Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Scotland In EU

This blog is normally the harbinger of doom and gloom on all matters Brexit. I don't know about everyone else but maybe it's time for something different.  Don't get too excited, though, because it isn't going to be all that much of a change.  Instead of the usual whining and complaining I'm going to gaze into the EU's crystal ball and conjure up a picture of what we could all soon experience as citizens of an independent Scotland in the EU.  Now, the departure of rUK will naturally lead to significant changes in the structure and mood of the European Union.  It seems timely to think about what it might look like and how those changes might affect a relatively small nation like an independent Scotland. Before going any further I must thank bjsalba for proposing this as an idea for a blog post.  If the post turns out to be sub-standard that is entirely my fault because the topic is pure gold.

Please join me on a mildly confusing journey of fact-finding and idle speculation.  Yes, let's all sit back and imagine a future where Brexit is complete (ok, it will never be complete) and Scotland is an independent nation in the EU (at least 150 times as likely as Brexit ever being complete).  That's quite enough preamble so let's dive straight into the hornets' nest of EU foreign policy.

Foreign Policy and The Big Three

If you came here looking for information about the pre-fame punk super-group and ego clash featuring Julian Cope, Ian McCulloch and Pete Wylie then I'm afraid you've made a terrible mistake.  Go right ahead and award yourself negative quiz points because that band was called the Crucial Three.  Oh, I bet you feel stupid now. The Big Three, in the context of the EU, describes the countries that have driven almost all crucial EU decisions on foreign policy over the last 40 years:  UK, Germany and FranceThese countries are the only EU members that have individual global influence, whether that be through trade or diplomatic relationships or military power.  Leavers who think that the UK was ever forced against its will into accepting EU policy have it completely wrong.  Just tell them Terry said so and they'll soon be eating a hefty slice of humble pie.

Yes, I know Humble Pie were a band but they had nothing to do with EU policy either.
It would be fair to say that very little of major significance happens in the EU without it being driven by at least one of the 3 "big" nations. Historically, the really big decisions were often initiated by the Big 3 at private meetings among themselves and then proposed to the remaining members of the EU.  Despite what many Leavers might say, the EU is not a dictatorship and nothing happens without first building EU-wide consensus through compromise and discussion.  It is still the case, however, that France, Germany and the UK have typically been the initiators and often worked in unison behind the scenes.  In some cases this led to tensions because the remaining 25 felt that their voice was being diminished. An example might be a Franco-German-UK meeting set up by Tony Blair to discuss Afghanistan back in 2001.  The uninvited nations felt that this was all just a bit too cosy and that they were being excluded from the decision-making process.  After all, there's a spectrum ranging from quickly outlining shared policy directions for future discussion all the way up to holding private meetings in a semi-public glare and then announcing the findings without airing them to colleagues for review. 

You're probably wondering what small countries get out of all this.  What is the value of being in a political union where all major policy is initiated by someone else?  Well, I don't think anyone would dispute that Slovakia doesn't have all that much power in international affairs. The same would be true for an independent Scotland.  Neither could ever have the power to drive forward a foreign policy initiative in the EU because they are far from having the power and influence to implement it unilaterally.  EU membership does, however, give smaller countries a chance to shape and amend policy.  That amounts to significantly more influence than they could ever have outside the EU.  There is also a strong sense of shared objectives in the EU.  For example, the will to protect the Eastern border of the EU is shared by Latvia and Lithuania and Sweden and Poland.  The UK's experience has often been that of 1 against 27 but that just isn't typical of the EU.  Small countries with a history of consensus politics have a lot to gain if they pick their battles carefully.

The EU recognised that this wasn't perhaps the most democratic path to policy proposals. As a consequence,  the Lisbon Treaty attempted to distribute power more evenly among the 28 members by introducing initiatives such as the European External Action Service.  Effectively, this applies formal process to what has been a haphazard and undefined route to major policy initiatives.  This is good news for small nations because they have more chance that their interests are translated into policy proposals.  The bad news is that a policy proposal is not the same as an implemented policy.  It is still the case that the decision to implement any given policy is left to variations of the Council of Ministers, where the Big 3 are very much still in charge.  An example might be the decision to impose sanctions on Russia by freezing assets and restricting visas.   The policy came from the EEAS right enough but the decision was ultimately taken by the Foreign Affairs Council, which is made up of the Foreign Ministers of all member states.

It is no understatement to say that the departure of rUK from the EU is a huge disruption to the historical balance of power in the EU.  What will happen?  Well, that is an unknown.  The Big 3 system worked because smaller countries aligned themselves behind larger ones - they got what they wanted through alliances with larger and more powerful nations.  The Baltic nations, for example, were typically aligned with the UK on most issues from attitudes to free trade all the way to sanctions on Russia. Would they align themselves around the interests of Italy or Poland or maybe even Spain?  There is definitely scope for another country to take the place of the UK as a Big 3 nation but that really depends on the attitudes of Latvia and Denmark as much as the attitudes of Italy and Poland.   This will likely sort itself out in time but right now it is uncertain what will happen.

Brexit means that Scotland will no longer be automatically represented by one of the Big 3.  Supporters of independence would probably argue that the UK poorly represented Scotland's interests in the EU so we're no worse off.  I would generally make that argument too but not on the narrower issue of foreign policy.  I would urge caution here because on issues strictly of EU foreign policy I would take the view that Scotland's interests have generally been in tandem with the UK's interests.  I can't imagine Scotland taking a radically different view from the UK, for example, on securing Europe's Eastern border or on peace-keeping missions in Georgia or the safety of international shipping in Somalian waters.  This presents a small problem for an independent Scotland:  how will it further its foreign policy interests through the EU after the UK leaves the EU?  Would it align itself around a more powerful nation in order to further its policy interests?  If so, would that be France or Germany? Would it join an attempt to promote another nation to Big 3 status? Could that conceivably be Italy or Spain? There is a lot to think about.

 European Parliament

The European Parliament  has 751 MEPs.  6 of those are from Scotland.  I'm pretty good at maths so I'm going to state here and now that 0.79% of all MEPs are from Scotland.   That doesn't sound very powerful, does it?  No, it doesn't but don't worry too much because the European Parliament works very differently from the way that foreign policy was governed by the Big 3.  What happens is that MEPs representing national political parties join supra-national groups in the European Parliament.  Labour, for example, sit with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, a coalition of socialist and social democratic parties.  The Conservatives, on the other hand, sit with the
European Conservatives and Reformists, which is a relatively small coalition of anti-federalist and Eurosceptic parties.  Votes in the European Parliament are typically cast according to affiliation rather than according to nation.

Let's round that up to 1% and take the rest of the afternoon off.
How will the departure of the UK affect the balance of power in the European Parliament? As an exercise, let's see what happens if rUK MEPs are removed without having another election. The answer is that not much will be materially affected.  The UK currently has 73 MEPs in Strasbourg.  67 of those will have to find new jobs after Brexit because they represent constituencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.   The loss of 18 Labour  MEPs is an approximately 10% loss to their European group, while the loss of 19 Conservative MEPs means a more significant loss of 26% of Conservatives and Reformists.  None of that really affects the balance of power too much because if we sort the groupings according to size the order of the largest 4 remains the same as it is now.  In fact, the largest political group in Strasbourg doesn't contain a single UK MEP.   The
European People's Party Group, containing MEPs from Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, can just ignore all this mess and carry on as normal.   One interesting result is the loss of 19 UKIP MEPs from Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy.  That would amount to a 42% reduction in the number of fascists, nationalists and generally unpleasant individuals in the European Parliament.

