Saturday, 24 January 2009

A Social Union?

"The United Kingdom is also a social Union."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 36

"6.49 The extent to which the UK is a social Union."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 68

"4.49 The people and the nations of the United Kingdom have many elements of shared identity, established through history, and expressed in common aspects of culture. These were described by Bryce as "bonds of sympathy". Not all may be tangible, but they are very real and widespread...These connections are a powerful unifying force, and this sense of shared identity is expressed by many institutional links."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 34

"A great many Scottish families have relations living or working elsewhere in the UK. Similarly, there are few citizens of other parts of the UK who do not have a family, educational, business or cultural link with Scotland."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 34

An odd one for Calman to spend so much time on. It's as if they are implying that this social union is under threat if we don't have MPs at Westminster. Making it all the more strange is the fact that the SNP actually promotes a continuing social union.

This interview on the Andrew Marr Show, 30th March 2008, has Alex Salmond saying:

"Well the social union between Scotland and England in particular, but the other countries in these islands, is the union of families, of relationships, they don't depend on Scotland being devolved or independent. These relationships will continue and flourish when Scotland becomes an independent country...We don't want to disrupt the social union, we just want the right to decide for ourselves how we're governed, not just over some issues but over all issues."

Further reference to the social union is also made here:

"Independence also means the maintenance of the social union between Scotland and England, and the other nations of these islands, based on a 21st-century relationship of equality."

And here:

"...the SNP have made clear that the social union with England will be retained, including a common head of state."

Also odd is the reference to the people and the nations of the United Kingdom having "many elements of shared identity, established through history, and expressed in common aspects of culture".

It is very narrow definition if Calman is suggesting that they can only be retained within the United Kingdom.

Take for example piping. Bands from all over the world play at the World Pipe Band Championships. In fact in 2008 the winners were Canadians - not part of the UK.

Or how about Saint Andrew's Societies. These are also worldwide. As are Burns Clubs and Highland Games.

Then there is football which doesn't even have a UK representative body - with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland fielding their own teams within the world.

So just what point is Calman trying to make since common aspects of culture are governed at the level of the constituent countries or shared beyond the UK's borders? None of these are under threat by constitutional change.

Likewise is its reference to Scottish families having "relations living or working elsewhere in the UK".

Again what point is Calman trying to make? Yes we relatives in other parts of the UK but we also have them thoughout the world as census figures from those countries show.

Then there is Ulster (both Northern Ireland and the Republic) and those Scots whose families have come to Scotland in the years, decades and centuries gone by such as from Poland, Italy, Lithuania, South Asia and Eastern Europe.

The question for Calman is why it has made such an issue of these family ties and made them part and parcel of constitutional construct when they are under no threat from constitutional change?

Then there is its reference to a "sense of shared identity...expressed by many institutional links". What "institutional links" are they referring to?

The International Star Trek Fan Association is an institution with a sense of shared identity as is the European Quilt Association and the Elvis International Fan Club. None of these require the UK to exist.

However to be less flippant and pertinent there is one institution that has a unionist focus which doesn't require the UK to exist and also practices independence for its Scottish organisation - the Orange Order.

As the site of the World Orange Council shows they have separate independent members from Australia, Canada, England, Ghana, New Zealand, Scotland, Togo, United States of America, and Ireland.

Furthermore they also say: "Other Countries with have Orange links are Poland, Italy and Argentina. Countries who have had Orange links include South Africa, Bermuda, Spain Brazil and Cuba. The Council only recognise one Grand Lodge in each Country."

So if the ostensibly unionist Orange Order can exist with independent Scottish membership, and still enjoy institutional and constitutional links outwith Scotland, why doesn't Calman address such models?

Friday, 23 January 2009

Health and Safety

"5.35 ... The Health and Safety Executive (a non-departmental public body associated with the UK Department for Work and Pensions) is responsible for protecting the health and safety of people at work across the UK."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 44

No it doesn't. The Health and Safety Executive's remit does not extend across the UK. It only extends across the Great Britain part of the UK. In Northern Ireland they have a separate body - the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland.

If Calman can't get this right how can we be sure it even understands the UK it is trying to secure?

It would appear some of the submissions do know that since the report also says:

"5.35 ... The Commission has heard some arguments that devolving health and safety could be detrimental to the single market currently operating in the UK, but devolution is supported by others who see it as an obvious candidate for Scottish solutions to Scottish issues."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 44

Considering the Calman Commission appears to be taking this supposed UK single market as read the former comment does bode well for the latter one.

So considering how health and safety is devolved to Northern Ireland how "detrimental" is it to those supposed UK single market principles Calman espouses?

This corporate plan by the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland may give an insight. On page 3 it says:

Health and safety at work issues are global issues and as such HSENI needs to ensure that it keeps abreast of developments nationally and internationally. To that end, HSENI will maintain its close ties with the Health and Safety Commission and Executive in Great Britain and the Health and Safety Authority in the Republic of Ireland.

