MEP FRIENDSHIP GROUP ASSISTING DIALOGUE
SNP Europe Spokesman Alyn Smith MEP has today welcomed the declaration ofa cease fire by the Basque terrorist group ETA, and praised the cross and non-party peace campaigners in the Basque Country who have achieved today's announcement.
Mr Smith, a founder member of an international Parliamentarians "Basque Friendship Group" supporting the peace process, took part in a major international conference held in the European parliament in Brussels inDecember 2005 to support the "Political Peace Declaration" which has beengaining unprecedented support in the Basque Country and has today beeninstrumental in securing the announcement from ETA.
Speaking from Brussels, Mr Smith said:"This is a major announcement today and gives some hope to a people moreused to hopelessness. I'm delighted to see that the Basques have taken astep forward, however tentative."
The problems in the Basque Country are not going to be solved overnight,but with support and assistance then dialogue will take place, and dialogue is the only way to achieve progress. Scotland, and the SNP has long held an internationalist outlook with a keen interest in other peoples and their problems and we support the Basque parties and people in seeking a peaceful agreement on their future."
I have been pleased to support the establishment of the Parliamentarian Friendship Group. This was a brave initiative on the part of a few campaigners in the Basque Country and I'm delighted for them today. Campaigners must now seize the initiative and build upon this announcement."
As an SNP MEP I have a particular perspective, and positive story to tell the Basques, where in Scotland we have our own work in progress in building up the Scottish parliament and nation, and have achieved the results thus far with not so much as a bloody nose."
"I'm pleased to see today's announcement, and commit my continuing supportto the process."
The "Political Peace Declaration" has been signed by 55 differentpolitical parties, faith groups and other organisations. The friendship group acts as observers and guarantors of ongoing dialogue at this crucial stage in the Basque peace process, and bring an added dimension to the internal Basque discussions.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
MEP FRIENDSHIP GROUP ASSISTING DIALOGUE
"Is Montenegro to be held prisoner by the EU?" asked Brian Nugent, spokesperson for the Free Scotland Party. He continued, "in the EU's own words Montenegro is part of 'manifestly dysfunctional confederation', the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro that the EU helped bring about in 2001-2002. Montenegrins are entitled to campaign for Independence on their own terms but the EU, having manufactured the problem, appears to be trying to influence the outcome of the forthcoming referendum."
"The formula proposed by EU goes against the basic democratic principle that each vote should have the same value. In most democracies a majority means 50% plus one vote of those who vote. The EU has imposed two hurdles in the way of Montenegrin Independence; a 55% majority must vote for Independence and 50% of the electorate must vote on May 21. Where is the democracy in these two hurdles? Why has the EU selected Montenegro to apply these tests to a democratic referendum when these tests do not apply in any election or referendum in the states that make up the EU? Why the double standards?"
"We were told that a one vote majority would be enough to take Britain into the Common Market in the 1975 referendum but it will take 55% in 2006 to take Montenegro out of the State Union. The worst possible scenario will be a majority for Independence but below the 55% mark, meaning the majority lose and the minority win. This stance runs contrary to the right of self-determination. Montenegro has been around as a self-conscious identity and nation for a thousand years, so if Montenegrins want to be independent again, why not?"
"The 50% of voters must vote is like a re-run of the 1979 Devolution referendum in Scotland and the Cunningham 40% amendment. The Cunningham amendment stated that at least 40% of those on the electoral register had to vote in favour for devolution to be accepted. This figure was almost impossible to get."
"The register was completed in October with the referendum held in March the following year. Electoral registers go out of date quickly. Voters move and do not register at their new home. Voters die. With the 40% rule, the dead and all those who abstained effectively became No voters in the Devolution referendum."
"Another anomaly is that students can be registered to vote in two places, their home address and their university address. If a student voted at one or the other and voted yes, that vote was cancelled out by not voting in the other area because of the Cunningham amendment. If they voted no, they had two no votes in effect.""Scotland voted in favour of devolution by 52% to 48% but the majority equated to 32.9% of the electorate so the majority were denied what they wanted and lost, the minority won."
"If as the EU says Montenegro has taken major steps to earn the right to make its own decision free of outside pressure, why has the EU applied it's own outside pressure to Montenegro with not one but two unusual voting stipulations?"
"It is almost as if there is a secret EU agenda to keep the State Union together. The EU are, at least tacitly, encouraging the anti-independence opposition, indirectly stimulating the opposition to boycott any referendum meaning the majority would not matter. What are the EU's motives? Are they trying to avoid another Balkan state that will demand EU aid and expect a separate seat at EU negotiations?"
"What right does the EU have to interfere in a country? What happens in a referendum in Montenegro may seem far away but in the event of any future Independence referendum in Scotland or Catalonia or the Basque country or wherever else in Europe, the EU may want to interfere there too. The EU is setting a precedent that should not become a template for Independence referendums. Democratic rules as applied elsewhere should apply to independence referendums."