That's precisely the percentage chance he has of getting re-elected in an indy Scotland.
The next elections to the European Parliament are due to be held in 2019.  The EDFF could find themselves cursing Brexit because they might depend on Scotland returning David Coburn in order to maintain representation from a minimum of 25% of member states.  Anything below that 25% rule will lead to the loss of automatic funding and the probable disbanding of EDFF.  People of Scotland, you know what to do.  Anything could happen in 2019 but getting rid of David Coburn might turn out to be the single most noteworthy contribution that Scotland could make to the next European Parliament.  6 MEPs, after all, is the 6 that we've always had and is exactly in proportion with its population. 

Multi-Speed Europe


The idea of a multi-speed Europe is that Eurozone nations would forge ahead with deeper political integration, while nations such as the UK and perhaps Denmark and Sweden would retain a looser association with the EU.   As I'll explain later, this process is already in action and has been for several years.  The UK, however, was against the formalisation and acceleration of a multi-speed Europe because it was concerned that it would lead to the emergence of an inner core of EU nations making key decisions without UK consultation.  Even though the UK would never have participated in the initiatives of the inner core, their decisions could have had an indirect effect on the UK.  Moreover, the UK was obviously concerned about a loss in power over the basic function of the EU. Any inner core of EU nations would clearly be having regular meetings among themselves, thereby leaving the UK at the fringes of power.  As a consequence, the UK fought against the concept of a multi-speed Europe just as much as it did against any attempt to pull it into a tighter relationship with the EU.

The departure of the UK from the EU has not only revived the concept of a multi-speed Europe but it also allows the EU to implement reform at a much faster rate than previously.  The reason for that is that the UK has been the primary blocker of all EU reform since the introduction of the 2011 European Parliament Act.  This legislated to put every amendment to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to a UK referendum.  The UK public has never been known for its fondness of the EU so this effectively stymied all significant change to the most basic functions of the EU.  Every time a Leaver says that the EU needs reform please remind them that the UK was the country that has been extinguishing all thoughts of reform since 2011.

What does all of this mean for Scotland?  Well, it means that an independent Scotland will need to work out the level of EU integration that it wants to accept because the EU is going to forge initiatives that permit deeper integration whether we want that or  not.  This might sound a little scary.  We're all a little unnerved by change, after all, especially when we feel that we're not in control.  Is there anything that should unnerve an independent Scotland? To answer that question we need to first understand what deeper EU integration actually means and how the multi-speed EU is already a living, breathing fact.

The EU is defined by its opt-outs as much as its opt-ins.  Ireland and the UK, for example, are not signed up to the Schengen agreement of open borders. That's why you need to bring your passport if you fly from London to Amsterdam but you won't need it for the onward flight to Munich.   9 EU nations are still to adopt the Euro.  Denmark and the UK both have a formal plan not to join the Euro.  Sweden is in a slightly different position in that has an informal plan not to join the Euro but a formal plan that it will one day in the unspecified future have a schedule to join the Euro when the conditions are judged to be favourable according to any metric they choose that just happens to confirm their view that joining the Euro is unfavourable. What about the European Fiscal Compact?  This is a set of rules that, among other things, limits the budget deficit of any nation to 3% of GDP.   The Czech Republic seems to happily get by without having ever adopted the Fiscal Compact.  The UK also managed it, although it hasn't managed anything happily for quite a while now.  For reasons that I will probably never fathom Spain and Croatia decided not to participate in the European Patent system.  I think you'll need to ask them why that was a big issue for them.  Scotland might be interested in the Single Resolution Mechanism.  This is a set of rules governing the rescue of failing banks. Yes, RBS, that means you.  Both Sweden and the UK opted out of the SRM.   I'll finish off with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.  Neither Poland nor the UK ever signed up to any shared understanding of fundamental rights in the EU.  Award yourself a gold star if you've noticed the pattern that the UK hardly ever opts in. What about Scotland?  Would it follow the same pattern in a multi-speed Europe?

The ability to opt out of EU initiatives has so far been a contentious issue and one that has been driven mostly by the UK.  The point of a multi-speed Europe is that the EU doesn't attempt to drag nations kicking and screaming into initiatives that they don't want.  The level of integration, and the attendant level of influence, will be more of a voluntary affair. Nations have the choice of joining in with the dancing at the party or sitting at the edges complaining that they don't like the music.  In difference to the UK, Scotland has less to lose if it chooses to sit at the sidelines because it isn't likely to ever be the centre of EU power.  That is definitely an option.  At the same time, though, it could be argued that small nations get more from EU initiatives because it removes a lot of expensive bureaucratic burden and replaces it with a guaranteed level of competency, transparency and certainty that can be attractive to foreign investors.  The path of deeper integration is also an option.

The elephant in the room is that Scotland isn't located in Central Europe and it isn't surrounded with other EU member states.   Scotland will have to balance its relationship with the EU with its links to rUK.   That shared border is clearly going to become more and more difficult the more that Scotland and England diverge.  A balance will need to be found to stop Scotland being left behind in the EU but also maintain some degree of convergence with England and Wales and Northern Ireland.   This is going to be a tricky path to negotiate because rUK has shown its intent to reject the political direction of the EU, while the departure of rUK gives the EU a chance to accelerate its programme of reform.  rUK will be tugging at the left arm, while the EU will be pulling on the right.


 The Thrilling Conclusion

I finished the last section with a speculative comment that Scotland would need to balance its relationship with the EU and its relationship with rUK.  It certainly was a bit of a cliffhanger, wasn't it? I've got the hang of this writing lark and some time ago I worked out a sneaky way to keep the punters reading till the bitter end. That's exactly the kind of sophisticated literary device that you can expect on this blog from now on.   Now that you're all here let's see how all of that tension might arise and how it might be resolved. 

The EU is currently formulating the Single Digital Market.  The idea is that a single set of rules will apply to the storage, transfer, distribution, copyright and ownership of data. Moreover, digital products will be regulated across the EU just like childrens' toys and hazardous chemicals.  It will touch on other areas such as digital access and privacy as well as infrastructure to make sure everyone can participate. To make this happen there will likely be a number of EU Regulations to govern the flow of data across borders as well as a raft of EU Directives that will ensure harmonisation across all member states of the EU.  The Scottish Government will be expected to implement the technical specification of all sorts of Directives into domestic law.  That might, for example,  include a rule that data can only be hosted in countries that sign up to a minimum set of standards. Now, lets imagine that rUK has abandoned any meaningful controls on digital data so that it can sell off NHS data to US insurance companies. It has done this to such a degree that it can no longer participate in the Single Digital Market. rUK, of course, doesn't want the Single Digital Market to happen at all because it will make it harder to do business in the EU.  What kind of pressure can it apply to narrow the scope of the DSM?  It no longer has any say over EU affairs so what can it actually do?  Well, it can start applying pressure to the Scottish Government by hinting at future rUK policy that will make it harder for Scotland to do business in England.  The hope would be that Scotland would take that message to the EU and campaign for modifications and amendments.  Scotland might choose to do this on occasion without any prompting from its southern neighbour when it becomes clear that a predicted loss in rUK trade is more important than uptick in EU trade. Ireland is also likely to end up concluding that its link to rUK is worth an occasional bun fight in Strasbourg.  The EU might not take this all that well if they get the impression that rUK is attempting to undermine EU policy.  This kind of relationship can only end in late nights, tension and indigestion tablets. 

