Thursday, March 24, 2016

Impeachment Day?

If another 6% of the Scottish electorate who voted in the Independence Referendum had gone for "Yes" rather than "No," then today would have been day the UK was split and Scotland became an independent nation - probably still enmeshed in arguments about what currency it should use and certainly with the largest percentage budget deficit in the developed world.

Professor Adam Tomkins has a great article today here on his "Notes from North Britain" blog in which he argues that rather than independence day it might have been Impeachment day - because the prospectus which the then First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, presented Scots as a case for independence was so flawed that he would deserve to be impeached.

"Never in our history has there been a dodgier dossier than the Scottish Government’s independence white paper," he writes.

"It was a grotesque con—a wilful deception—that Scotland could obtain independent statehood cost-free. The Scottish Government misled us about the woeful condition of the nation’s finances, lied to us about our EU membership, and blustered its way through a hopeless policy—if indeed you can call it that—on the currency an independent Scotland would use."

Alex Bell, the SNP’s former head of policy, has confessed to the truth, even if his former paymasters remain in stubborn denial. “The SNP’s model of independence is broken beyond repair,” he wrote last November. He’s right.

The independence white paper was called Scotland’s Future. It was pointed out at the time that an anagram of Scotland’s Future is “Fraudulent Costs”. Little did we suspect that the fraud was quite so spectacular.

This is not just about oil, although its plunging price is part of the story. It’s really about one hard economic fact: you cannot spend and save the same money at the same time. Scotland spends more than it earns in tax receipts. Upon independence, therefore, Scotland would have no choice but to cut spending, raise taxes or borrow more and, as a new, untested, state, the cost of its borrowing would have been eye-watering."

A similar strong case explaining why Independence would have been the wrong choice for Scotland is made today in the Scottish Herald by Greg Hands, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, here.

You can make (as Adam Tomkins recognises) an honest and intelligent case for Scottish Independence. Unfortunately the SNP failed to make it.

And a very similar point applies to the case for Britain leaving the EU.

At least half a dozen models have been suggested for what sort of relationship Britain might try to negotiate with the EU if "Leave" win on 23rd June. But the ones which do not amount to complete fantasy and might actually be achievable in the real world fall into two or three categories.

Most of the minority of Brexit campaigners who have made a genuine attempt to explain constructively, openly and honestly what they want Britain to do if they win have argued for something close to one of the following approaches: either

1) WTO Plus "Flexcit" - start with the sort of relationship Canada has with the EU and try to negotiate a deal specifically relevant to Britain from there, or

2) EEA "Flexcit" - start with a relationship similar to that which Norway has with the EU but without signing Schengen, and try to  negotiate a deal specifically relevant to Britain from there.

Each of these options would have some significant advantages and some significant disadvantages. I'd be prepared to listen to a case for either. Unfortunately, because although a minority of Brexit supporters are making a constructive and honest case for one or other of these, the people who are making most of the noise for "Brexit" are no more presenting a real choice than the SNP did.

Having seen how "Better together," while their campaign did have many flaws, succeeded in making enough Scots aware of the problems with the SNP's Independence prospectus to win, the main competing "Leave" campaigns in the EU referendum have learned from the specific mistake but not the broader principle. So that have not even attempted to spell out a clear plan.

Instead they have concentrated on suggesting some imaginary "Best of all Independent Worlds" with an impossible and unattainable amalgam of the strengths of each of the above options, attacked any argument for "Remain" as "Project Fear" regardless of whether the argument attacked does in fact have a basis in reality, while simultaneously running their own "Risks of Remain" Project-Fear style scaremongers.

I would like to make up my mind how to vote on the basis of a dispassionate assessment of the advantages and disadvantages for Britain, and for my childrens' futures, of a clear plan for "leave" and a clear plan for "remain." So far I have not been given a chance to do this.

The "Remain" camp have not covered themselves in glory, but at least David Cameron has presented a reasonably clear idea of what his vision of a "Reformed EU" looks like, he has negotiated a deal which, while it falls some way short of the Bloomberg speech objectives does make substantial progress on all the areas in his published negotiating strategy, and I think we have about as much of a clear idea as is possible in an uncertain world of what "Remain" looks like.

A week ago The Leave Alliance was launched which, unlike most of the people who are campaigning to leave the EU, actually does have a plan, which they call Flexcit, with an exit strategy to take Britain out of the EU and towards a reasonably clearly explained future.

The trouble is that they seem to be getting virtually no attention from the press and it is consequently difficult to judge whether their strategy had public support and would be implemented by a post-Brexit government.

Actually, it might well be, because it is almost the only clear strategy on the table - we certainly don't seem to see any sign of one from Boris or Nigel.

I began this article by quoting the suggestion that, had Scotland had voted for Independence, Alex Salmond would have deserved to be impeached. Since this term refers specifically to a form of action brought against erring government ministers, which the most prominent members of the rival "leave" campaigns are not, it would be a malapropism to suggest that they too deserve impeachment. But their failure to put a proper prospectus to the British people is every bit as deserving of censure.

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