EU so re-joining is something that was not on the table last time. The ability to re-join cannot be taken for granted. The country would be expected to join the Eurozone, not a popular prospect. The deficit probably prevents joining any time soon. There is also a queue of eastern European countries keen to join and Scotland may have to wait her turn. The potential new members are anxious to rake in EU largesse which is now sadly lacking due to the hole on the budget following Brexit.

    Countries like Ireland are choking over the prospect that contributions are rising and benefits are falling and they may actually become net contributors. Scotland may find herself in that position.

    All of these possibilities need to be addressed by the SNP and the population before any referendum is granted. It is not as straightforward as Sturgeon pretends. In addition, the SNP are increasingly seen as independence fanatics who are forgetting the day job of managing the country. The voters elected them to do the latter in the absence of any credible alternative. Perhaps the Scots deserve a better choice.

  • @ Peter You’ve forgotten something, Peter.

    Scotland has a parliament elected on PR lines.. so it has some democratic authority. Unfortunately ultimate power resides in London in a remote parliament elected on a first past the post system and in which 75% of the Scottish electorate voted against the majority Westminster party.

    You might find that O.K., but it’s basically undemocratic.

  • Didn’t mention another small matter, Peter. Unlike Holyrood, said Westminster parliament has an unelected second Chamber.

    Twenty six of its members are Bishops of the Church of England, but as far as I know the Moderator of the Church of Scotland (to name but one) isn’t a member, nor does any other denomination or faith. Play your cards right and it’s a job for life with no uncomfortable elections to fight.

    This quasi feudal ‘institution’ cost nearly £ 150 million last year…. up a third on the previous year. The SNP don’t take part as a matter of principle…. which is really rather naughty of them. As that scion of Victorian retrenchment liberalism, TCO, says, “Nationalists cannot be persuaded by reason and logic and it’s pointless trying”.

  • Johnny McDermott 25th Feb '20 - 10:39pm

    TCO – I agree, there’s a solid 45% or so that seems pointless to pursue (a third of them the equivalent of the ERG – hardliners, happy with a hard border and not rejoining the EU). Some may waver if we can force the SNP to take the breaks off and actually govern the country (climate change, drugs/ alcohol deaths, immigration system fit for purpose and care). Non-ideological areas we can work together on, and probably leave the Tories out (certainly on immigration, even if they’re privately furious; likely on climate ambition and care too). What that does is target the 6-10% that are the pragmatic No voters with no love of Boris. It may be higher than that, it’s a bit of a made up number. It’s those in the middle that aren’t that attached to ideology we need to win over.

  • Johnny McDermott 25th Feb '20 - 10:47pm

    Thanks David. It’s important that we can be honest about that, too. I’m sure there are some of our southern peers that would consider exile in a Johnson-free zone. On the numbers, it’s a problem. How to avoid project fear. Tapped into that a little in response to Peter.

    Agreed Peter Hirst. I think many are pragmatic, even some that outwardly display the nationalist pride. There are many that would recoil in horror at the financial hit an independent currency would cause, and there’s got to be some weaponisation of facts in any campaign. I’m not sure how we keep that side of it from infected any positive campaign for Scotland. Perhaps… we could probably rely on the Tories to do the project fear stuff. We engage in facts – we certainly don’t disagree when correct – and a positive vision for Scotland, regardless of the outcome. Let the Tories run the wrong campaign. Though I’m not so sure they will – Professor Tomkins is a very capable man, now on “strategy”… I suspect he’s behind Murdo Fraser’s attempt at a positive case in the Scotsman, following that train wreck statement by Annie Wells, talking about armies. Be interesting to see if that language is repeated.

  • Johnny McDermott 25th Feb '20 - 11:01pm

    PS. Peter Hirst – I thought of calling the article “what do nationalists want?” as a nod to that terrible Mel Gibson film, “What do women want?” I thought the reference might be too obscure (Game of Thrones is a safer bet)!