In my imaginary future, rUK might have left the EU but it will still exist and it will still share a border with Scotland and people will carry on moving their bodies and goods and thoughts and dreams across that border in both directions.   Scotland will have to perform a physics-defying balancing act because deeper EU integration means more EU trade but that might come at the expense of rUK trade.  This kind of points to Scotland opting out of deeper EU integration.  I would describe myself as a Euro federalist so this makes me sad.   The truth is that we have to deal with the facts as they are and not as we'd like them to be.  The fact here is that those idiot Leavers have made everything much harder and without any measurable or theoretical benefit.  I do hope they enjoy their evenings of lawn tennis now that they'll never have to share the court with an Austrian or a Finn.

You might have noticed another cliffhanger in that last paragraph there.  Opting out of deeper EU integration might make life in the EU difficult.  After all, that's why the UK was against the formalisation of the multi-speed Europe. What other options might exist?  Aha, find out next time (or the time after that depending on my mood).

Over and out,


PS The UK has completely blown its chance at influencing the new multi-speed Europe.  By leaving the EU, the EEA and removing itself from the purview of all EU institutions it no longer has the opportunity to pull in allies that could have coalesced around the principle of loose integration. If only it had retained EEA membership through  EFTA it could have attempted to pull in Denmark and Sweden by showing how looser integration could be done. Instead, it seems to have adopted the position of zero integration.  Nobody is going to be impressed by that.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

All Or Nothing

If two weeks is a long time in politics then I've been away for a very long time indeed. For reasons of confidentiality I can't go into the ins-and-outs too much here but I ended up entangled in an ongoing disciplinary procedure with a particularly disruptive work colleague. To make matters worse, I temporarily inherited another particularly disruptive colleague. These two managed to convince themselves that superstition can be applied to the world of scientific software with just as much validity as the principle of model prediction and validation. Dealing with their whining, complaints and persistent idiocy turned out to be such a drain on my energy levels that I've just not had any zest for Brexit blogging. Happily, the situation was finally resolved about a week ago, giving me the opportunity once more to spew my unwanted opinions all over the internet.

So much has happened in my absence (delivery of the letter setting out the UK's withdrawal from the EU; a formal request for a binding referendum on the question of Scottish independence; Michael Howard declaring war on Spain; and the release of the highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing collaboration between Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker) but it's still the case that nothing has actually materially changed. We're all psychologically preparing for war, of course, and "journalists" across the land are engaged in Top Trumps comparisons of navy fleets but apart from that life goes on and EU rules still apply.
Oh dear, oh dear.
I was going to use my comeback post for a forensic deconstruction of Theresa May's letter but I think it's a bit late for that now. Instead, I want to talk about something even less timely: the recent Westminster vote to secure the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK. Yes, I know this is old hat but something about that vote has been nagging away at my brain for some weeks now. It all became clear when I finally stopped to think about it a couple of days ago. What was it? Arggh, I've gone and forgotten it now. Oh, I do wish I could remember because the rest of this post depends on it. Oh yeah, I remember now. MPs are a shower of incompetent losers who couldn't organise an evening of craft ale appreciation in a business establishment wholly devoted to the manufacture and appreciation of niche alcoholic beverages.

Theresa May's Article 50 letter makes repeated assertions of the high priority that should be given to guarantee the rights of citizens caught up in this whole mess. It makes the point several times but in a very woolly way that is completely devoid of detail.
"The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible."
"There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights."
This is one of the few areas of policy deliberately mentioned in the A50 letter yet it is light on detail, to say the least. It merely talks of rights and certainty without laying out the extents of those rights or a preference for the form of the binding agreement that would provide certainty. My view is that this is a huge mistake because it gives the EU an opportunity to bog the UK down in technical detail and to tightly couple those rights to every other decision of the exit deal.  This kind of tactic will just frustrate the UK because it only really wants to talk about trade.

I now ask that everyone casts their mind back to the recent past when Westminster voted down a motion to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK.  It was cold, it was dark, it was a miserable night and it seemed as if the Tories couldn't sink any lower.   Two things emerge from this mind game: a) the Tories can always sink lower (war on Spain!) and b) it's just as well that Parliament voted this down because the motion didn't actually specify the rights that would be protected or provide any mechanism for the long-term protection of those enigmatic rights. At times like these I'm glad there are grown-ups in Brussels who can guide the UK through this messy and complicated process.  Let's spend some time looking at this in some more detail.

Imagine a Welshman living in Finland  but thinking of returning home in about five years. If it helps let's say that his name is Gwyn and he is a naval architect with particular expertise in solar-powered luxury yachts. As it stands, his right to claim and even move his accumulated Finnish pension is governed by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority. This is one of the many agencies granted powers by the European Parliament to provide technical oversight over the function of the European Economic Area.  This sounds great so what is the problem? Well, the UK has now begun the process of withdrawing from all European technical agencies. All of the certainties about Gwyn's claim to private and state pensions and his ability to move them to back to the UK are now under threat. None of that can be resolved until the UK and the EU can agree a legal framework that sets out the reciprocal rights and management of pension funds.  It's not even clear if that will be part of the divorce discussions.  It actually occurs to me that reciprocal pension rights belong to the discussions that come after the UK has completed its withdrawal from the EU. Anyway, that is for the EU to decide because it is their club and they make the rules. I hope I'm giving you the impression that it's all a bit more complicated than that defeated motion in the House of Commons. Guaranteeing the rights of UK citizens in the EU or EU citizens in the UK is a task that spans almost every possible area of legislation. I would guess it amounts to tens of thousands of pages of legal documentation accumulated over the last 40 years. If you're still not convinced of the complexity involved let's try another scenario.

You can decorate your flat exactly how you want in the UK.
This time imagine Alice, an English legal translator living in Copenhagen. Alice has bought a modest flat off-plan that won't be completed until late 2019. Will she still be able to buy property in Denmark after the UK exits the EU? Denmark is particularly strict with property rights but EU nationals enjoy full access to the Danish property market due to the principle of non-discrimination that lies at the heart of the EU. I would guess that Denmark would like to restrict Alice's right to buy her dream home because the principle of non-discrimination no longer applies. The UK, on the other hand, has a particularly open housing market. It's fair to say that anyone with sufficient funds can rock up and buy a property anywhere in the UK. Having purchased their house they can do what they want with it. They can rent it out, they can leave it empty and treat it as an investment, they can use it as a holiday home, they can paint all the interior walls black and use it for satanic worship and diabolical magick exeriments. The UK will obviously want UK citizens to enjoy those rights in the EU. Well, I hope they want UK citizens to enjoy those rights and I sincerely hope they've thought about this kind of scenario. At the risk of boring everyone, I'm just going to reiterate that guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens is complicated and is tightly coupled to the entire exit agreement.

Still not convinced? This time we'll take a look at Bob. Bob has lived in Germany for 30 years, he's married and has adult children living and working in Germany. With all this Brexit madness going on Bob is thinking of applying for German citizenship. This sounds great until you learn that Germany has strict rules on dual citizenship. EU citizens are allowed to have dual passports but Bob will soon cease to be a citizen of the EU. What will happen? Well, let's see if Bob qualifies for dual passport status under German law. No, he doesn't because the UK allows him to renounce his citizenship and because he didn't grow up in Germany. If Bob wants a German passport he will first have to give up his rights to British citizenship, his rights to long-term NHS care, and his rights to a UK state pension. The UK, of course, is relaxed about citizens having multiple passports and I hope it will promote that principle for UK citizens living in the EU. Am I too hopeful?