"You have to admire the cheek of EU given that the EU is itself not democratic. What you can not admire is the blackmail used against the Montenegrin independence movement. The EU threatened to withhold international observers from the referendum if the 55% rule were not accepted. International observers give legitimacy to any election result if they find it fair."
"Miroslav Lajcak, the EU's envoy to the region said rather menacingly, 'I don't believe that the Montenegro government would choose to step into contradiction with the EU over this issue'. The EU's use of blackmail and threats shows how corrupt the whole organisation is and one best avoided in the future by an Independent Montenegro."
"Finally, Scot Sir Fitzroy Maclean who parachuted into German-occupied Montenegro in 1943 said of Montenegro 'If I were ever to be reborn, outside of Scotland, I would like to be born in Montenegro and to be protected in my direst hours by Montenegrins'. Along with that recommendation, the Free Scotland Party wishes Montenegro well in its quest to overcome the EU's hurdles and become Independent."
Posted by Joe Middleton at 10:52 PM
Monday, March 20, 2006
Ministers defeated over ID cards [again!]
The government has again been defeated on its plans to make identity cards compulsory after Lords voted to make the scheme voluntary until 2011. Ministers say anyone getting a passport from 2008 should have to get an ID card and have their biometric details added to the national identity database.
This was the fourth time those plans have been rejected by peers. They backed a Lib Dem proposal to make ID cards voluntary until 2011, but compulsory from 2012.
It means people renewing passports can choose, until 2011, whether or not to be registered on the ID card database and issued with a card. The government wants to make it compulsory for people applying for certain documents, such as passports, to join the ID card scheme.
"It is principally because I think it is thoroughly disreputable and dishonest of us to pretend that voluntary means compulsory that I have stuck to my guns"
Lord Phillips of SudburyLiberal Democrat peer
Peers say that delaying compulsion until 2012 would mean the issue could become part of a future general election campaign - while allowing the government to continue implementing the scheme in the meantime.
But ministers have said that while peers are trying to appear reasonable they are actually just trying to delay the legislation. Home Office Minister Andy Burnham pledged to "stand firm" against the peers and to try to overturn the Lib Dem amendment in the Commons.
"It is clear that the opposition parties, through their representatives in the Lords, are now playing politics with a flagship government bill to provide the nation with a comprehensive, safe and secure means of safeguarding identity," he said.
In the Lords, Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal accused peers of being obstinate in refusing to back down to the will of the elected House of Commons. But Liberal Democrat Lord Phillips of Sudbury said the aim of his compromise proposal was to avoid the government using the Parliament Act to force compulsory ID cards into law.
He said making the scheme compulsory and forcing anyone who applied for a passport to join the national identity database was against the Labour manifesto. "I have a complete sense of the superiority of the Commons. We are lucky to be here at all and we try and do a good job, but we are subservient to the elected House," he said.
"But when I see the elected House coming to this place and saying to the country that that manifesto commitment, doesn't mean voluntary, it means compulsory, then I do actually believe that we have a duty then to say, 'No you don't'.
"We live in times that the public sense of the probity and honour of the Houses of Parliament is not at its highest. There are issues swirling around that are causing great angst within this Palace and beyond.
"And it is principally because I think it is thoroughly disreputable and dishonest of us to pretend that voluntary means compulsory that I have stuck to my guns."
Lady Scotland said she did not believe Lord Phillips' amendment was a compromise. On Thursday MPs voted by 292 to 241 to overturn a previous Lords defeat as the measure continues to "ping-pong" between the two Houses of Parliament.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke told opponents to stop "frustrating the will of the people". The bill is set to return to the House of Commons on Tuesday.
[It is extraordinary that occasionally it is left to the unelected house of Lords to defend a measure of democracy, but as in this case, occasionally it does happen. We need PR to ensure that a minority Government like the Blair one can't push through legislation based on bare faced lies.
I have in my possession a letter from my local MP (a Government Minister no less) which said the Government was not planning a compulsory scheme (and also admits that ID cards will have no significant effect on terrorism) and yet here we have the same Government attempting to push through compulsion and which has on numerous occasions claimed that in some way this bill was intrinsically linked to combatting terrorism. It's complete bollocks and well done to the Lords for holding out.