    TCO – there are few enough jobs that the SNP actively campaign to shut it and lose those jobs as if it were a sad, necessary evil. Given the plans to adapt the sight have just hit the news, as it’s going through a consultation about more waste disposal into Loch Long, now seems a poor time to overeagerly defend that monstrosity. Don’t get me wrong. Were I in Swinson’s position, I’d write the same answer she made clear she’d file away as PM. But I find the thing morally abhorrent, and think we should have scaled it back (the notion is actually false that we could even avenge ourselves, or would even need to, given the significant reduction from Cold War highs). But you’re right to bring it up. We will have to address it. I reckon a pragmatic, reluctant need for it would be best approach; particularly given the predictably negative reaction to Swinson being seen as trigger happy.

  • Johnny McDermott 25th Feb '20 - 11:03pm

    Frank – I agree with that point on insisting they set it all out in advance, but they would say their 500+ page white paper represented that in 2014, and I imagine they’ll be strategising what to do re: the WAB three (border, citz rights and divorce deal/ settlement). If not already done it. We’re coming to this a little late, I feel, having been so focused on Brexit. Justifiable, but not unforeseeable. The Scottish party largely fell in behind Jo, which doesn’t help SNP relations any now.

    Personally I believe there should have been a regional lock, as a federal party it would make sense to ensure the regions are behind constitutional changes. I still like the Italian article 138 on that, too. But too late to wish that now. It’s a very neat string on their bow, the EU. It’s a little easier for us to agree we despair leaving, but hard to argue against Scotland putting itself in a position to do so. Then we’d need to answer if we’ll campaign for UK to rejoin at next GE or make complaints such as “we’d need to join Euro”. Reckon we should leave Euro to Tories, but we’re going to need an answer.

  • Johnny McDermott 25th Feb '20 - 11:10pm

    David Raw on working with SNP: have some friends at various levels of the party, and heard the same. One described the first Westminster intake as “rockets”, and returned north after a little while! I think it could only be a positive to improve some relations, but if we can get them to take foot off the pedal, wouldn’t be too bothered if it’s by hook or crook. You’re spot on: we definitely shouldn’t underestimate Sturgeon (or the Scots-ERG favourite to replace her, Cherry).

    More later! Looking forward to reading johnmc properly. Will add imperialist to the incredible variety of derogatory things I’ve been accused of being… 😀

  • Yousuf Farah 26th Feb '20 - 1:53am

    What you allude to in your article as a way to preserve the union whilst keeping dialogue with the SNP, is untenable. It would make Sturgeon, or Cherry if she takes over, a sort of Mini-Merkel in Scotland within the UK. It would make the normal way the UK has worked for decades, and worked towards for hundreds of years completely ruined, at the end, what would be the point of it all?

    I have a better idea, and I know this hurts but, why not put the interests of the people of Scotland first? No amount of nationalistic pride will fix the SNP’s absolutely disastrous record in government, all the tools to fix this, is provided in Holyrood; we should be pointing this out and advocating for the SNP’s removal from power in order to help Scotland, neither will things be improved by wasting more powers by giving them to the SNP; who have proven themselves to be too incompetent to use them. It should not be role of this party nor other unionists to further appease the SNP, there has been enough of that and frankly it hasn’t led to any good in Scotland; no, not with the SNP in charge. If the SNP win next year, then by all means, give them their Indyref; they’ll lose anyway because the majority of Scots are sensible enough to know that separation would be as Swinson said, “catastrophic.”

  • @ Yousuf Farah A lot of adjectives, assertions and jumping up and down in your post, Yousuf, but no facts.

    Of course things aren’t perfect in Scotland, but as a resident for the last fifteen years (and I didn’t vote SNP) in my experience in general things are much better arranged up here and Ms Sturgeon is a great deal more competent than the assorted characters who have run things from Westminster.

    As it happens, just had an email this morning from a Scottish expat friend living in France but running an online mail order business in Cumbria. She says she will move the business to Scotland if/when Scotland becomes a member of the EU.

  • @Yousuf Farah

    “It would make the normal way the UK has worked for decades, and worked towards for hundreds of years completely ruined, at the end, what would be the point of it all?”

    That’s a very romanticised view of the UK and in many ways just factually incorrect.