For the international man/woman of mystery, a passport collection is a must-have accessory.
What have we learned? I think it's worth a few bullet points this time to make it look like I'm a serious writer with important conclusions.
  • Guaranteeing the rights of the millions of people caught up in the madness of Brexit will be complicated.
  • Legislating for those rights is tightly coupled to the rest of the exit agreement and can't be agreed in isolation.
  • Legislating for those rights spans almost the entire breadth of EU legislation.
  • Every nation in the EU has its own idiosyncratic way of granting rights to non-EU nationals and will want to apply that to UK nationals so that it may trade for something it wants in return.
  • The rights of citizens are so entangled with the rest of the legislative knot and so varied across the EU27 that they can't be granted unilaterally - this requires a reciprocal and binding agreement.
  • The rights of UK/EU citizens will likely still face significant uncertainty until the future EU/UK relationship is finalised in the year 2062.
What will happen? Several things can and probably will happen.  The first is that the EU can engineer as much technical complexity as it likes on the topic of reciprocal rights.  Moreover, it can do this in a way that makes it look concerned for the rights of its own citizens and for the legislative traditions of its member nations.  It will do this deliberately to make the UK ever more aware of the ticking clock and the distance it has to travel before it gets to discuss trade. In response, the UK will probably throw the rights of its own citizens under a bus because, let's face it, readers of the Daily Express don't really care if Alice gets to own a modest apartment in Copenhagen and they certainly don't care about Bob's passport woes.  They will remain indifferent to Gwyn's pension and probably think it serves him right if he is forced to endure reduced financial rights and ongoing uncertainty because that's what you get when you abandon Albion.

Oh dear, what a mess. The UK Government has shown itself once more to be woefully unprepared for the upcoming talks with the EU.  It can't even draw on the resources of all those super-brain MPs because they've proved themselves to be a shower of idiots unable to think beyond their own very generous and most definitely guaranteed pension scheme. 

Over and out,


PS I didn't even mention the rights of UK pensioners to treatment in the Spanish health system.  They have full rights at the moment that are independent of EU membership but that could easily change if the UK fails to secure the rights of EU nationals to the NHS.  If the UK can gets itself on a war footing over Gibraltar then some minor legislative changes to healthcare access is small fry.

PPS Next time a look at what life would be like for an independent Scotland in the EU.  Can it get any more thrilling?  This is the kind of thing you get from Terry Entoure when he's motoring at full speed.  You also get Terry Entoure talking about Terry Entoure in the third person, which is a hallmark of the serious and persistent blogger.

Monday, 6 March 2017


I'm afraid that my evil capitalist overlords are still preventing me from blogging at the rate I'd like.  It turned out that the most recent work "crisis" (I mean, nobody ever dies or anything like that) wasn't satisfactorily resolved and this has meant a prolonged period of high-speed coding late into the evening.  For a change I'm working on a  project that is actually quite fun so I don't really mind but the effort involved has sapped my energy a little.  I also managed to do something to a muscle in my back at the weekend while doing the housework.  As a consequence, my intentions to do some Sunday blogging were quickly abandoned for a lie down and a few episodes of Columbo.   Apologies for all of this but normal service is just around the corner. To be honest, Brexit is at a standstill so the timing couldn't have been better.

Why am I linking to a video of a punk song called "Identity"?  Well, it seems that identity politics is having a bit of a comeback. Call me utterly naive if you want but I didn't think this was still a thing in 2017, especially not with young people.  Oh dear, I couldn't be more wrong. It turns out that identity is the crisis that everyone could see except for the idiot that writes this blog.

Identity politics is a dead-end.  It can only ever lead to bitter recrimination, hatred and petty squabbles.  Ordering the right to speak using clumsy and arbitrary metrics can never, ever lead to consensus. How do we know that?  Well, that's because the arse-end of the UK's radical left fizzled out in a haze of bitter recrimination, hatred and petty squabbles after they nailed their flag to the core principles of identity politics.  The radical socialist feminists hated the working-class feminists who hated the disabled feminists who hated the Jewish feminists who hated the lesbian feminists who hated the political lesbian feminists who hated the separatist feminists.  They were so engaged with prioritising the right to speak based on arbitrary measures of oppression that they were too busy to listen and work out if any of it had any value at all.  Everyone knows that political change can only be achieved through consensus and unity of purpose but identity politics gets in the way of any of that.  Identity politics inevitably leads to schisms and arguments and endless hours sitting around getting nothing done except for hating the people closest to your own beliefs and experiences.

Identity politics leads to weird, post-modern articles like this one.  It leads to huge arguments about the inclusion of trans-gender women in the feminist movement or whether to even label trans-gender women as any kind of woman at all.   It leads to the worst kind of free-wheeling "academia" that categorises and sorts all the schisms, that collates all the tiny details that separate the multi-variate graph of disagreement. It is a massive waste of time. [Just for the record, if someone identifies as black or as a woman or as a born-again Christian that's typically good enough for me.  Who am I to question their choices in life?  Who am I to make anyone's life harder than it needs to be?]

While I was catching up with sleep on the sofa at the weekend I watched this excellent BBC documentary about the arse-end of the UK radical left and how identity politics killed it stone dead. 

I can't recommend it highly enough if you want to know why we should all stay away from the ongoing twitter rage about identity politics. In summary, identity politics will not secure our European passports. To do that we need to focus on what we have in common, not on our differences.

Over and out,


Monday, 27 February 2017

Fairytale in the Supermarket

What's the best way to pack a shopping bag at the supermarket?  Hands up, please. Yes, you at the back with the purple shirt and the glasses.  Hold on, can you speak up a bit please?  Well done, that's exactly right:  pack the bulky items first and then add the smaller items later.  Why do we do it this way and not the other way around?  How about the lady with the exquisite hat and glove ensemble?  Wow, that is a fantastic answer.  Adding the bulky items first is the optimum solution because the cost of moving a bulky item is much larger than the cost of moving a smaller item. It makes sense, therefore, to put the bulky items in first and then experiment with moving the smaller items around until they all fit in the bag.

Why am I banging on about packing bags at the supermarket?  Don't worry, I've not started a blog on well-known constrained search problems in computer science.  It turns out that packing a bag at the supermarket is a similar problem to signing multiple trade deals after you've just had a dizzy turn and exited the biggest trading block on the planet.  Let's look at this in a bit more detail.

