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Friday, 14 February 2014

When Yes doesn't mean Yes? Er... no.

Headline: What can charitably be
described as "bollocks"
Today's Herald front page leads with the headline "Yes does not mean Yes". The byline claim was that "A Referendum Yes vote would not guarantee Scottish independence and the 'status quo' would be maintained if talks do not go smoothly, a senior coalition source has warned".

Explosive stuff. Cue Twitter going into a frenzy with Nats expressing mock horror at the suggestion that the UK government would not respect the result of the referendum and that Westminster was being bullying and abrasive and backtracking on its commitment in the Edinburgh Agreement.

Except, uh, that's not what they actually said.

Here's the direct quote, contextualised, from later in the article:

"Dismissing the SNP Government's 18-month timescale for completing negotiations as "totally unrealistic", the source said: "A Yes vote in the referendum would be the start of a process, not the end of one; we would start negotiations. But if Alex Salmond made impossible demands, we would not just roll over and agree to everything he wanted. If we could not reach agreement, the status quo would be the default option."

The senior coalition figure said one such impossible demand would be the First Minister's threat, repeated yesterday, that Scotland would not pay its share of UK debt if it were denied a currency union by Whitehall.

"It would not be a question of denying the wishes of the Scottish people. As the UK Government, we would have a duty to represent the interests of the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland" the source said."

What is actually being said is not that the UK Government will deny Scotland independence even if it votes yes. Rather what is being said is that the mere fact that the SNP have indicated a preferred Independence Day in March 2016 is immaterial in the event that critical aspects of the independence settlement cannot be agreed within the 18-month timescale. Absent the implementation of a scheme (which remember will require primary legislation from Westminster) the position being maintained is that the status quo prevails until something else is agreed.

Observe that, far from reneging on the Edinburgh Agreement, what is actually being said is pointing out exactly what it is and what it is not that the UK Government has committed itself to. In signing the Edinburgh Agreement, they have accepted merely that the referendum result will be respected: Yes or No. They have not accepted the SNP government's preferred terms of settlement and timetable will be respected or anything of substance asserted by the White Paper, which both postdates the Edinburgh Agreement and is a set of political claims made by the SNP who does not always have the gift to claim them. They have not agreed to sign up to a currency union. They have not agreed to initiate an EU Art 48 amendment to secure Scottish EU membership. They have not agreed to implement Independence Day by March 2016.

The other important aspect is to emphasise that, in the event of a Yes vote, the UK Government does not just have the right, but the duty to protect the interests of the citizens of the rest of the UK. If they arrive at the considered opinion that a certain settlement is neither something they are legally obliged to do, nor is it in the interests of the people they represent, they are dutybound not to accede to those terms, even if it is something that would benefit Scotland. This is how sovereign states interact with one another in the real world.

This may be an unpleasant truth for some on the Yes side, but part of the point of sovereignty is the pursuit of national interest. We expect the SNP Government to negotiate in the interests of the Scottish people, not the UK as a whole. Why should we expect anything different of those on the other side? At the point where the UK is to cease to include the Scottish people, it should cease to be accountable to them too. A fair settlement does not mean that Scotland or its negotiatiors get to dictate the terms of independence. Politicians of soveriegn entities adopting hard-headed self-interested approaches on behalf of their citizens isn't "bullying"; it's precisely what independence means.

What has been said here is actually eminently sensible. It is not that "Yes does not mean Yes" as the Herald have shrilly and recklessly misrepresented it. That is a squalid and pathetic attempt at journalism. It is that Yes does not mean what Salmond says it means just because it's what he wants. It doesn't mean that if unreasonable demands like not taking debt absent a formal currency union are made, independence will happen anyway within the prescribed timescale. Yes means Scotland will become an independent state after a mutually agreeable settlement is legislated for by Westminster. Nothing more. Nothing less.

19 comments:

  1. There is one huge problem with everything that is asserted in this blog. Aside from the rather obvious fact that the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Scotland cannot legitimately be denied. What I am referring to is the nonsense about Scotland refusing to pay "its share of UK debt". For one thing, there is no such thing as "Scotland's share of UK debt". As the British Treasury has already confirmed, it is UK debt for which the UK remains liable even when it becomes rUK.

    It cannot sensibly be claimed that rUK is the sole successor state in relation to all UK assets while it is simultaneously asserted that Scotland is a joint successor state when it comes to liabilities. Yet that is precisely what the anti-independence campaign is saying.