    The UK in its present territorial form is less than 100 years old ( and RoI’s role and influence over Brexit in the EU is one answer to “what would be the point of it all?” for Scotland.)

    There has not been any centuries old master plan.

    Wales was forcefully occupied in the middle ages by England and then politically assimilated into England in effect in the sixteenth century. England drove the incorporating union of England and Scotland forward in the early 18th century to secure an undisputed protestant and Hanoverian succession in England and Scotland ( google the English Alien Act 1705 to see how far the English Government was prepared to go to secure that)

    Britain then continued the English and to some extent Scottish policy of occupying and colonising Ireland until it was incorporated into the UK in 1801 at British insistence and on the promise of Catholic emancipation which was not delivered.

    The idea that the present UK is somehow the prefect culmination of a centuries old process is just not the case.

  • @Yousuf Farah

    “No amount of nationalistic pride will fix the SNP’s absolutely disastrous record in government, all the tools to fix this, is provided in Holyrood; we should be pointing this out and advocating for the SNP’s removal from power in order to help Scotland, neither will things be improved by wasting more powers by giving them to the SNP; who have proven themselves to be too incompetent to use them.”

    I would politely suggest that unionists avoid using the trope amnout the SNP’s “disastrous” record and “all the powers” if they want to be taken seriously in Scotland for three reasons.

    Firstly, it is unrelated to facts. Scotland’s economic indicators are good: GVA per capita, employment, unemployment and inward investment. Its fiscal balance as shown by the ONS is mid table in UK terms and only London and SE England have strong positive balances. Public services are under pressure as they are throughout the whole of the UK are as good if not better thsn elsewhere. There are some problems in the education sector but also some notable successes. NHS Scotland generally outperforms the other three UK NHSs although there have been problems with the commissioning of two major hospitals ( but not a direct responsibility of the SG). Police numbers have been increased. The SG has met its targets to build affordable homes. It has gone a long way to integrate health and social care with the result that bed blocking is far less of a problem than in England. And so on.

    Secondly , the SG and Holyrood does not have “all the powers”. It does not control macro economic, fiscal, trade, employment, immigration, energy, broadcasting, drugs and other key policy areas. It has limited powers over income tax and none on VAT, other indirect taxes, corporation tax, and National Insurance. It has some limited welfare powers.

    Thirdly, if you say that the SNP are entirely incompetent then you are saying that about half the Scottish electorate are blindly and stupidly following a nationalistic cult which may not be the best way to win over wavring voters.

  • The Scots were tricked in the 2014 referendum. They were told the only way to remain in the EU was to remain in the UK… Also in 2014, to their great credit, the SNP produced detailed plans of how independence-within-the-EU would work. (Perhaps they should have stuck to blandishments and lies). The imposed actions of the UK Government eg economic migration, work directly against the needs of the Scottish economy and society. Johnson is making various conditions/exemptions/differences for NI over EU withdrawal but is closed minded to the Scottish situation. If the SNP win yet again (how many times do they have to win? – they’ve been in power since 2007 already!) we should endorse their right to detemine their own future. I opposed independence in 2014 (not that I live in Scotland so don’t have a vote) but would support it next time, so long as Scotland could join the EU on becoming an independent nation.

  • Probably a third of the English/Welsh population want to really remain in the EU, therefore another mad idea, why don’t the SNP say that anyone who moves to Scotland prior to a referendum would have the right to vote in that referendum and would then get a Scottish passport as soon as independence occurred… thus allowing them to get their FOM back once Scotland rejoins the EU . As the referendum would probably be close a few hundred thousand expats from England/Wales might make all the difference.

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 12:57pm

    Hireton: we cleared all hurdles in 2014 and stood ready to implement the result. If there is an appetite to have this “mandate” proven properly, those who want to see a new referendum should consider how deeply frustrating it is for those of us that made our answer very clear in 2014. A few hurdles to overturn a solid political defeat (10%) that’s barely over 5 years old? That seems a small price to pay. And an odd thing to refuse, given the confidence of the movement that they’ve passed 50% at last.

    Holyrood have made little use of those powers that were ceded by Westminster as part of the Kelvin agreement since the referendum. I don’t have any patience for “more powers”. When Sturgeon takes her foot off the breaks, we can talk more powers or structural changes.