In addition, HSENI will continue to work with the European Commission’s occupational safety and health structures and OSHA in the United States.
Furthermore on page 5 it reads:

HSENI as the regional health and safety authority in Northern Ireland works closely with its sister authorities in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Through this invaluable interchange HSENI is able to ground its ideas and benchmark its actions.
That doesn't sound very detrimental to the concept of free trade not only within the UK but to the wider communities of the British Isles, the European Union and across the Atlantic. In comparison to the Business Plan and Strategy Plan of the GB HSE it sounds more focussed on the effects health and safety legislation can have on markets as they ripple out from Northern Ireland.

However even those reports themselves undermine the claim that devolving health and safety legislation would be "detrimental". Page 16 of the HSE GB (Great Britain) Business plan says:

Other planned work ensures that HSE remains an exemplar of proportionate, effective regulation and that the implementation of European Union health and safety strategy is in line with UK interests, influencing the European Commission (EC) to ensure that the implementation of the EU Health and Safety strategy takes full account of the UK’s aims, particularly on better regulation
Once again we see Calman's promotion of the supposed UK single market being put into serious question by the actual existence of the European one.

By only being able to have the power of "influencing" the EU Health and Safety strategy this clearly suggests there is a pan-EU health and safety strategy as part of the European single market.

If those who are promoting the concept of a supposed UK single market as important to Scotland's welfare and are so against the devolution of health and safety powers within that single market why do they then not want a single European Health and Safety Executive?

Perhaps the HSENI gives a hint on page 22:

In pursuance of this objective HSENI will:

* ensure that due account is taken of relevant EU Directives;

* ensure that legislative parity with Great Britain is maintained where appropriate
"Where appropriate"? This clearly shows that within the pan-EU health and safety strategy and the HSENI's "close ties" with HSE GB allows for local circumstances in Northern Ireland.

Therefore since its existence is neither detrimental to Calman's supposed UK single market or the actual EU one what else is stopping the devolution of health and safety powers for Scotland's "appropriate" local circumstances?

Why can't Scotland play its part in a union of unity over health and safety matters? If a devolved Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland can operate on an internationally co-operative basis with a government comprising Irish nationalists (SDLP), Irish republicans (Sinn Fein) and an Ulster first party (DUP) why can’t Scotland?

The only reason can be the retention of the constitutional status quo and to avert questions about other policy areas - the "union" that only benefits partisan interests. It will be interesting to see which way Calman jumps.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Currency - Another Thought

Considering the posts on currency and coins & notes along with the Calman report's conclusion that they will not consider them further:

"9.13 We believe that certain functions are integral to the effective functioning of the United Kingdom as a sovereign nation-state with international responsibilities, and where devolution would be undesirable in principle because retaining them at UK level is fundamental to the very concept of Union. These comprise ... currency ... These we will not consider further."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 100

Does this not raise questions for the London parties involved on the matter of the Euro?

If they are saying the currency is integral to "the very concept of Union" are those parties involved not now ruling out the Euro for good (or any other currency union)?

It may not be a problem for the Conservatives considering their (present) position. Whether that remains considering you never say never in politics is another matter.

However it does raise questions for Labour (to some extent) and the Liberal Democrats in particular.

Peter Mandelson has been quoted as saying:

“...our aim, our goal, should be to join the single currency...
However that has to taken in the context that Labour's position is not that clear.

However it is clearer from the Liberal Democrats' Vince Cable:

"With the exchange rate falling, growing numbers of people will question the wisdom of Britain staying out of the Euro.

"The Liberal Democrats do not believe that a decision should be made in response to short term exchange rate movements, but should be made on the long term merits of entry. Nonetheless we do expect to see a shift in public opinion, as Britain's weakness is exposed.
Doesn't support for joining the Euro therefore question "the very concept of Union" since a "union" currency - Sterling - is integral to it?

Coinage ... & Notes

"9.13 We believe that certain functions are integral to the effective functioning of the United Kingdom as a sovereign nation-state with international responsibilities, and ... fundamental to the very concept of Union. These comprise ... currency and coinage. ... These we will not consider further."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 100

Again, why not?

As the example of the Euro shows each member state has its own coins. Therefore why can't Scottish coins be considered within the Sterling zone?

In fact there are different coins within the Sterling zone as the these examples for the Isle of Man (population 80,058), Jersey (pop. 90,800), Guernsey (pop. 65,573) and Gibraltar show (pop. 28,875).

A combined population of 265,306 who mint their own coins. Well short of Edinburgh's population never mind Scotland's five million.

Then there is this example of the 1956 shilling showing obverse and English and Scottish reverses.