    Secondly, the Scottish Government is not now and never has threatened to walk away from UK debt. It has merely pointed out what any reasonable person would have assumed in any case. Namely, that any arrangement for Scotland assuming some of the cost of servicing UK debt post-independence MUST be intimately linked to a mutually acceptable agreement on sharing of assets - including the pound.

    The UK Government, with the full support of all the British parties, is effectively claiming that it can refuse to even negotiate asset sharing and this should have no effect whatever on the matter of liabilities. This is plainly ludicrous.

    The assertions in The Herald article take this even further by saying that the UK Government has an effective veto over the democratic will of the people of Scotland simply by playing silly buggers in the negotiations. Taken to its logical conclusion what the article is describing, and what the author of this blog is defending, is a situation where even if a huge majority of the people of Scotland vote Yes, that decision can be overruled by the UK Government by the simple expedient of sabotaging independence negotiations.

    This is British nationalist arrogance taken to an extreme that borders on insanity.

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    1. Except the comments in the piece do not "deny" the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Scotland. They simply point out that there is a process which follows that, which does not mean that the Scottish people are entitled to anything and everything ancillary to a Yes vote simply because the Scottish Government say it is so. The democratically expressed wishes of the Scottish people say nothing about a timetable for independence. Or a currency union. Or the settlement of assets and liabilities.

      The stuff about Scotland not having a share of the debt is bunk under international law. Both assets and liabilites are to be shared equitably in the event of secession, in accordance with principles of customary international law except where otherwise agreed. The UK Treasury has undertaken to honour bonds in full. This is not the same as saying that Scotland does not incur an ancillary obligation to the Treasury in the event it breaks from the UK. The precise extent and nature of that obligation is subject to negotiation.

      Then on assets and liabilities. No one is saying Scotland would not be entitled to a share of the assets. But "the pound" isn't an asset. It's no more an asset in law than the kilogram. It is a unit of measurement dictated by the activities of a statutory body emanating from the UK Government. It is no more an asset that falls to be divided between the governments than Department of Health official guidelines. "The pound" is completely distinct from "the assets of the Bank of England" which everyone agrees would be taken into contemplation when dividing up assets and liabilities between the governments. A currency union is a wholly separate proposition that is unconnected to assets and liabilities both as a matter of domestic and international law and anyone suggesting otherwise is wrong.

      The article is not claiming the UK Government has a democratic veto over independence. Merely the TERMS and the TIMING. Anyone who suggests otherwise is being wilfully shrill and misrepresentative of the words actually uttered by the source.

      This isn't British nationalism gone insane. I am a Yes voter. This is the Yes campaign going absolutely batshit over something that wasn't actually said.

      Delete
    2. You can mince words all you like, the Herald article is still talking about an effective veto on a Yes vote by the simple expedient of sabotaging the negotiations.

      The rest is just parroting Project Fear propaganda.

      Delete
    3. Do you actually zip up at the back?

      That is not remotely what the source said and you know this.

      Delete
    4. "Both assets and liabilites are to be shared equitably in the event of secession, in accordance with principles of customary international law except where otherwise agreed."

      You might need to explain that a bit more. Explain what "customary international laws" you are referring to because that seems a bit like fudging/glossing over something that may be more complicated than you realise.

      The UK government argue that in 1707 Scotland was annexed by England, which then renamed itself Great Britain. That is how they justify the idea that the UK will not dissolve and thus Scotland will not be a successor state if it becomes independent, but England/rUK will be. That means we are entitled to a reasonable share of the assets (not as much as if we were both successor states though) but bugger all else. The benefit for us though is that, having been left out in the cold, we are not legally obliged to take on any of the national debt. It's not ours to "default" on because we never had it in the first place. Scotland doesn't exist. The UK gov explicitly state that in their Scotland Analysis papers.

      I believe the UK gov's interpretation of what happened in 1707 could be legally challenged. Maybe we could successfully challenge them on the basis that Scotland and England both lost independence, thus the entire UK would have to dissolve and two new successor states would emerge. Of course I believe the UK gov's interpretation is exactly what happened in practise (we've been English for 300 years, make no mistake) but that's not to say it couldn't be challenged. An expert's opinion is necessary there.

      The issues arise when we consider what the markets would think about this because they may not see it this way. Markets are fickle things; it doesn't make it right, they should have no reason to turn their nose up at us but they may do if they think we're untrustworthy. I think that is all quite debatable though and everything I've heard about "market opinions" on this issue comes from card carrying Unionists.