    So for fellow Scots Lib Dems, don’t get me wrong. I do not want this, but it seems inevitable and we must prepare. But for nationalists, remember: the union won. Convincingly. For a generation! Scotland had its say. To leave the door open to IndyRef2 in the next decade is more than the SNP deserve for their appalling domestic record and negligent refusal to get on with the day job. But that’s self determination and we cannot deny circumstances have significantly changed.

    Agree with sentiment we need to be more open to working with SNP where we can / repair damage done by Swinson’s approach to them.

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 1:01pm

    Johnmc – here we go again, from the neverendums? Good grief, that’s my point!
    Re fixing the rubric, I’d refer you to the above on gold standards and the fact that the outcome was increased powers after more political negotiation. We have never been against that being repeated at the appropriate time, and many of us are not now the EU ref has changed so much. When nationalists are ready to live up to the standards they set once before, I’m sure the question will be no issue.
    Reparations feels a rather inappropriate choice of words in the context of oil and whisky compared to its usual use… either way, I don’t think you want to do a backwards calculation about value for money. Or a forwards one, for that matter!

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 1:03pm

    Peter – good point on oil. Their economic model relied on it, whatever else they said. The crash in prices immediately after the referendum was a huge crisis dodged. That’s a demonstable fact we could highlight.
    I worry it may not be Sturgeon pushing to deliver it for much longer. Cherry and others on manoeuvres.
    Currency is the most damning financial risk.
    Fully agree with your reply – but as I said above in some replies, we need to be careful how we utilise these realities. We must avoid a negative campaign, but not hide from these facts or refuse to engage on substantive matters.
    We do! Hoping Scottish Lib Dems will represent that choice before long.

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 1:04pm

    David Raw makes good points on structure. Interesting discussion starting on the Lords on a new post on LDV today.
    Agreed with TCO – we all need to get this. Unionist patriotism won’t hold the swithering voters any more than nationalist unicorns will sway them. I think the SNP get that, and will balance their approach. We can’t go in negative if they take a more realist, but still relentlessly hopeful and optimistic approach.

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 1:11pm

    Yousuf Farah: been considering that balance, particularly given in the discussion it’s clear we are likely to need to engage in a “fight” sooner or later. It’s the sooner I’m saying we avoid. We can force them into action on drug deaths by dropping point scoring for now. Alex Cole-Hamilton has been strong on this, rightfully so, but could change tone a little now. The double summits today and tomorrow are farcical. We can say that, attack this political point scoring that is exacerbating a crisis in immediate need of a response. But if we push that too hard, at a time when the SNP do hold so much power, we won’t make progress. So I guess it’s about the balance. Not going nuclear on them, as Swinson did. But by no means going easy. Their domestic negligence needs to end. If we’re responsible for achieving that, it will go over well in any referendum/ 2021 elections. (Other areas above – climate, immigration policy, NHS and schools). Right now we’re all guns blazing, probably with 2021 in mind. The problem with that is there is no viable partner. Scottish Labour are in a mess, and the Tories are going for a project fear, “army” raising approach that we must not work with, or be doomed in any referendum.

    I want to put Scotland first. I’m suggesting we do that with hook and crook. It isn’t untenable to be good/ bad cops, in this way. I’m not nearly so confident in the outcome of a referendum, but hope you’re right. Either way: we must not take it for granted.

  • @ Johnny McDermott Some good points, Johnny. “We can force them into action on drug deaths by dropping point scoring for now”….. Quite right, you might do, but the existing drugs legislation (covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971) is reserved to Westminster. Better do your research first.

    BBC News reported last October,”The SNP has backed decriminalising the possession and consumption of drugs. At its conference in Aberdeen, a resolution unanimously passed by delegates branded current drug control legislation “not fit for purpose”.

    They called for devolved powers to Holyrood to enable the “decriminalisation of possession and consumption of controlled drugs. The Scottish government set up a task force to tackle drug deaths, which hit a record high in 2018.”