Luckily if this legislation IS forced through, as it probably will be, there are plans to combat it with civil disobediance, I have a strong feeling that this will become Labour's poll tax. It's just a great pity that given Labour's history they have completely wasted their entire time in office and failed to reverse any major change by Thatcher. What a waste of time removing Major for Blair who (with the singular exception of the devolution bill which he was forced into) has quite frankly been a lot worse. - JOE]
Posted by Joe Middleton at 11:20 PM
Scottish Left ReviewIssue 33
Birth of a phantom revolution
Author: Aileen Orr
Aileen Orr describes how the cross-party Independence Convention came into being
Scotland is still a strange mix of cultures, clans and class mixed with the last vestiges of Calvinism and the occasional hedonistic, tartan-draped warrior who really shouldn’t have watched Braveheart so many times. Who are we? With so little positive media coverage about ourselves, its difficult to know. How can we talk about Independence, or the passage to freedom, if we don’t know why we want to go there, and is ‘there’ a bad place or a good place? The critics of the process declare doom and gloom, a poor third world country, taking handouts from anyone who wish to donate. I suppose the Barnett Formula is the kind of sanitised subsidy they allude to, a system of control, ensuring complete subservience, for when bellies are full, why bother complaining? When the rebirth of the new Parliament came, it was the cost of the building which provoked the most passion. Every aspect of the media attacked it, the taxpayers fumed and the Saltire never did fly, and yes, the roof did fall in. It was a frustrating start for everyone, though the conspiracy theorists did blame Tony Blair - who else? - for his unionist antics and careful manipulation of the Scotland Act, though I believe Donald Dewar did have a hand in it. The comedy of errors continued. It was the start of a loveless marriage with the Scottish people, and like most relationships it only had two places to go. It was on these rocky foundations the Independence Convention was conceived.A group of friends gathered in Kinross just to let off steam. Some were members of political parties, some not, some local, some from as far away as the Borders, but linked with a common aim - all felt they needed a voice. Most had been members of think tanks and discussion groups before, but frustrated by the lack of ambition, all had faded away and allowed their exasperations to fester. All had strong feelings about where they wanted Scotland to go, but no-one could agree in which direction the initial move should be taken. But it was agreed, independence was the core which held all the components together, and the movement was taking its first steps. The lack of any debate in the Scottish Parliament touching on independence had spawned a frustration with first the SNP and then the other parties and individuals purporting to support an independent Scotland. Though the members of the Independence Convention felt there was enough interested personalities to take up the challenge of raising the issue, it would mean members of all parties standing up to be counted and possibly the unthinkable; a uniting of voices. It was a tough remit, and many dismissed it as just plain mad. Although it had been attempted before, it failed. The burden became too heavy because political parties had tried to take over and power-grab ownership of the movement. This was prior to the new Parliament, and past attempts were just that; in the past. The difficult child had grown up enough to bite back.The inaugural meeting took place at the SNP Conference in Inverness 2003, with guest speaker Tommy Sheridan. In a room booked for 80, treble the numbers turned up, with a jumble of SNP, SSP, TV cameras and reporters, the bulk of the audience were forced to stand outside in the hotel car park while stewards inside had to open all the windows to allow them to hear the speakers. The atmosphere was electric, reminiscent of a 1970s trade union rally, but with the Saltire rather than the Red Flag. It was old fashioned politics at its best, feisty and fun, and the number of young people who stood through the whole proceedings confirmed to us we were on the right road; if the movement could attract teenagers and students, it could hold well when it came to stimulating interest within Civic Scotland and beyond. The media coverage was odd. The stance taken was that it was an attack on the SNP leadership, though the SNP were very much in the frame – Alex Neil had spoken on behalf of the Party. The content of Tommy’s speech was either not understood or just too radical for the delicate Scottish media, which had to appeal to some non- entity who ruled with an iron rod. In a ring-round of reporters we were told their stories were either pulled or sanitised. Independence was a silly notion which had to be exposed as just that, a prejudice which took over two years to wrestle with before the launch in 2005. It was obviously going to be a mammoth task to appeal to the media but the chances were we would have to go it alone and fight through newspaper politics in the effort to have our own free speech. We were, in effect, ASBOed by our own press.The negotiations with like-minded parties and activists became the battlefield for dominance due to, in the main, entering discussions with not likeminded people, and many of the group felt pretty disenchanted with the political power broking of some individuals. But we held our positions though it was only one spear per man/woman. There were many nights when meetings were so volatile, the individuals so centred to their own beliefs and status, it felt like continuous stalemate, where door slamming and character assassinations became a nightly ritual. We all felt a degree of battle fatigue and indeed did have to regroup now an again to rethink the way forward and regain some sanity. As we found out pretty quickly, success is a grim business. However, by this time in 2004 the Steering Committee, a sub committee of the main group, did include members of the Greens, SSP, SNP and pro-independence activists from civic Scotland who were working productively towards making the Convention viable and