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  2. Peter has the right of it here, the attitude expressed in this blog, and the attitude shown by "the source" are typical of the high-handed arrogance to which we in Scotland are well-accustomed. Do you even listen to yourselves? If you were a fair-minded neutral standing on the sidelines, and someone else made the comments you have made in this blog, the words "smug", "arrogant" or "hopelessly prejudiced" might occur to you.

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    Replies
    1. Nice try, but I'm a Yes voter. I just believe in actually reading what people say instead of extrapolating nonsensical reductio ad absurdums from it.

      Delete
    2. " Nice try, but I'm a Yes voter"
      Lol lol lol
      Your only kidding yourself there.

      Delete
  3. As always Peter Bell is quite correct and I will not rehearse the unquestioned logic of his contribution.

    I will simply point out that your analysis of The Herald story is patently wrong.

    "But if Alex Salmond made impossible demands, we would not just roll over and agree to everything he wanted. If we could not reach agreement, the status quo would be the default option."

    Which part of the second sentence are you finding it difficult to comprehend? I think any sensible person will quite readily extrapolate from this that if they don't like how the negotiations go, Scots will just have to lump it with the status quo. This is a clear and naked threat at subverting the democratic wishes of the Scottish people should rUK decide that they don't like the negotiating stance adopted by Salmond. In pejorative terms, vote yes if you like, but if we don't like how negotiations go, you lot will get hee-haw.

    Nice try at spinning that into something else, but 4 university degrees says I can quite competently read thank you very much. I think your somewhat blinkered interpretation will not be widely shared.

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    1. Alternatively, you could read the *full quote* in context, and realise that "default option" refers to what prevails absent an agreement successfully legislated for within the 18-month timescale. It is not meant to imply that independence will be cancelled. It merely means that if Salmond makes demands that are unreasonable and unacceptable to the people who are specifically charged with protecting rUK's interests, they are perfectly within their rights not to agree to those terms simply to suit a timetable and agenda to which the Scottish Government has attached itself.

      I have no interest in spinning anything here. I am a Yes voter. I want us to run a campaign that is just a little bit more intelligent than "those nasty BritNats are scheming self-determination denying bastards".Alternatively, you could read the *full quote* in context, and realise that "default option" refers to what prevails absent an agreement successfully legislated for within the 18-month timescale. It is not meant to imply that independence will be cancelled. It merely means that if Salmond makes demands that are unreasonable and unacceptable to the people who are specifically charged with protecting rUK's interests, they are perfectly within their rights not to agree to those terms simply to suit a timetable and agenda to which the Scottish Government has attached itself.

      I have no interest in spinning anything here. I am a Yes voter. I want us to run a campaign that is just a little bit more intelligent than "those nasty BritNats are scheming self-determination denying bastards".

      Delete
  4. Once again, this is the sort of thing you do. You claim to be a Yes voter, yet you do not submit the Unionist side to the same sort of scrutiny that you submit the independence side to. I could haul up a hundred actually misleading stories, including the entire Daily Telegraph and Scotsman output, but we havent heard a whisper of criticism from you about them. You lack intellectual honesty. You also lack courage. Eventually, you are goibg to have to come out for the Union.

    Why hold Yes to impossible standards, yet give Project Fear a free pass?

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  5. What if "Those nasty BritNats are scheming self-determination denying bastards" really are..?? Would you finally admit it on Sept 19th after a No vote

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  6. "It is not that "Yes does not mean Yes" - afraid it is, that's what the headline says. That's what most people read, that's what appears in Internet searches. That's also how Cameron's government works - headlines, slogans and opinion polls rule.

    It would be nice to see less disingenuousness and faux shock at Yes movement indignation, and more genuine concern about the dire journalistic standards and bias in this whole debate. Which go way beyond a "reckless" headline.

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  7. I must admit, I've never heard of the idea of a negotiation where the two sides first agree that whatever happens, they will agree. It should be blatantly obvious that both sides in a post-Yes negotiation will ultimately have to consider whether they can agree to particular items and if either side feels unable to do so, then the negotiation will fail for that reason.

    In any case, such a negotiation will only succeed if it is undertaken in good faith, something the current atmosphere (wherein both sides publicly assume the other side is arrogant, ignorant, petulant and malevolent) does little to ensure..

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  8. We're not obliged to believe everything a lawyer says, but it is reasonable to assume that a someone who studies law at a high level knows something about his subject. We Scots would be outraged at the idea that after independence we would have no right to have our own currency for us alone. Well on what basis could we deny the same right to newly independent rUK? The idea of not accepting a share of UK national debt may play well to die hard nationalists, but it should scare anyone with any grasp of economics and a concern for Scotland's future.