Since there is no apparent bar to minting Scottish coins why has Calman not considered that issue as one that could "secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom"? Surely a union of unity is strong enough to allow a return to the production of such official coinage which links win with Scottish identification?

And a more pertinent point is the Act of Union itself - which Calman is meant to be securing. Article 16 says:

And a Mint shall be continued in Scotland under the same Rules as the Mint in England
It's eventual disappearance was a convoluted affair concerning efficiencies and legal status but as this report also shows Cumbernauld was also considered as the location of a new Royal Mint.

Aren't issues of public jobs and their spread throughout the UK a matter which Calman should have been considering?

One other related issue on "currency and coinage" which Calman appears to miss are the banknotes issued by Scottish banks.

Considering their Scottish specific status and how protecting status is one both raised by nationalist and unionist politicians wouldn't such an issue be worthy of consideration by Calman in order "to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom"?

The only reason for this flight from addressing such issues of Scottish identification can be how Calman has conflated the two issues in its report by lumping them together as "currency and coinage" because they believe people in Scotland cannot differentiate between currency and coinage.

It is the matter of currency that concerns them and they are attempting to shut the issue down.


"9.13 We believe that certain functions are integral to the effective functioning of the United Kingdom as a sovereign nation-state with international responsibilities, and where devolution would be undesirable in principle because retaining them at UK level is fundamental to the very concept of Union. These comprise ... currency ... These we will not consider further."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 100

Why not?

The following UK Overseas Territories are not independent of the UK - the UK has international responsibilities for them in the words of the Commission - but they all have separate currencies from the UK. We have:So if UK Overseas Territories, over which the UK has sovereignty and "international responsibilities", can have different currencies why isn't it a matter of further consideration by Calman for Scotland when the UK has sovereignty and "international responsibilities"?

After all the matter of Sterling's value and how it affects Scotland (and other parts of the UK) was brought into focus in 1998 when the then Governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George, agreed that lost jobs in the North are an "acceptable price to pay to curb inflation in the South".

Considering such concerns why couldn't Calman consider the Scottish interest in terms of such issues. Why couldn't it look at or suggest Scottish representation on the MPC (as well as other areas of the UK or even Sterling Zone)? Since the Bank of England is supposed to be that notion Calman can't consider - independent - why is such an issue not raised since Calman is "to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom"?

It can only be concluded that Calman is not considering what would be in the benefit of Scotland since even debating and considering this subject can be beneficial so the likes of Eddie George are aware of these concerns. It is failing to consider a union of "unity".

From the off-hand rejection of any consideration it can only be concluded that it is doing as it remits says - protecting the partisan sovereignty of Westminster; keeping power at the centre whether that power is UK Government influence over the Bank of England's MPC or the power it has to appoint members to it.

The Calman report also says currency "is fundamental to the very concept of Union" and that it is "integral to the effective functioning of ... a sovereign nation-state".

Calman would appear to be conflating currency as equaling a single sovereign state. As the following currencies show it is not the case:

  • The Euro is used by Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Andorra, Kosovo, Montenegro, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City
  • The US dollar is used by the United States and its possessions, Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Panama (alongside the Panamanian balboa), Ecuador, El Salvador, Timor-Leste, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
  • The New Zealand dollar is used by New Zealand, Niue, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, and the Pitcairn Islands.
  • The South African rand is legal tender in South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, and Namibia through the Common Monetary Area.
  • The Central African CFA franc is used by Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
  • The West African CFA franc is used by Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.
  • The East Caribbean dollar is used by Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
In fact it wasn't (and still isn't) even the case with the UK's currency - Sterling.

Sterling's equality as a world currency can be exemplified here which shows the extent of Sterling's reach ... in the past.

What is interesting is that the last place to leave the Sterling Zone was the Republic of Ireland which by that time wasn't even a member of the Commonwealth, never mind an Overseas Territory or part of the UK.

Likewise Canada's dollar predates the Sterling Zone. Could the reluctance to look at currency concern how the Commission's presentation of a single market doesn't square with the fact that Scotland was part of a single imperial market wider than the UK within which there were different currencies?

Or could it be that opening a debate up about currency would highlight the rapid decline of Sterling as a global currency to one that only covers the UK and a few dependencies? And not even them all as the above examples show.

Since Calman's report makes much of strengthening devolution and the UK why isn't currency therefore considered when there is such evidence of Sterling weakening historically?

And it's not just historically as the drop in value of the pound to the dollar over the past year shows.

As well as the drop in value of the pound to the euro over the same period.

By attempting to close down this issue Calman isn't even considering what would benefit the UK and Sterling never mind Scotland. Closing down this issue only assists those parties who wish to retain that power over Sterling - a power that doesn't seem to have been used wisely.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Single Market - A Recent Case Studies (Addendum)

Further to the posts on recent case studies about a single market and the London parties arguments about the "union" - here and here.