Signing a really huge trade deal with your closest trading partners involves the biggest gain but also comes with the largest cost. The gain, of course, is that more trade means more profit. What about the cost?  The cost here is specifically the set of compromises that are required to overcome technical barriers to trade.  Imagine two countries A and B enter a trade deal but hit a bit of a deadlock on paint additives. Maybe country A has very strict rules, while country B is happy to poison its population and contaminate the countryside. To proceed with the negotiations one side or the other will need to compromise.  They might do that by using their willingness to compromise on one issue so that they force the outcome they want on another. This kind of horse trading leads to each side making a profit gain through increased trade but at the expense of legislative compromise.  It stands to reason that countries will only be prepared to make significant compromises when the trade deal is a huge prize.  The European Single Market is such a trading relationship.  After all, it involves singing up to all sorts of directives and regulations (compromise cost) in return for frictionless trading with some of the wealthiest countries on the planet (financial gain).  The UK Government, in all its wisdom, has decided that the cost of compromise that comes with EEA membership outweighs all the obvious gains. 
The good news is that Liam and Boris and David and all the lads and lassies from Brexit HQ have been busy preparing all sorts of trade deals.  It's our job to pack them away so let's get busy.  First item down the chute is a UK-US trade deal. It's just a tiddler so let's put it in the bag. Is that a UK-Thailand trade deal I see coming up next?  Right, another tiddler so let's bung it straight in the bag.  Argggh, what is that monster coming down the chute?  Oh my giddy Aunt, it's blocked out all the light.  Careful back there, this is going to buckle the whole mechanism.  1, 2, 3, heave.  1, 2, 3 heave.  Uh oh, it won't fit in the bag unless we take out all the other deals.  What the hell is this, anyway?  Oh, it's the UK-EU trade deal.

What did we do wrong? Of course, we didn't pack the largest trade deal in first and then sort out all the tiddlers later.  Why didn't the UK-EU trade deal fit in the bag?  Forgive my computer science joke but there wasn't enough phase space.  Ha ha ha ha.  Ha ha ha ha.  Oh dear, that is a terrible joke that will only appeal to other losers with a STEM mindset.  There are all sorts of reasons why the UK-EU deal didn't fit in the bag but let's just focus on one to illustrate the way in which each trade deal forces constraints on all subsequent trade deals.  A US-UK trade deal might result in the UK making compromises on the list of paint additives that may be sold in UK stores.  This will become a problem if the UK subsequently tries to sign a trade deal with the EU that expressly forbids the sale of those paint additives. The UK can't simultaneously ban and allow paint additives so it has to choose one deal over the other.  There's no way around the simple fact that two items can't occupy the same physical space in the shopping bag.

Life is a lot easier if all items are the same size.
 Just like packing away the shopping at the supermarket, the UK should start with the biggest item; that is, the UK-EU trade deal.  The biggest trade deal will demand the largest amount of wiggle-room be made available for compromise so it makes sense to start there before all that wiggle-room is eaten away.  The advantage of this strategy is that the UK spends its available compromises on the most valuable deals.  With the biggest deal in the bag then UK can then start to look at the second largest trade deal.  The UK has less flexibility to make compromises at this stage but that's ok because there is also less gain. As the UK works its way down the list of trade deals (ordered by size) it will start to discover that the limited remaining wiggle-room that is available for compromise limits the extent of the trade deal.  This is perfectly acceptable because it spent all its wiggle-room on the prizes it really wanted. There is no point, after all, in spending all the wiggle-room on the smallest trade deal and then finding that it diminishes the potential value of the largest. That would be exactly the same as packing the smallest items first and then discovering that the largest item doesn't fit around them.  It's far better to pack the largest items first and then work out how to rotate and twist the smaller items so that they find a slot where they fit.  Any other strategy is a waste of (phase) space.

They keep "Amateur Trade Deal" on the top shelf these days.
 What have we learned?  Trade deals should be negotiated sequentially starting from the largest and ending at the smallest. Keep that in mind the next time David Davies or Nigel Farage make outlandish claims about the speed of a UK-US trade deal.  If the UK Government starts to negotiate with Trump before concluding its business with the EU we know they are spending our finite ability to conclude trade deal negotiations as inefficiently as possible.  Brexit is just the start of a long and arduous process to even bring the UK's trading relationship back to parity with its current status.  With idiots at the helm hell-bent on favourable news headlines, they are going to mess it up completely by attempting it all once in the wrong order.

This can all be avoided by voting Yes in the next indyref,


PS Next post will be the start of a short series about Scotland in EU.   Can it get any more exciting?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Help the aged

In the absence of a hi-tech elixir breakthrough, I hope I'll live to be old.  I hope readers of this blog lead healthy and productive lives and live to be old, too.  I mean, nobody really wants to die young, except the young themselves. Once you're too old to die young and pretty you might as well live as much as you can and die elderly and decrepit.  That is certainly my plan. To be honest, I was never really into nihilism so it's been my plan to live on as long as possible for as long as I can remember. 

This post is going to be about pensioners.  The pensioner demographic completely swung both the EU referendum and the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.  If a 2nd indyref is going to be successful before the door slams on the EU someone is going to have to convince the Scottish pensionariat that independence is the correct choice.  (Yes, I did say "pensionariat". A secondary aim of this blog is to invent stupid words and furtively spread them through society so that I may laugh like a hyena at my handiwork.)  That means convincing them that EU membership is more important than being in the UK.  This is going to be a hard sell.  It is doubly hard because neither side is listening to the other.  I'll explain that with a not-hilarious personal anecdote involving Entoure Snr.

I was back in Scotland over Christmas and obviously spent some time meeting up with Familie Entoure. Herr and Frau Entoure are very, very old.  Entoure Snr asked me if the EU referendum result affected me and I told him that, yes, this could have a profound effect on my future.  After all, my rights to live and work in the EU will likely be curtailed by Brexit and the ensuing negotiated settlement.  Entoure Snr was surprised to hear this, probably because the rights of UK workers in the EU is not exactly a hot topic.  This is not the sort of thing that troubles the editorial team on any daily newspaper.  WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS AND MAKING IT A TOP PRIORITY OH WHY OH WHY OH WHY DO THEY EVEN LISTEN?  We then chatted about Scottish independence and how that was the only remaining route that guaranteed my rights to live and work in the EU.  He presented the usual worries that were easily debunked: EU membership for an independent Scotland, walls at the border etc.  Anyway, it occurred to me that we got our information from completely different sources. Twenty years ago we would have read pretty much the same newspapers and watched the same news programmes, even if we had formed different views from the same information.  Today, we have almost no news sources in common and our opinion on each other's reading habits is divergent, to say the least.  What happened?

The Entoures at home in 1998 watching Panorama.  That's me at the front aged 27. Still got the shorts.
If you are a member of the pensionariat then you probably read a newspaper.  Remember them? They are printed on paper, appear daily, and have a defined editorial policy that permeates through every single page.  Before this turns into one of those remember-the-recent-past clips shows with Stuart Maconie, let's just remark that I don't read newspapers in any traditional sense. If you are reading this then you probably don't read them either.  Without going full-on Chomsky you might even think that newspapers represent an establishment view and thereby fail to represent the spectrum of public opinion.  That might include attitudes to Israel and Palestine; the UK's semi-permanent war footing; Scottish independence; immigration; or the EU.  Remaining in the EU had 48% support but does anyone think there was a commensurate fraction of pro-EU newspaper output?  The Scottish independence referendum had an even larger disconnect between voting outcome and editorial policy.  Luckily, the information super-highway, as we used to call it in the 90s, has led to an explosion of not-so-alternative views that do actually represent wider public opinion.  These outpourings of fact and opinion are indeed often produced by the wider public.

The emergence of two very separate readerships is remarkable and might even reflect something deeper happening in society.  If I worked at the BBC as head of digital strategy I would write a white paper on this exact topic. It would bang on about platforms, content delivery, diverging value systems, and the Terry Wogan demographic in a post-Terry Wogan world.  It would be a work of content-free genius that might even land me a promotion to a post with an even longer job title.  Happily (for you, for me, for everyone), I don't work at the BBC in any capacity so I'm not going to attempt an answer to this conundrum because a) I no longer live in the UK and b) I live in a bubble world of my own construction that involves a lot of ukulele playing and German verb conjugation.