effective. The growing pains were disappearing, the troublesome child had become an adult.When the launch came on St Andrew’s Night 2005 we knew it would either fly or fall, for we were setting out our stall for all to see, and the night had to take the debate forward. Held in Our Dynamic Earth SNP leader Alex Salmond, Mike Danson an economics lecturer at Paisley University, SSP leader Colin Fox, joint Scottish Greens leader Robin Harper, Joyce Falconer performer and actress Elaine C. Smith all set the scene. There was something comforting in watching and listening to a group of people who are not always natural allies, laughing and supporting each other. Politicians have been cruel to the Scottish people. The scars of austerity linger on, but the craving is still there for freedom to make decisions alone. A few politicians gathering and agreeing on the subject of Independence, offering new platforms, is a first step, but it’s a long stride. The broad church was now sitting, and it felt good. But how to harness the strength of feeling and how to stimulate post-launch enthusiasm?The major concerns from the launch came back to media negativity. Despite the number of cameras, journalists and microphones the coverage was poor. In some newspapers, no mention was made of it at all - a phantom revolution. Seeking some solutions, we spoke to many journalists in private. It appeared the same problems remained from our fringe meeting in Inverness two years past, and yet the same prejudices and the same old excuses were back with vengeance (they had never really gone away). It seemed ironic that we had carefully nursed the project to this stage and the media was ‘frightened’ to touch it. Had the Scottish press created their own touchstone on independence? If you fear something you can either confront your nightmare or run away from it; so far, the broadsheets and tabloids had run a ten furlong dash leaving only a few brave soles to raise the dreaded ‘I’ word. For those of us working on the Convention, it seemed bizarre; the opportunity for debate had been missed, or deliberately dropped, from all but a few avenues of media exposure. If the launch taught us anything it was how to embrace people, not the paparazzi. But the struggle continues.We are left now to extend the hand of the debate to the Scottish people themselves. By taking the issue out to the regions of Scotland so often ignored, away from the central belt, the disenfranchised are offered a voice, an exchange of opinions and ideas. In addition we constructed a website for the new IT generation, another lifeline in rural areas too. Engaging with people through meetings in cold dismal halls has long lost its appeal, but the forthcoming launch of Artists for Independence is to fill the breach. Culture is a powerful tool. It has a cross generation appeal through concerts, plays and art which dig deep into the national heritage of all Scots. Its difficult to hear how we speak, our accents, the way we look, and our humour. Being a Scot is rarely portrayed on television, with very few exceptions and the mixing of races through the years has produced its very own brand of humour, yet to be discovered. By stimulating interest in performers and their art, we hope to highlight independence in a new form - not as an underground movement, but part of daily life. The music on local radio, the play on TV and the pictures we see on bill boards and advertising pitches, the radical idea of portraying ourselves is coming your way soon. Sooner, if Elaine C. Smith, The Proclaimers, Dougie Maclean and friends have anything to do with it, which they will.The first task of the Convention was to stimulate debate on Scottish independence, and the forum to be the voice for everyone, for and against. It has been a long and demanding road with high emotion and a considerable amount of soul searching. But the humour and camaraderie evolving from these hard times has enthused us all. As the movement towards Independence progresses, and the unionist hold on the media loosens, only then can free discussions and debate broaden to include everyone who lives and works in Scotland. For those living outside the country, an opportunity to link into, and to be part of, a living, breathing nation with hopes and aspirations for itself. If Scotland is ever to be more than a flag in the wind, its people need to shake off their subservient past, and all the baggage which goes with it, and to look into their future with the same aspirations as any nation. The Scots first task though is to find a mirror and start to recognise their own reflection.
Aileen Orr is the Chair of the Independence Convention Steering Committee
Posted by Joe Middleton at 10:26 AM
Monday, March 13, 2006
SNP embroiled in row over rigging of candidates
By Paul Hutcheon, Scottish Political Editor
A front-bench Nationalist MSP is at the centre of allegations that a key ally is trying to rig her re-election to Holyrood. SNP education spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop was told by an aide that her chances of returning to the Scottish parliament would be helped by a “knock-up” of activists.
But this practice, which involves encouraging supporters to vote, is against SNP rules which forbid candidates from contacting party members during selection contests.
The row was caused when Calum Cashley, an Edinburgh SNP activist who works for Hyslop, posted an e-mail to his boss in November last year. Sent to “Fiona/Kenny”, the correspondence offered a “wee update” on how “things stand currently re the Lothians list”.
Hyslop is a two-term MSP who is not guaranteed a favourable re-selection by the SNP on their list this year.
In the e-mail, Cashley offered an assessment of the size of the Lothians electorate, as well as giving his view on the prospect of his boss getting a high list ranking.
But he added: “There are a couple of ways to ameliorate the situation come June: do a knock-up (of course, you’re not allowed to canvass in this election, but it should be possible to arrange things); and act as a team of candidates, as is happening …”
A “knock-up” is when candidates or others contact activists in advance of an election and encourage them to vote. SNP rules outlaw such a tactic by severely restricting the campaigning behaviour of candidates.