    On wider social matters, they deserve credit for being first to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol (resisted by some Lib Dem MSP’s who had ‘connections’ with the whiskey industry….. though not by Willie), and credit for eventually tackling the issue of organ donation….. though it started as a Labour initiative and picked up later by the SNP – one Lib Dem MSP voted against it and wouldn’t answer correspondence.

    Be careful on A & E waiting times. Latest figures on A & E targets make Scotland best (Scotland 95%, England 83.6% Wales 74.6%). Apart from the Tony Blair PFI in Edinburgh, free hospital parking in Scotland – important – links to A & E waiting time, free prescriptions and better financial support for elderly social care.

    Generally on Westminster performance (IMHO as a Parliament Channel watcher), they punch far above their weight compared to the tiny band of Lib Dems. Look at PMQ’s today if you don’t agree.

  • @Johnny McDermott

    “If there is an appetite to have this “mandate” proven properly, those who want to see a new referendum should consider how deeply frustrating it is for those of us that made our answer very clear in 2014.”

    Although you miss out the bit about the material change in circumstances brought about by Brexit without which another referendum would not be looming.

    As far as hurdles are concerned, the question is what are they: clearly not winning the the 2016 Scottish GE and having a majority in favour in the Scottish Parliament given the change in circumstances; and clearly not winning the 2019 UK GE in Scotland by a landslide (but apparently the Tories have a rock solid mandate to do whatever they want at Westminster). Now some are suggesting the mandate will only be won if the SNP secure an overall majority in 2021 and more than 50% of the vote (sorry Scottish Green Party voters your votes don’t count). Next there will be calls for a super majority in the referendum and it will only count if everything is clear before the vote (so giving the Unionist parties a veto by refusing to engage in discussions before the referendum to provide this clarity). And so on.

    It is clear that Swinson was just being honest when she said there can never be another independence referendum. And of course Rennie says the Lib Dems will not engage in any budget discussions with the SNP unless the SNP renounce their views on independence entirely. At least that is being honest with the electorate.

  • @Johnny Mc Dermott

    “Holyrood have made little use of those powers that were ceded by Westminster as part of the Kelvin agreement since the referendum. ”

    I assume you mean the Smith Commission and the subsequent Scotland Act 2016.

    There were three maim areas of further devolution:

    1. Income tax (rates and thresholds for earned income)

    The SG has reduced the basic rate for the majority of taxpayers and not uprated thresholds for higher rate taxpayers to rebalance the earned income tax burden.

    2. Welfare (devolution of 30% of welfare spending excluding Universal Credit, Old Age pensions, and other major benefits)

    The SG has legislated to make use of the powers, set up Social Security Scotland as an executive agency to deliver new welfare payments, consulted widely on the use of the new powers, set up the Scottish Welfare Fund, mitigated the Bedroom tax, introduced new welfare grants (e.g. Carer’s Allowance Supplement, the Young Carer Grant, the Pregnancy and Baby Payment, the Early Learning Payment, the School Age Payment) and is on track to introduce more in 2020 and 2021having consulted and published detailed proposals in the fields of disability, heating cost support and funeral expenses.

    3. Franchise

    Legislation has just been passed to extend the franchise for Scottish elections essentially to all people above the age of 16 legally resident in Scotland and to prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months.

    The other area which was devolved was Air Passenger Duty where the SG proposed reductions but then withdrew the proposals in the light of parliamentary opposition and the need to tackle the climate emergency.

    Overall for a minority government also having to deal with the detailed consequences of Brexit for Scottish legislation and government that does not seem to me to be best described as “done little”.