What got me thinking about all of this is that Entoure Snr defends The Glasgow Herald as a newspaper with an editorially neutral stance on Scottish independence.  It might have a more nuanced view than The Daily Record or The Scotsman but it could hardly be described as having a neutral stance, at least not by you or me.  He is kind of correct, though, because on the limited spectrum spanned by daily newspapers it probably could be described as somewhere near the centre.  If you spent your entire life reading newspapers then it is hard to realise that they are now clustered at one end of the spectrum on a whole list of issues, including attitudes to independence.  In fact, it is almost impossible to realise that if you mix with other pensioners who read the same newspapers and have the same life-long beliefs in the benefits of being in the UK. If I was a pensioner today I would likely be no different.

It strikes that there must have been a time when Fleet Street managed to promote a wide range of popular views.  After all, where there is competition, there is also diversity.  When Entoure Snr was young, however, independence really wasn't a popular view.  There would have been no commercial sense at all for any daily newspaper to take on a separatist stance because they would have found very few readers.  Let's not forget that the post-war consensus of state health care, jobs for all, nationalised railways and council housing had a powerful effect on Entoure Snr's generation.  Back then the Union was a generally popular concept that was rarely questioned or challenged.  It's not surprising that today's pensionariat have warm, fuzzy feelings about the Union because for a significant period of their lives they either benefited from it or felt that they did.  Even if you don't believe that newspapers are the voice of the establishment it is still the case that they need to tailor their output to the remaining demographic that buys their daily wares in large numbers.

This is all a bit worrying for democracy because the political class is most definitely influenced by news headlines, which are now skewed towards a singular age demographic.   Who is it that gets invited for cosy chats at Nr 10 in return for exclusive interviews?  Who invites whom to celebrate their nuptials?  Even post-Leveson these links have not been broken.   More worryingly, I believe the BBC even analyses news coverage to help decide their running order when compiling their bulletins.  They do this in the interests of neutrality and impartiality so that they cannot be accused of setting the agenda.   This would be fine if the agenda was statistically balanced and mirrored the full spectrum of popular opinion.  What happens instead is that they reinforce an imbalanced view.

What about all this new media? What if we all  pointed our parents and grandparents to all of these shiny new internet thingamabobs on the super-highway?  The problem is that I'm not going to point my Dad at WoS or CommonSpace because he's not exactly what you might call an internet pioneer.  Moreover, these sites are aimed at a significantly younger demographic.  I really don't think any of the content is produced with him in mind.  Sometimes, I even wonder if it is produced with me in mind;  this blog, in particular.

When I am old whatever replaces all of this will scare the bejeezus out of me. Glog?
I think this is a real problem for the independence movement: elderly people are simply not connected with the arguments for independence and at the same time have a strong emotional connection to the UK.   The BBC, charged with neutrality, then promotes the idea that believing in the Union is a neutral position, one that is almost unchallenged in wider society.  Notwithstanding the reality of news coverage in 2017, undisputed facts alone might not be enough to change minds.  Just as I view EU citizenship as part of my identity, Entoure Snr has a similar relationship with the UK.  I don't mean that either of us is waving flags around , putting up bunting or saluting Her Majesty/Jacques Delors but these allegiances do quietly influence our identity in a way that only really becomes apparent when they are under threat.  My relationship with the EU is really just the same as my Dad's with the UK:  we basically like what we like because it was good to us.  The difference between our views on independence is just timing and circumstance.  

Jacques Delors is very specific about the length of bunting to honour his presence. Just saying.
It would be true to say that the explosion of alternative media had a profound effect on my views on independence.  Go back 25 years and I would have never been pro-independence.  I probably wasn't ashamed to be British back then, either.  Around 10 years ago I had no fixed opinion either way but in the last few years I moved very rapidly towards independence.  Alternative/new media played a strong role in that change. I'm sure many people of my age followed a similar trajectory.   The crux of the problem is that Entoure Snr's generation aren't going to listen to any of that and probably don't even know it exists beyond vague notions of cybernattery.

Entoure Snr is a rational human being.  He is also a human being with all the attendant paradox and inconsistency that happily differentiates us from automatons.  He will listen to the arguments where he finds them.  They might change his mind.   If he felt connected to the arguments he would be far more likely to change his mind, just like all of us humans here on planet earth.  Despite some really excellent blogs and journalism out there, almost nothing I've seen on the internet is going to draw in Herr and Frau Entoure.  What is the solution?

Over and out,


PS Pensionariat is a truly terrible word.  Let's keep it to ourselves and never mention it again.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Normal Service Will Soon Resume

There's been this incessant, whiny noise buzzing around my ear for the last six months or so.  In the last two weeks, though, I've noticed that it has miraculously disappeared.  I've heard lots of people who regularly read this blog reporting the exact same phenomenon. What on earth is going on?

Of course, that incessant buzz was me merrily pontificating away on all matters Brexit.  It temporarily stopped because, just occasionally, I have to up my game at work and earn my salary.  When that happens I'm left with with no spare time or energy for this blog or for my ukulele addiction.  It's a complete outrage if you ask me but these are the rules and I just have to live with them.  Luckily, the current outbreak of work stress is almost at an end and I can start to think about getting my life back to normal.  That means blogging about Brexit and Scottish Independence and playing jaunty, shrill tunes on the banjo ukulele.  Don't worry, I'm not asking anyone except for my long-suffering neighbours to listen to my unique rendition of "In the Ghetto" by Elvis Presley.

Normal blogging service will resume in just a few days.   It's been my aim for some time now to post twice a week.  I fully intend to get back up to that rate as soon as possible.  There is just so much to write about, even though planet Brexit is a barren and featureless landscape at the moment.  Before I do that, however, I just need to catch up with whatever cowpat is currently bothering Jeremy Corbyn's two left feet.

In the meantime, I can't recommend Craig Dalzell's article on EU membership highly enough. I've been brewing a post on a similar topic but now I don't really need to bother because someone else got there first and made it as clear as it could ever possibly be.   In case anyone thinks the EU isn't sympathetic to Scotland's future there is also plenty of evidence out there that Scotland has plenty of support where it matters.

Anyway, rumours of my demise are much exaggerated.  Hah, I've always wanted to say that!  And now that I have I realise it is quite pompous and self-regarding but that's exactly why I've always wanted to say it.

Over and out,



Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Anyone Know A Good Technical Writer?

I bet everyone reading this has worked on a project at work that turned into a giant disaster.  I've been starting to wonder if I'm working on one right now. This is how it typically proceeds. A tiny research project from a lone developer piques the interest of senior management. This could have all sorts of fantastical applications and even revolutionise product development itself. Naturally, they start to chip in with their differing views on its future direction. Let's speed this along a bit with a few extra people. One person becomes three. Colleagues from different teams start to hear about this project and its amazing potential. Everyone wants to be involved. Three people become eight. This is now a hot project with proposals for research papers, shared frameworks, products in all sorts of different fields, multiple code repositories. There are internal chat rooms devoted to this project, even time-consuming debates and pointless threads about its philosophical consequences. Eight people become twenty. Then thirty. Four separate business units are now contributing, there are layers of middle management, the CEO has taken a personal interest. This is peak project. How's that lone developer getting on? Oh yeah, he just found out that it isn't quite what he hoped but nobody is listening any more. On it trundles, month after month, a mini industry devoted to an idea that should have never proceeded beyond that lone developer. Group think founded on a wisp of an idea got the better of due process. How is that Government White Paper on leaving the EU? I know it's a bit late in the day but we ought to take a look.