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  9. "We expect the SNP Government to negotiate in the interests of the Scottish people, not the UK as a whole. Why should we expect anything different of those on the other side? At the point where the UK is to cease to include the Scottish people, it should cease to be accountable to them too."

    You might expect that, but only if you follow one interpretation of what the UK/Scotland are obliged to do according to the Edinburgh Agreement:

    "The UK and Scottish Governments are committed, through the Memorandum of Understanding between them and others, to working together on matters of mutual interest and to the principles of good communication and mutual respect. The two governments have reached this agreement in that spirit. They look forward to a referendum that is legal and fair producing a decisive and respected outcome. The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom."

    Take a look at that, the last lines are the most important.

    "The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom."

    You interpret that, apparently, the two countries work together to serve their own interests. I understood that as both countries must work together for their own mutual interest, thus I don't "expect the SNP to negotiate in the interests of the Scottish people, not the UK as a whole". I expect them to negotiate in the interests of both and I expect the same of Westminster.

    Think on this - what arrangement is in our best shared interest other than a currency union?

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  10. '' But if Alex Salmond made impossible demands, we would not just roll over and agree to everything he wanted. If we could not reach agreement, the status quo would be the default option."
    The Govt are, firstly, personalising the debate (again!) by making the referendum about Alex Salmond and not the will of the Scottish People. Secondly, the phrase 'impossible demands' is very telling. It offers us no insight into what these might be, merely claiming that Alex Salmond (and in this context, the will of the Scottish people) will make these. This infers, of course, that the discussion of independence will be fraught with a lack of reason. And then, of course, 'if no agreement can be reached, then the default would be status quo'. So, breaking this down then, we have a situation where the govt are telling us that they are anticipating our negotiations around independence to be unreasonable, and that the UK government would not let us have independence because of this; we would have the status quo as a default. Not 'might not', not 'maybe wouldn't', but' would' not happen. How else can this be interepreted but a threat that, against the will of the Scotish people, the UK govt might not allow independence to happen. They offered no example of what might be unreasonable in their eyes, which means, effectively, it could be anything. Thus, any hiccup could be interpreted as unreasonable and we would fall back on the default position of the status quo. Are we forgetting that, in this situation, Scotland would have voted for independence, and Alex Salmond would be negotiating in his formal capacity of representing the will of the Scottish people? Anything suggesting that these negotiations of independence, as mandated by the will of the Scottish people, would be unreasonable in any way is insulting. And anything that suggests that the will of the Scottish people would be prevented, FOR ANY REASON, is a direct threat of a seizure of power. I am going to say this one more time. The UK government are stating that there may be a situation where the WILL OF THE SCOTTISH PEOPLE is rejected. It is not for Whitehall to decide, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, whether independence will happen or not. And anything that prevents that process, after a democratic decision has been made, is an illegal seizure of power.

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  11. Wee extract here for illustrative purposes:


    'The article is not claiming the UK Government has a democratic veto over independence. Merely the TERMS and the TIMING. Anyone who suggests otherwise is being wilfully shrill and misrepresentative of the words actually uttered by the source.

    This isn't British nationalism gone insane. I am a Yes voter. This is the Yes campaign going absolutely batshit over something that wasn't actually said.
    Peter A Bell14 February 2014 02:02

    You can mince words all you like, the Herald article is still talking about an effective veto on a Yes vote by the simple expedient of sabotaging the negotiations.

    The rest is just parroting Project Fear propaganda.
    Graeme Cowie14 February 2014 02:07

    Do you actually zip up at the back?

    That is not remotely what the source said and you know this.

    See the change from Forensic Analysis to petulant Boy!

    'Willfully Shrill!' 'Yes Campaign going Batshit' (whatever that means) 'Do you Zip it Up the Back?' And so, after spouting a load Project Fear Claptrap, this Chappie declares, as we see so many rabid Unionists Do on a Daily basis, He declares himself a Yes Voter!!! (He takes us for Fools!)
    To think we have all paid Tax to give this arrogant Pup a free Education, who cannot debate a point without resorting to insult, and he lost the argument right there, but persists on giving us his flawed dissertation on matters he ill understands.

    A debate on a statement issued by someone who is not identified, whose position or right to speak, is denied us, is barren and useless! That it is still disowned by a genuine member of the coalition, D. Alexander, who also does not identify the source, may lend the tale a certain verisimilitude, but until the 'Correspondent' is Identified, this is all the sound of one Hand clapping!

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    ReplyDelete