  • Yousuf Farah 26th Feb '20 - 8:03pm

    Er no, you completely misunderstood and misread everything I said. My view of how Britain evolved into what it currently is based on history; and the progression of social and economic history of Britain, not your anti-English conspiracy theories. Your belief that it’s unacceptable to call the SNP out for their disastrous record in government is too ridiculous to be taken seriously. They are adults and they are also politicians with significant responsibility in Scotland, I’m sure they can take the criticism. Most of the arguments you use to defend the SNP is irrelevant, deflection won’t work here, the SNP should be accountable for what they have done to Scotland, deflecting and saying “we’re better than the English here and here”, won’t wash. Neither will dismissing the problems the SNP have caused- as if they were minor inconvenient mistakes. These things matter in Scotland, and yes, people do care about what happens in Scotland, in regards to education, health and policing, and just dismissing how badly the SNP have preformed performed in these areas, hurts your argument. I didn’t say the SNP have all the powers, I said all the powers are in Holyrood that would be needed to fix the SNP’s horrific record in government. There’s also enough powers to run Scotland effectively. Separation would yield all the powers, from Westminster to Holyrood, but I doubt anyone other than the Nats would care, that is, when people find out how things had become. Your last point to defend the SNP, is just plainly ridiculous, you cast false assumptions like saying I think they’re stupid just cause they vote SNP. I actually think they are highly intelligent, because they voted against Brexit and Separation, but again, your last argument shows that you will say anything to defend the SNP.

  • @yousuf farah

    I was hoping to read a more considered reply from you responding to some facts which rather undermined your argument but you just piled in again. But again you repeat the trope, eg on policing where 5he Scottish Government has increased the number of police or in health where NHS Scotland consistently outperforms the the other three NHS organisations in the UK. And you do not address why if the SNP in government is so bad that their electoral success is so remarkable. Anyway, go well and keep up the good work of proposing a losing strategy!

  • @yousuf farah

    I meant to say by the way that I am English and learnt my history while getting my degree at Cambridge.

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 9:39pm

    On how bad Scotland is or not (David, Yousef and Hireton) Problem with attacking any domestic record is it’s always Westminster’s fault. So once again, we can only beat their positive vision with one of our own.
    Agree with Hireton on the overly romantic view. This was, after all, a marriage of convenience. It’s formed more than that, though. Many think of family spread across the Union as living in the same country. There’s something jarring about imagining them suddenly as foreigners, despite being no physically further away (though possibly harder to see, depending on visas and citizenship and borders and poorer economies etc.) It’s about more than territory or ancient claims. It’s about family, I think. You can be competitive amongst family, have strong rivalries and inevitably fall outs and different views. But ultimately, we are better off together in an increasingly connected, yet evermore polarised world.
    Rory Stewart nailed it on the ancient claims: it is of so little importance to anyone or thing in the modern age. Nobody cares which French nobles claimed what Kingdoms. They need clothing, food and shelter, education, work and play. Not a flag and a passport with an unchained unicorn on it. We’re all sick of unicorns.

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 9:40pm

    On their record: Sturgeon told us to judge her on it. The state of those hospitals is not a trope. The state of higher outcomes is not a trope. I get it. They desire independence above all else and are willing to see some hardships for autonomy. But they cannot expect to convert pragmatic No-Remain voters on the basis of ideology. This is, somewhat dangerously, actually good advice for the SNP to follow. If they were demonstrating frequent positive outcomes, it would go a lot further to prove doubters wrong. By encouraging my party to do so, I hope we can get in a little earlier when it comes to claiming credit (and making the argument it was all possible within the union and challenging nationalists to say what else they need in the way of powers. I didn’t say they did have them all – but that they don’t use the new ones from Kelvin to full extent, so what is the logic to devolving more? Unless of course there is logic – like immigration – to differentiate.
    Ha! I am not blaming the voters for hoping for a brighter future. Project fear left little to be proud of, certainly not after the EU referendum. I’m suggesting we find a middle way for all our sakes. We are judging that record, and the failure to lean on it shows there is little to boast about. If the SNP can’t govern, the more politically aggressive respondents are right. The only way to help Scotland is ousting them.

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 9:47pm

    Keith Sharp makes a good point on the rewards of telling the truth, or lack thereof. I still have an unfounded hope that “the people” Johnson so loves to invoke the will of, at some point, will tire of the half-truths, spin and outright lies. When they consistently fail to deliver, we must be ready to offer people something real. And truthful. I don’t think you are suggesting we adopt Brexiteer tactics, but in previous posts I’ve suggested we learn from their successes. I think we should, but within the ethical boundaries the public want to see, and I hope, will want to return to.