“They may not systematically contact such members outside their own constituency by means of e-mail, telephone or post, or otherwise act in a way that suggests membership lists have been acquired or are being used to canvass members throughout the region,” the rules state.
Cashley proceeded to carve up the SNP candidates into three serious categories, the first of which contained Hyslop and Kenny MacAskill, another Nationalist MSP.
The second banding, which he dubbed the “sensible team”, included himself and Davie Hutchison, an aide to MacAskill.
Relegated to the third category, under the banner of “then we have”, were SNP National secretary Alasdair Allan, GP Ian McKee and the highly-regarded Angela Constance, who stood for the Nationalists in the recent Livingston by-election.
Another part of the e-mail, which was sent to Hyslop’s personal account, dealt with the threat Constance poses to Hyslop’s re-election hopes.
“I’m sending this to private e-mail address because I have a few concerns about what Isabel [Hutton, Hyslop’s other aide] is planning on the list, she tells me that the ‘West Lothian opinion’ is that Angela should get first preference votes … This was obviously told to me in confidence.”
He parted with the line: “More information when I get it.”
This is the second time Cashley has tried to influence the SNP Lothians list. In 2003, he was reported to have sent e-mails to activists in an attempt to undermine the sitting MSP, Margo MacDonald, who was effectively deselected.
He also intervened in the recent Argyll and Bute selection contest, urging local activists to vote for Jim Mather MSP instead of rival Michael Russell.
The Sunday Herald also understands a complaint has been sent to SNP headquarters about the parliamentary worker’s activities.
Cashley yesterday tried to explain his e-mail and his special categories of candidates: “I was just passing on information, and I was told by Fiona that she wasn’t interested. It was a bit cheeky. I suppose that gets me into trouble.”
Asked what he meant when he said he could “arrange things” on the Lothians list, he said: “F*** knows.” On whether he had broken the confidence of his fellow aide, Cashley said: “It seems that way, doesn’t it? Man does job and tries to protect boss.”
Hyslop put distance between herself and her aide’s e-mail.
“I didn’t ask for it, don’t agree with the content and I told him to stop interfering. I was angry that he sent this in the first place,” she said.
On Cashley’s plan for a “knock-up” of local activists, she said: “He can’t do that. He’s not allowed to break party rules.”
12 March 2006
Posted by Joe Middleton at 10:26 AM
Friday, March 10, 2006
Posted by Joe Middleton at 3:19 PM
Yet another step towards declaring independence?
Iain MacWhirter March 08 2006
My Lords Steel and Vallance make unlikely revolutionaries, but their commission's report on the future of the Scottish constitution is little short of a declaration of independence. Giving Scotland control of taxation, broadcasting, welfare, immigration, asylum, the civil service, the constitution and many other powers would amount to a lot more than "fiscal federalism", whatever that means. Under their plan, Scotland's government would even have its own borrowing powers and a national debt. It's difficult to think of what Westminster would have left to do, apart from start wars. Now, there has been much scoffing about how passé Lord Steel's report is; that there's little demand in Scotland for more constitutional upheavals, especially with the roof falling in at Holyrood.However, it would be unwise to dismiss the Steel Commission Report as the misguided musings of a home-rule romantic. Critics said much the same about the last big constitutional report Lord Steel chaired – that of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1988. It called for a Scottish parliament with full legislative powers to be elected by proportional representation. It'll never fly, we were told . . .These things have a way of creeping up on you. The Scottish people may not be taking to the streets to demand more powers for Holyrood but nor did they for devolution. In Scotland, constitutional change happens incrementally, through the formation of broad coalitions, almost by stealth. And look around: a majority of the MSPs in the Scottish Parliament already support the powers of Holyrood being extended. The political reality is that they almost certainly will be – sooner or later.Devolution was always a process rather than an event and we live in rapidly changing times. David Cameron, the Tory leader, is on record as supporting greater powers for the Scottish Parliament and a new constitutional settlement to take account of anomalies such as the West Lothian Question. The Liberal Democrats have a new leader in Menzies Campbell who served on the original Scottish Constitutional Convention and has a rare intellectual grasp of the issues.It is quite possible there could be a coalition in Westminster after the next general election – even Professor John Curtice says so. Labour need drop only 33 seats and Gordon Brown would find himself a leader bereft of a working majority. Brown is, of course, a long-time supporter of devolution and any talks between him and Menzies Campbell about a UK coalition would inevitably involve the proposals in the Steel Commission.Indeed, one way of looking at this week's report is that it's an opening bid in these very negotiations. It is a set of constitutional demands deliberately set high to allow room for movement. I cannot, for example, see any Westminster government handing powers over immigration and asylum to Scotland. Or rather, I could, but it would mean setting up border controls at Gretna Green.Given the government's sensitivity over immigration, revealed yesterday by Charles Clarke's new points system for immigrant workers, Westminster will not want to see foreigners entering the country through the Scottish back door. However, there could