If you thought the UK Government might reveal their plan then think again. The White Paper on the process for leaving the EU contains no details whatsoever. There is no plan, no attempt at solving imminent technical issues, no costings, no economic forecasts, no schedules. There is nothing at all in this paper that suggests the UK Government is making appropriate preparations to leave the EU.   There is plenty to suggest that they still don't understand the scope of the problem and have turned to empty campaign slogans to cover up the gaps in their knowledge. More worryingly, they assume that the interests of the UK Government exactly match those of the entire EU and rely on this to assert that very real problems will magically sort themselves out. I'm not even sure if I would describe this White Paper as idiotic or contemptuous. Could it be both? I guess it could.

This post is going to dissect that White Paper in all its glorious lack of detail.  It is quite a long post  so I recommend just picking a couple of sub-sections that catch your attention.  You'll get the gist soon enough. I've not included every possible topic, I'm afraid. I do take requests, though, so I'm open to suggestions for a follow-up post.   Enjoy. 


There are several instances of utter nonsense in the White Paper. In many cases, entire sentences stick out and aggressively poke me in the face. I wonder who wrote it and why did they write it and why did nobody pick up on these sentences and remove them before publication. I reckon I will have spent more time editing this post than the entirety of Whitehall managed before publishing their White Paper.

Let's start with a right old howler. I would imagine that everyone has already seen this but let's wheel it out one more time for a bit of fun.

Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that.
Without the context of the last 12 months of verbiage from the Leave campaign this sentence might lead the reader to all sorts of wrong conclusions. It might, for example, lead the reader to the belief that leaving the EU is all to satisfy a nebulous feeling entirely out of step with reality. I do not believe this reflects the position of the UK Government. After all, they've collectively made far too many speeches about "sovereignty" and "bringing it back". The truth here is that the UK Government couldn't be bothered reading or correcting their own document, even when that document will form the backbone of the largest and most complex legislative overhaul of the last 50 years. Carelessness or contempt?
 At the third meeting in January, the Scottish Government presented its paper on Scotland’s Place in Europe and the Committee agreed to undertake bilateral official-level discussions on the Scottish Government proposals.
Ha ha ha ha. The proposals outlined in "Scotland’s Place in Europe" have already been rejected. In fact, they were rejected within hours of its publication. They've been subsequently rejected multiple times in the glacially slow passing of Brexit time, most recently by David Mundell in an interview with Gavin Brewer.  This is a lie.
The Great Repeal Bill will maintain the protections and standards that benefit workers.
Oh dear, this is a schoolboy category error. The Great Repeal Bill only concerns EU Regulations. Workers' rights, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly the concern of EU Directives and are already enshrined in domestic law. They might as well have written that stricter monitoring of driving instructors will ensure the protection of rare owls.
The extent of EU activity relevant to the UK can be demonstrated by the fact that 1,056 EU-related documents were deposited for parliamentary scrutiny in 2016.
This is a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth because it includes all sorts of EU publications on all sorts of areas of policy that have no bearing on the UK Government.  A fairer take on this is that the EU is a transparent organisation and keeps the UK abreast of its activity with timely communication. A more representative number would have included only Directives and Regulations.  Nobody, of course, knows what that number is, even though it might have formed a useful estimate of possible costs and savings arising from leaving the EU. Another missed opportunity.
There may be European programmes in which we might want to participate. If so, it is reasonable that we should make an appropriate contribution. But this will be a decision for the UK as we negotiate the new arrangements.
Right, so we may be contributing to the EU budget and we might be participating in organisations accountable to the European Parliament.  That's slightly interesting in itself but which ones?  We'll tell you later.  The point of this White Paper is that they tell us now.  Words like "may", "might", "appropriate", "commensurate" are all over this document.  What they're telling us is that they have a plan to work all this out at a much later date.  Yup, the plan is to make a plan.  If you're of a more conspiratorial bent you might think they just don't want to announce their proposals so they can keep it away from all those bothersome MPs in Parliament. I honestly don't know what to think.


Workers' Rights

The protection of workers' rights is so poorly detailed that I wonder why anyone bothered to include anything on it at all. What they've written is actually just embarrassing. We've already seen this category error:
The Great Repeal Bill will maintain the protections and standards that benefit workers.
so I won't comment on it any further. Not the best start but it turns out that is the most sense we'll be getting from them any time soon. They really don't know how to protect workers' rights and they're determined to let us know that fact.
As we convert the body of EU law into our domestic legislation, we will ensure the continued protection of workers’ rights. This will give certainty and continuity to employees and employers alike, creating stability in which the UK can grow and thrive.
The first sentence repeats the category error.  It then reasserts the intention to uphold rights, even though they are grasping at the wrong mechanism to do that. How do they actually intend to make this happen? No mention is made of this at all. That last part about "creating stability", for example, is no more than a campaign slogan. The stability is already there and is a direct consequence of the EU's efforts to protect workers' rights. Nothing is being "created" in any sense at all.   In fact, leaving the EU could only ever be described as a threat to the rights of workers. How do I know that? Well, the UK Government helpfully wrote it down elsewhere in a single sentence.
Once we have left the EU, Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) will then be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal.
Oh dear, all those workers' rights can easily be amended by the Conservative majority in the House of Commons.   That, after all, is their intention. 

Phased Withdrawal

The White Paper makes several mentions of a phased withdrawal from the EU but without providing any details of how this might be achieved. How long will the phased withdrawal last? What will be the interim measures? Which areas of EU policy will be subject to a phased withdrawal?
Implementing any new immigration arrangements for EU nationals and the support they receive will be complex and Parliament will have an important role in considering these matters further. There may be a phased process of implementation to prepare for the new arrangements. This would give businesses and individuals enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements.
I don't know about anyone else but I reckon it is already too late to talk about the possibility of a phased implementation of new immigration arrangements. Businesses and individuals need to know right now. Does the UK Government have the intention for a phased withdrawal from the freedom of movement of people in the EU or not? The answer should be written somewhere in the White Paper but it's not. I would guess they haven't yet decided.
It is, however, in no one’s interests for there to be a cliff-edge for business or a threat to stability, as we change from our existing relationship to a new partnership with the EU. Instead, we want to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded. From that point onwards, we believe a phased process of implementation, in which the UK, the EU institutions and Member States prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us, will be in our mutual interest.
They can't decide on trade and they can't decide on immigration. Honestly, they can't decide on anything.   Are they just going to let the EU decide for them? 


What does the White Paper have to say about Scotland? Nothing. That's right, nothing at all. I'll concede there was that bit about pretending to listen to the needs of the devolved parliaments but I've already dealt with that. Oh yeah, there's also some waffle about strengthening the Union but that is just a slogan in the introduction.

What could we have expected? Well, I would have expected some detail about the repatriation of EU powers to the devolved parliaments. The UK Government needs to plan for this right now. Time is short and there's a lot to be done. I can only assume there is no plan to repatriate powers to Scotland because they don't plan to repatriate powers to Scotland. If that isn't the case then there is simply no excuse for this lack of foresight. They can't even hide behind the argument that they don't want to show their hand because after repatriation these powers have nothing to do with the EU. This is an internal matter that has no bearing on the Article 50 negotiations.