If they are seriously saying the "union" is the most superior way to tackle an emerging global economic crisis why has no single country wanted to join the UK?

In fact if the "union" model is so superior why has not one country sought such a "union" with another?

If the "union" is such a role model why has this not happened? Why have they sought assistance from other forms of union (those of unity) which doesn't mean giving up their independence?

Single Market - A Recent Case Study #2

So what of Iceland since that has become something of a totem of those parties arguing that the "union" equals a "single market"?

As an independent state it has been able to access IMF funding of $2.1 billion. However that funding is dwarfed by the funding it has received from fellow Nordic Council countries. In November 2008 Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden "worked closely together and jointly decided to supplement the IMF financing...with additional loans of $2.5 billion".

And in December 2006 Nordic Council ministers also voiced more support for Iceland with particular reference to Icelandic researchers and youngsters being able to continue playing their part in Nordic exchange programmes:

"...we recognise that more has to be done and that tangible actions are needed to support Iceland in the difficult situation that has arisen"
They tasked the Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Halldór Ásgrímsson, to present proposals for tangible measures to their next meeting in March.

Therefore this undermines the Commission parties' claims that you need a "union" to require such help. Organisations like the Nordic Council show that a union of unity works just as well.

If you were to apply the test of the previous post about Dexia and Fortis you would have to go back to the Kalmar Union of 1520 for Iceland to be "saved" under the Calman parties.

But it is not only Iceland's Scandinavian and Nordic neighbours who have stepped in to support the country. As this article shows Belgium and Luxembourg stepped in to help Iceland's Kaupthing.

Considering how Calman has virtually boasted about the virtues of their "union" for Scotland one would think that it would act in a similar friendly, international manner.

After all on 17 November 2008 Gordon Brown did have this to say about international co-operation:

The Prime Minister: In Washington, we agreed first of all fundamental reform of the way the financial system is supervised around the principles that Britain has been promoting. They are greater transparency, responsibility, integrity—to avoid conflicts of interest—better banking practice and international co-operation.
However that was not this case as this article in the Wall Street Journal from November 2008 shows: "Brown's actions helped to worsen the island's financial crisis"

As this report shows it was the UK Treasury which unilaterally placed Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander in administration on October 8. This meant the Iceland had to take control of Kaupthing because the UK's actions helped bring about Kaupthing's failure prematurely. The UK's use of anti-terrorist legislation against Iceland caused a run on its banks.

That doesn't say much for the superior "international co-operation" that is meant to benefit Scotland within the "union" compared to the other models above. Particularly since Kaupthing is to take the "union" government to court for actions that contributed to Kaupthing's collapse. Likewise the Icelandic Government is considering a similar action to the European Court.

Considering these heavy handed (to say the least) and unco-operative moves by the government of the "union" how can it be argued it is a benefit which Calman can just blithely ignore? Particularly since this action has put in question UK council investments and savers who thought all of Iceland's banks were going under?

This lack of international co-operation is further underscored by the fact that whilst Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden were coming forward with financial assistance "the UK government has put pressure on the IMF to delay the loan".

And to underscore the dysfunctional and contradictory nature of the "union's" supposed "international co-operation" it has been further revealed that the Bank of England and UK Government were aware of serious problems in Iceland as long ago as March 2008 but failed to work with the Icelanders.

However it's not just on Iceland we see a lack of international co-operation from the Government of the "union" in terms of the present financial crisis. There are numerous other examples of its high minded approach causing similar friction.

At an international summit in November US officials said "that Britain was making unreasonable demands over the reform of global institutions". This was already pointed out by the Telegraph's Robert Winnett who wrote that the "US rejects Gordon Brown's Bretton Woods plan".

Gordon Brown has also annoyed the French by claiming the bank bailout was his idea:

M. Sarkozy is said to be "furious" that the media has portrayed the EU proposals as a British blueprint. He is even reported to have told several people: "The British plan is something that we worked out for them."

One French official said yesterday: "We find it pretty astounding that Brown is now basking in all the glory. The truth is that it was in the pipeline all the time."
Then there are the Germans, the IMF and OPEC

All in all the example of Iceland shows how the unions of unity - the Nordic Council and the Benelux - are far more beneficial than the "union" which fails to co-operate maturely and honestly on the international stage. That the Calman Commission has blithely decided to ignore these aspects only exposes it to the charge that it is simply about retaining power at Westminster for the parties involved.

And this is even before we consider that serious economists are talking about London being ‘Reykjavik on Thames (such as Willem Buiter, Patrick Hosking and Will Hutton); or how the leaking of confidential information to the BBC's Robert Peston caused shares in RBS to fall by a "staggering" 39%, thus wiping £10bn off its value.

How those aspects of the "union" and its relation to Scotland are not being is one that only the Calman Commission can answer.