be some further modification of the points system to give it more of a regional bias.Similarly, Gordon Brown would be reluctant to give full tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliament. But again, there could be scope for bargaining here – perhaps a concession on corporate taxation. Remember the Scottish Parliament already possesses the power to vary income tax by three pence in the pound – a power it has never used. It's not inconceivable Prime Minister Brown might go along with the idea of the Scottish Parliament setting tax rates, provided it didn't involve setting up a rival Inland Revenue. The Barnett Formula, which currently shares revenue on a per capita basis, has outserved its usefulness and will almost certainly be reformed in the next parliament.Brown – assuming he is returned as prime minister – might anyway have no choice but to accept greater Scottish autonomy. It will loom large in the negotiations for forming a new Scottish coalition after the 2007 Holyrood elections. The Steel Report, commissioned by the Liberal Democrats, represents the kind of terms Nicol Stephen will be set for Jack McConnell for any future Lib-Lab partnership agreement. We thought they had got everything they ever wanted from Labour, but not so.And, of course, if there is no Lib-Lab coalition, then the Steel Report could form the basis of an alternative SNP-Lib-Green coalition in Holyrood. Labour has no freehold on office and McConnell need lose only half-a-dozen seats for the non-Labour parties to be within sight of a non-Labour administra-tion. An alternative coalition must happen eventually.The SNP has been careful not to speak too enthusiastically about Steel's agenda but it is right up Alex Salmond's street. He might even get the SNP to shelve its demand for a referendum on independence – the main obstacle between the SNP and the LibDems – on the grounds the Steel Report is only a couple of steps away from it.And the Tories? Well, as their deputy leader, Murdo Fraser, made clear at the weekend, even the Scottish Tories are conquering their fear of nationalism and are willing to contemplate a "business pact" with the SNP. An extraordinary development, which would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. The Steel Report would provide much of the intellectual groundwork for such an arrangement. We really are in a very difficult political game, north and south of the border.But merely stating the possible political configurations in Westminster and Holyrood is missing the point, because the main reason the Steel Report should be taken seriously is the force of its argument. It's all a matter of respect. The Scottish Parliament needs to find some way of moving on from the present transitional status of financial dependency, or financial delinquency.Lord Steel is right to say, "no self-respecting parliament should expect to exist permanently on 100% handouts determined by another parliament".Scottish politicians will never be taken seriously, or take themselves seriously, until they are responsible for raising the taxpayer's money they are spending. This is what accountability really means. In curious way, local government is actually more responsible in Scotland than the Scottish Executive – at least councils raise part of their revenue and have to answer for their spending decisions at election time.And there's another reason the Steel Report demands attention. Its call for a written constitution for the UK, to take account of devolution and revive parliamentary democracy, is shared by many people of all parties who believe the relationship between government and the people is out of kilter. The decline of parliament and the cabinet and the rise in prime-ministerial power has provoked a crisis of legitimacy, seen most strikingly in the Iraq war.As long-cherished freedoms are eroded, day by day, by a PM who rules like an elective monarch, we need a more solid foundation for our liberties.Even Gordon Brown has accepted the constitution needs to be looked at to address public cynicism and mistrust. Where better to address these issues than in a new constitutional convention for the UK. It could be an idea whose time has come – again.
Herald Letter, Thu Mar 9, 2006
IAIN Macwhirter makes some important points. Most importantly thatLabour on present trends in by-elections could lose control atHolyrood and Westminster at the next elections. In that situation theneverything including the constitutional settlement will be up fornegotiation, and it may be that even independence is on the agenda. Atpresent there are 46 MSPs in favour of independence in the ScottishParliament; it only takes 19 more to win a majority for independence.As we have seen in the past few years the Liberals are infinitelyflexible over policy in their desire for getting into government andthey may go along with a referendum over independence.
The Scottish Socialist Party conference at the weekend gave its fullbacking to the Independence Convention. With this and the backing ofthe SNP, the Greens and many Independents then the convention couldcome to dominate Scottish politics over the next year: 2007 is exactly300 years since we "were bought and sold for English gold". It could be the beginning of the end of the British state.
Hugh Kerr, 31 Melville Street, Kilmarnock.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 10:21 AM
Monday, March 06, 2006
World in peril, Chomsky tells overflow crowd
By Brian Liberatore Press & Sun-Bulletin
03/05/06 "Press & Sun-Bulletin " -- --There are dire consequences to the current direction of the U.S. foreign policy, said Noam Chomsky in a speech Saturday at Binghamton University. Among those consequences, he said, is a nuclear Armageddon.
"Under the current U.S. policies, a nuclear exchange is inevitable," the 77-year-old MIT professor said in his presentation, "Imminent Crises: Paths Toward Solutions." He spoke to an over-capacity crowd in BU's Osterhout Concert Theater.