    I don’t believe it was a trick. At the time I was nominally a Tory… great fun up north, you can imagine. I believed the EU line. It made logical sense. It wasn’t a trick as much as a betrayal, and one borne of panic and ineptitude, and no small amount of arrogance. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than betrayal.

    The “in power since 2007” cuts both ways. They haven’t made much of a mark over that decade.

  • Johnny McDermott 26th Feb '20 - 9:52pm

    Frank West’s idea is terrifying if the SNP pick it up! It’s a nightmare that has crossed my mind… but in reality, up and moving your life requires quite an offer. Promises of returning to EU membership, with less influence or as favourable a deal, isn’t as tempting as better jobs and pay and services.

    One thing I don’t think I’ve illustrated that well, due to focus on “winning” a referendum: if we succeeded in the working closer on common ground issues plan, Scotland will be better off. It doesn’t matter how that impacts the referendum, not really. If we lose, and Scotland improves, I’ll be glad of that. But we can make this progress now. So why aren’t we? Ideology. So let’s drop it for a while. It’s not as sexy as a new country, but it’s a simple offer to focus on daily living improvements rather than grand constitutional reformation plans.

  • Two simple questions, Johnny.

    1. If maintaining the Union means that as a consequence you have to stay out of the EU permanently, where do you stand ?

    2. If you had to choose between a government elected under PR or first past the post, which would you choose ?

  • Johnny McDermott 27th Feb '20 - 9:20am

    David Raw – (the 2.24pm 26th comment) It’s of no consequence which party has the authority to legislate, certainly not when none will even sit around the same table. It’s a national embarrassment and all sides should feel humiliated that it went ahead.

    Minimum pricing is problematic for any liberal, but I see the need for tailored responses. I don’t think it works, to be honest. The super strong ciders that were banned have probably had biggest impact. Jury is out for me on that one as we see the effects. I know they’re initially said to be positive, but takes a while to get more certain on causal link – still have gut feeling Frosty Jack’s demise likely had more impact. Be interested to know if bootleg booze is on rise.

    Made no mention of waiting times, and have no interest in comparing ourselves to England. Comparing ourselves to ourselves, were we doing a better job and more focused on what matters. Two super hospitals barely fit for purpose is damning stuff, but there are plenty of NHS related problems we can help to address. As I’ve tried to get at, this isn’t about pulling up the SNP on their failures – that’s exactly what I think we need to ease off on.

    Ha! First Q is hard to yes no. PR for second. First… it’s a permanent hypothetical is the easy get out (like, nothing changes in this example, when in reality any number of things could). If I’m being as grim as I was when I wrote this (re Union’s fate), reading Wolfgang Streeck, I’m not entirely sure there will be an EU (as it is now) to return to. But I won’t lie, it’s now the most attractive part of the independence pitch (though still suffers Spain caveat – that ambassador was sacked the day after his isolated comment on it being no problem, and the choice between Euro that threatens Union and Scots pound is no choice at all).

  • Johnny McDermott 27th Feb '20 - 9:29am

    Hireton (26th, 2.44pm comments) I didn’t, though actually it may have been in response to someone else. Said something to effect “now everything has changed it’s understandable”. I’ve been pretty consistent in calling for a second referendum since last July, when the site refused to publish a piece setting it out in more explicit terms. (I think it’s the first/ why I started my blog – therealnorth dot org)

    The only hurdle is the fact we look unlikely to get back to the gold standard (all agreeing, and agreeing to mandate). Cherry seems to want to take legal route (similar to Spain, but without the “treason” nonsense, cause it would challenge before holding wildcat ref, from what I can gather anyway). And whether people want it, and polling is starting to leave in no doubt that we’re about evenly split. Agreed, Holyrood elections shouldn’t be used to mandate a referendum (but that cuts both ways, regardless of the landslide, SNP couldn’t argue both that it is a mandate but then isn’t should it be weaker… suspect that won’t be an issue!). It’s an election that should focus on domestic issues, and bring home the lack of focus on them the SNP have had.