Single Market

The White Paper does a slightly better job on the Single Market but only relative to the woeful attempt at outlining their strategy on other key areas of policy. As everyone expects, the UK Government intend to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the EEA. They manage, of course, to tie themselves up in knots trying to describe what they really want to achieve. What is wrong, for example, with the following sentence?
That agreement may take in elements of current Single Market arrangements in certain areas as it makes no sense to start again from scratch when the UK and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for so many years. Such an arrangement would be on a fully reciprocal basis and in our mutual interests.
Phrases like "may take in", "elements of", and "certain areas" are so vague and meaningless that I wonder why anyone even bothered to write that sentence at all. It tells me nothing. This kind of "wait and see" hopefulness is to be found all over the White Paper. In order to get what you want you first have to work out what you want and then how to get it. I thought everyone knew that but it turns out it is a lesson in life not yet learned by David Davis.

What else is wrong with that sentence? Well, we're back to that confusion about sovereignty again. Adhering to the rules of the Single Market and its arrangements means exactly that. It means that we can't just make up our own rules and do what we want. It means we have to behave in a way that encourages reciprocity, we need to do everything required of the other members of the EEA. We want to retain the benefits of the Single Market and are happy to make positive noises about it but nobody really knows which of its obligations we will accept. I would have hoped for some detail on that here because it would quickly narrow down which components of the Single Market remain available. I would guess a number close to zero.

This sentence is actually really terrible so I'm going to bang on about it a little longer. I could have picked almost any sentence to bang on about but I picked that one and there's nothing I can do about it now. The UK Government are still proposing to cherry-pick the components of the Single Market that they find appealing, even thought they aren't able to specify what those areas might be or if they would be politically acceptable. The EU, on the other hand, has been very clear that Single Market membership is a binary choice. They've been utterly consistent on that point. All or nothing, in or out, fish or foul. Ok, fish or foul doesn't really work but you get the idea that the UK Government are guessing at those mutual interests. They are guessing that the interests of the UK are also the interests of all 27 EU nations and all 30 EEA nations. They are guessing that the EU will compromise on long-held principles echoed repeatedly all over Europe so that the UK can achieve an unspecified outcome with details to follow. Good luck with that.
We have an open mind on how we implement new customs arrangements with the EU and we will work with businesses and infrastructure providers to ensure those processes are as frictionless as possible, including through the use of digital technologies.
This is the politics of Rumpelstiltskin.  If we say his name out loud enough times, it will all magically take care of itself.  Digital technologies, indeed.  I could organise my sock drawer with higher efficiency if I had digital technologies.  Which ones?  You know, the digital ones. They've got digits in them, even though they're for feet.  I used to own a digital watch.  Maybe it had a setting for frictionless borders.  Someone should tell that to Theresa May.

Dispute Resolution

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the UK Government finally understands that Free Trade Agreements require a legal mechanism to resolve disputes. Bravo! I'm going to give them some praise here because they do lay out all the options in a handy Appendix. These options include the Swiss model, the NAFTA model, the CETA model, as well as models involving representations to independent arbitration panels. It is certainly a wide spectrum of options. Some of these options require legislative solutions; some allow broken agreements to be traded for other broken agreements; some allow broken agreements to be traded for money; some are transparent; some might be described as furtive and secretive. If I want to find out how investor-state disputes are resolved I'll get myself a book on international trade and read it from cover to cover. Why are they telling me all this? Why aren't they telling me how they intend to resolve disputes with the EU? Wait, what's that you're saying? They haven't decided? No, that surely isn't the case.

International Trade

Here is everything the White Paper says about international trade.
The UK is proud of its long and successful history as a trading nation. As Chart 9.1 shows, the UK has seen steady growth in overall trade as a percentage of GDP in the entire post-war period.69 We have long been a strong supporter of global trade liberalisation and of the rules based system for trade. An international rules based system is crucial for underpinning free trade and to ward off protectionism.
That's yer lot on international trade. No more to be said, apparently. A definitive and timely statement on the topic, leaving no stone unturned. It's almost as though they asked the intern to write a section on international trade without first giving them a detailed brief. A lot of the White Paper reads like that: bizarre paragraphs on nothing much at all, short on detail, lacking precision or intent.  I don't get it.


If you've been following this blog the following will not be a surprise:

Our aim is to establish our schedules in a way that replicates as far as possible our current position as an EU Member State, thus creating a mutually beneficial, simple and inclusive outcome, so that the interests of the UK and other WTO members are protected.

Sort of makes you wonder why we're leaving.  What is the point, exactly?

Great Repeal Bill


Great news if you're getting bored reading this because nothing substantive at all is said about the Great Repeal Bill.  No costings, no schedules, no plans for the legal and technical challenges arising from bringing EU Regulations into domestic law. There is a lovely nostalgic section on the UK being a founding member of the European Space Agency but we'll be leaving that now, along with Euratom and every other technical agency under the auspices of the European Parliament.  Why even mention it?  So we know what we'll be missing? Bloody heck, what a mess.
The UK was a founding member of the European Space Agency, to which we recently committed €1.4 billion in cutting edge research and development over the next four years. The UK has also been a driving force behind European and international research on nuclear fusion.
Well, that was a  nice trip down memory lane for everyone concerned.  Remember the good old days when we were a driving force in international science collaborations?

If you're wondering why there isn't a section on science wonder no more because that little bit of nostalgia is the highlight.  Blah blah blah being in the EU was great for UK science and we thought it was great but now it's all over and we need to keep our own company from now on isn't life cruel sometimes it's a shame the old days were better blah blah blah.  There is nothing at all about the UK's plans for participation in EU science and technology projects.  Do you still want me to add a science section?  Alright, here it is.



There is nothing at all about the UK's plans for participation in EU science and technology projects.


Some MPs were understandably unhappy that the Article 50 vote was scheduled before the White Paper.  I would guess they are a bit less unhappy now because it's not as though anything in the White Paper could ever have helped anybody make up their minds about the challenges involved in the Government's proposals for leaving the EU. Well, not in the way you might hope. Let's face it, this is not a very professional document, is it?  It reveals nothing of the UK Government's plans at all.  All it manages to reveal is that they are still woefully unprepared for the UK's imminent departure from the EU.  You can't use this document as a template for leaving the EU because it contains no relevant information whatsoever.  Are they just going to make it up as they go along?  I think they just might.

There's a deeper message in all of this about staffing quality and recruitment levels in the corridors of Whitehall, Parliament and Government.  I'll leave that for others to ponder because I only know about staffing on software development teams.  I do know that if I was to produce such an empty and vacuous proposal at my work it would be immediately rejected with prejudice. I wouldn't exactly get sacked or anything drastic like but they probably wouldn't ask me to write another.  The Governent's White Paper was much, much more important than any proposal I might make at work but they either couldn't be bothered or don't possess the basic skills required to make progress and then report on it. How do they get away with it?  Take one look at the Labour Party and there's your answer.

This can all be avoided by voting Yes in indyref2,


PS I left out Northern Ireland, crime, education, financial services.  These are all very, very short on detail but with less entertainment value.   Financial services, in particular, must surely be making urgent approaches to the Government for clarity.  This was the perfect opportunity to provide that clarity.  Another opportunity missed.