Chomsky cited nuclear proliferation and environmental collapse as the two greatest crises that "literally threaten survival."
Since the 1960s Chomsky, a widely acclaimed professor of linguistics, has crusaded against political contradiction, nuclear proliferation and Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Regarded by many as the greatest intellectual alive today and dismissed by others as a radical, Chomsky has voiced harsh criticism against the foreign policy of the United States since World War II.
About 1,500 people crammed into the main theater, while a television broadcast the speech to a room of about 500 next door. Ushers were forced to turn hundreds of people away as the building filled beyond its capacity.
Asked whether he had anticipated the number of people, the building's operations director, Darryl Wood, responded, "Not this many, no."
Inside the theater, Chomsky delivered an account of the world's ills. He addressed the history of the Iraq conflict, the unrest it has fostered, and Iran's intentions for nuclear armament - a path, he said, that is directly tied to U.S. aggression in the Middle East. Chomsky outlined a course of action. "All of this is under our control if we're not willing to observe passively and obediently," he said. "Take democracy seriously."
Peter Klotz drove two hours from Siena College in Loudonville to see the professor. "He knows what he's talking about," Klotz said. "His ideas are certainly not new, but he presents things in a very concise manner."
John Hamilton, who drove from Ithaca to see Chomsky, stood up to ask a question during the question-and-answer period following Chomsky's speech. "My question is, what do you find hopeful?" Hamilton said.
"I think one should be very optimistic for the reasons I just mentioned," Chomsky said. "The large majority of the population already agrees with the things activists are committed to. All we have to do is organize people who are convinced."
© 2006 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
Posted by Joe Middleton at 1:03 PM
Backing for pro-independence stance
Scottish Socialist members have backed party bosses over their role in the Independence Convention - despite fierce opposition among some sections of the SSP. The convention, launched on November 30 last year, brought together the SSP and the other main pro-independence parties, the SNP and Scottish Greens.
The SSP annual conference in Dundee's Caird Hall endorsed a motion by the party's executive committee, instructing it to remain in the convention. Some members had demanded that all convention participants sign up to an independent republic, while others insisted the SSP should not co-operate at all with "pro-business" parties.
However, SSP press and policy co-ordinator and former leadership candidate Alan McCombes insisted the SSP must be on the "front line" of the drive for independence. Mr McCombes acknowledged that the SSP's vision of an independent Scotland - a socialist republic - was "radically different" from the other two parties.
And he denied the SSP had "blurred" the ideological differences between itself and these parties.
But achieving a socialist society would require a "prolonged battle for the hearts and minds" of Scots over many years, Mr McCombes told delegates.
"In the meantime there may be the possibility after 2007 or after 2011 of moving towards Scottish independence - of fracturing the British state. The fracturing of the British state can help accelerate the long-term drive for socialism - provided that the socialist forces are on the front line of the battle for independence itself."
© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 10:21 AM
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Public 'want more assembly power'
By Guto Thomas BBC Wales political correspondent
A majority of people believe Wales should have either a full law-making and tax-varying parliament, or be an independent nation, a poll has found. A St David's Day poll for BBC Wales also suggested that 60% of people think the assembly government should have the most influence over Welsh life.
But 80% did not think £67m should have been spent on the new Senedd building.
The BBC commissioned poll by ICM Research spoke to over 1,000 people across Wales over three days last week.
According to the poll's findings, public opinion in Wales seems to be moving in favour of devolution and an increasing majority of people want that process to accelerate significantly.
Back in 1997, when the Labour government began to implement the devolution process, almost 40% in Wales were firmly against the creation of any kind of assembly, while fewer than 20% wanted a full law-making parliament.
However, according to the St David's Day poll, these figures have now been completely reversed - with just 20% wanting to abolish the assembly, 21% wanting to keep the status quo, 39% want a more powerful parliament (with full law-making and tax-varying powers), and 16% in favour of independence.
This suggests that 55% of people in Wales - a clear majority - now want significantly more devolution.
Interestingly, the poll also shows stronger support from women for a parliament, and a clearer advocacy of abolition among men.
The poll also reveals that 60% believe the Welsh Assembly Government should have the most influence over Wales, compared to just 21% who think the UK Government in Westminster should have the most influence.
Asked about their perception of the current situation in 2006, only 40% thought the UK Government has the most influence - despite the fact that it still retains all primary legislation and taxation powers.
Moreover, given that back in 2001, nearly 65% said the UK Government had the most influence over Wales, then this suggests a further erosion in how people view the UK Government's role in life in Wales.
The pollsters also asked people about their feelings about the new assembly building.
Despite all the publicity surrounding the Senedd over a period of many years, 23% said they were not aware that the assembly had a new home at all.
Of those questioned, 56% felt it was right for the assembly to have a new building, with 38% against.