    I don’t know what you mean by Swinson being honest, but it being an objective fact. Sounds like an opinion or prediction to me. Willie Rennie’s position is daft, given it’s their main whole imperative for existing. There’s always the Quebecois option (referendum on a referendum). Sounds pointless, but would put all this mandate stuff to bed. (Sounds pointless, but it may well be what SNP are planning with the wildcat referendums act).

  • Johnny McDermott 27th Feb '20 - 9:55am

    David Raw (and anyone else that fancies trying it!) – to flip that first tricky Q a little, what is the point of taking back control/ autonomy and full sovereignty to cede some of it back to the EU, a far larger union where we will be individually demonstrably less influential than we are in this union?
    To anticipate a point on coalitions: we can join Nordic group, but that was the “Nordic +” group that tended to do best when the UK, or another powerful “bigger” MS, backed it. Read many papers pointing at the fact that even that group of wealthy countries around about our size, that we would likely want to join, did not have anywhere near the influence it was thought. In most cases they found it worked the other way round (Europeanisation from top). An overly technical caveat – the likelihood is all sides socialised to Western/ global norm and value changes, but even where it’s relatively easy to isolate the effects of a coalition of MSs (military interventions), the small nations always had to get the favour of one of the big boys, or more often sucumbed to their will (France in case of African military interventions).

    [Around a third of the SNP feel this way, and have no desire to join a supranational body of any sort]

  • Johnny McDermott 27th Feb '20 - 11:10am

    *Occurs I’ve been rather hyperbolic, with “disastrous” etc. I thought about it and the best I can do to describe their record is stagnant. What little progress there is is weighted down with hulking caveats (the ferries, the hospitals). But I’ve just been tweeting with one MSP that is sitting outside of the second, UK government drug summit, who asked me if it was not me (or the government, it was implied, so hard to tell) that was doing the point scoring. Replied no, it was still her. That’s a stunt. But the government are no better, and should open the door.

  • @Johnny McDermott

    “…Holyrood elections shouldn’t be used to mandate a referendum (but that cuts both ways, regardless of the landslide, SNP couldn’t argue both that it is a mandate but then isn’t should it be weaker… suspect that won’t be an issue!”

    Not sure I understand your point but you seem to be saying that there is no parliamentary democratic way for votres in Scotland to secure the UK’s agreement to a referendum ( i.e. the Swinson line that there should never be another referendum in any circumstances). What do you think the cosequences of that would be?

    As far as domestic issues, I cannot think of any bigger domestic issue than whether a country should be self-governing.

    “what is the point of taking back control/ autonomy and full sovereignty to cede some of it back to the EU, a far larger union where we will be individually demonstrably less influential than we are in this union?”

    That is an argument of false equivalence regarding the two unions.

    In the EU, an independent Scotland would be a sovereign state with a seat on the Council , a veto on key issues, partof a much broader process of consultation and engagement.

    In the UK, Scotland has no equivalent demonstrable influence. The views of the Scottish Government and Parliament matter “not one jot” according to your UK PM and that has been demonstrated repeatedly in 5he Brexit process where there has been no willingness let alone any real attempt to engage with the d4volved Government’s.

  • Johnny McDermott 27th Feb '20 - 11:38pm

    Getting caught up in confusions and minor points now. Think I’ve been fairly consistent with the overall points I’m making – LDs need their own positive vision/ possible campaign for an inevitable referendum (right or wrong, but I’ve never said the latter, and think you’ve misread me or vice versa on the parliament point, but I have been very consistent, all for self determination at the appropriate time).

    On your response to what’s the point, I think you vastly overestimate the power of an individual state of our size, a new entrant in pretty desperate need (at that point). I preempted that by responding to us even tending to join a coalition traditionally thought to be very powerful, but that recent analysis suggests still must rely on one much larger MS to upload policy. So the notion we’ll be anything like as influential in the EU as even a comparably sized state, let alone the UK, is for the birds.

    By the way, I note that style of grammar – “your UK PM”. Sturgeon is my First minister too. And Scotland is my home. I’d appreciate it if you minded taking a tone that implies I’m some kind of lesser Scot. It’s a nationalist “Quisling” tactic that I don’t appreciate and won’t respond to in civilised discourse (which I have, at length, for several days).

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