But when it was pointed out that the building cost £67m, a massive 80% said that paying this amount for a new building was not worth it.
A significant 58% said the name Senedd is an appropriate name for the new building - with the highest level of support amongst people aged between 18 and 34.
However, almost a third said that the name was inappropriate, providing some more ammunition for both sides in the ongoing debate about the name of the new building.
Why Wales wants more TOM GORDON March 02 2006 Amid the unseasonal St David's Day snows, on a slate-covered dockside overlooking Cardiff Bay, the Queen yesterday opened the extraordinary new home of the National Assembly for Wales.It was a significant day for the country's devolution process, which began alongside Scotland's in 1997.At the heart of the Senedd, a £67m box of glass and rippling wood designed by Lord Richard Rogers, is the debating chamber. To Scots eyes, it looks uncannily like a whisky still.At the bottom of its round belly, 60 politicians sit in a tight circle, while above them, made from planks instead of copper, a 30ft funnel tapers skywards.Half-way up the vessel a glass band allows the public to peer down on the bilingual proceedings from a darkened gallery.Like Holyrood, the building began with high hopes, a signature architect and iconic design, only to descend into farcical delays and costs. It opens four years late and more than five times over budget.There has even been a ding-dong over the building's name. Senedd, Welsh for senate or parliament, has been adopted, even though, as some Labour politicians point out, it is still only an assembly, or Cynulliad.But there the familiarity ends. For while the Scottish experience of devolution has been relatively stable, in Wales it has been an unholy mess.The Scottish Constitutional Convention had for years scoped out the basis for devolution, building up a cross-party consensus. There was no equivalent in Wales. The result was a lukewarm public reception – the yes vote for an assembly was just 50.3% on a 50% turnout compared with 74% and 60% in Scotland – and a puny set of powers. Unlike Holyrood, the assembly has never generated its own laws.In a set-up more akin to local government, its 60 members have been left to fill in the administrative blanks on laws from Westminster and Europe, spewing regulations in a process known as secondary legislation. They can flesh out policies, but cannot pass their own primary legislation.Despite the limited clout, the NAW has had its moments, including scrapping prescription charges; rejecting student top-up fees; free bus transport for the elderly, and appointing a children's commissioner.Much of the programme has sprung from the desire of Rhodri Morgan, the first minister, to be more left-wing than Tony Blair, and put "clear red water" between Cardiff Bay and London. But the public's perception remains one of relative impotence, and they have stayed away from the polls. Turnout fell from 46% in 1999 to just 38% in 2003, compared with 50% in Scotland.Only in health did the public feel the NAW had made a difference, even though NHS waiting lists were often appalling compared with England's. Now, less than two terms into the assembly's life, the 1998 act that created it is being replaced. The Government of Wales Bill, which made its way through the Commons hours before the Queen arrived to put a royal gloss on Welsh devolution, aims to address the failings of its predecessor by granting law-making powers.The enhanced powers will need the approval of the secretary of state, or for two-thirds of the AMs (Assembly Members) to back a public referendum on moving closer to Holyrood.Opposition parties smell another stitch-up based on Labour MPs refusing to devolve too much power in case it triggers a cut in their own numbers, as happened after the Scotland Act. Rhodri Morgan is refreshingly frank about Welsh Labour's desires. "We want to avoid one aspect of the Scottish model, namely the reduction in the number of Welsh MPs."We are trying to do this with minimal constitutional churn." In his defence, he says the bill will give far greater flexibility to the assembly, while wholesale devolution would be hard, given Wales does not have a separate legal system or control over policing.However Lord Dafyyd Elis-Thomas, presiding officer and Plaid AM, says the Scots model is inevitable.Ieuan Wyn Jones, Plaid leader, also looks jealously north. "We want to move to full legislative powers in one go. There's no appetite for all this 'incremental, we have to walk before we can run' Labour party nonsense."Even the Tories, who originally opposed an assembly, want a swifter move to full legislative powers. Nick Bourne, their assembly leader, was once a leading member of the 'no' campaign. "I was wrong," he confesses. Across the borders Scottish Parliament Preceded by cross-party Scottish constitutional convention referendum result: 74% support on 60% turnout. Opened 1999. Can pass primary legislation and vary income tax. Has powers over the legal system, police, health service, education, transport, culture, economic development, agriculture, local government. Holyrood opened September 2004 at cost of £431m. 129 MSPs. Government: Labour-LibDem coalition, first minister Jack McConnell. National Assembly for Wales No cross-party convention. Ground rules established by Labour instead. Referendum result: 50.3% support on 50% turnout. Opened 1999. Deals in developing policies on health, education, transport, culture, economic development, agriculture, local government and Welsh language. New Assembly building opened February 2006 at cost of £67m. 60 Assembly members. Government: Labour minority, first minister Rhodri Morgan.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 1:28 PM