SNP get my Westminster proposals wrong

 

My call for English MPs deciding the matters for England that are devolved to Scotland  has been criticised by the SNP. I have no “resentment” over the Scottish Parliament getting more powers. I just want an answer to the problem of England at the same time.  Their response  is most surprising, as they have stated in the Commons

 

“In the SNP  we have a self denying ordnance of not taking part on English and non Scottish issues. …we believe England is as good as France and Germany and can run itself amply….”

Nor am I proposing tonight second class MPs from Scotland. Labour’s lop sided devolution has created two different types of Westminster MP – those that can talk and vote on all the main issues affecting their constituents and those  in Scotland who cannot because many matters are discussed and decided elsewhere. It was that which changed the nature of a Scottish MP’s job, not my proposals tonight. Under my scheme all Westminster  MPs will be equal on all union matters, wherever they come from in the UK.

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HS2 – Where has all the money gone?

 

In the two years to March 2014 HS2 Ltd has spent  £384,000,000 of grant aid from taxpayers. What is remarkable is that after such a high spend the balance sheet of the company doing all that spending shows zero net assets. The best part of £400 million has gone and the company has  nothing to show for it of more permanent value that gives us some net assets on its balance sheet.

Some will leap to its defence and say that is conservative accounting for you. In practice surely it has some intellectual property and goodwill? Others will say of course the costs of planning and designing such a big scheme are a large up front cost which you just have to work through.

The company itself helpfully explains that it cannot credit its balance sheet with any  assets as “the cost of an item of property, plant and equipment shall be recognised as an asset  if, and only if it is probable that future economic benefits associated with the item will fl0w to the entity”. Exactly. That is not yet clear.  In addition, most of the money has gone on wages and salaries, not on physical assets. All land and building  purchases ahead of works are in addition to these figures  and are made by the government, not HS2 Ltd.

Those of us who are critical of the business case for this railway are nonetheless entitled to ask where has all the money gone? What have we got for the £384 million so far? How much will it cost before any construction work commences and we start to see track and signals? The company already has 395 staff (whole time equivalents) and has already spent £35,000 on the pay off of a former staff member along with a £48,000 contractual payment, outside the normal Treasury scheme for such things.

I look forward to better cost control in future, as the Chairman promises.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 80 Comments

Should the west intervene in Iraq again?

 

It’s tough being the world’s superpower. If they intervene militarily in a country like Iraq they are condemned by  many for seeking  to impose their will on others, and making the position worse. If they try to stay out of a country like Syria – or Iraq the next time around – they are criticised for not intervening, not acting to protect the weak and advance liberal democratic values.

This week the “we should do something ” brigade have been out and about at their shrillest in the UK press. The latest argument as to why the UK as well as the US should now intervene militarily in Iraq is that we “messed it up” by a previous military campaign, and therefore “owe it” to Iraq and the rest of the world to have another go to try and put it right. This surely is the triumph of hope over experience if ever there was.

It is easy for armchair “Generals” and journalist warriors to wish others to do their fighting for them as they contemplate which of the pleasures of the English summer they will enjoy next. Instead they should be asking some tough questions on western strategy at the same time as reporting properly and objectively on the myriad factions, groups, armies and voices fighting over the futures of Syria, Iraq, the Kurd lands, Palestine and Israel.

The first question to ask is why did past western military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan fail to establish peace loving liberal democracies as hoped and as advertised by the more optimistic? What have we learned from those past interventions? Have we gained a little humility in understanding that successful flourishing democracies usually emerge from within, not from without. They normally take several generations where the majority wishes to learn, teach and improve their democratic impulses.

The second is to ask what can western military force achieve if used? If western force is now to be limited to bombing from planes or drones, who do we want to kill and what installations do we wish to destroy? If the aim is to kill certain groups of people whom we regard as evil, how can we be sure we will kill enough of them to win? What if western death raining down from the skies acts as a recruiting sergeant for more rebel troops and martyrs?  How can we be sure we will only kill the evil ones, and not end up killing all too many people who are not the main  trouble makers? Can we be sure that if we succeed in killing enough of the evil ones, the rest of the faction riven and split communities can rally round, fill the power vacuum in the areas we are bombing, and create stable government there?  Other evil men can take advantage of allied bombing, as well as the forces of good.

What do we wish to destroy? Destroying civilian buildings because they may be occupied by evil forces or used as weapons stores damages the local economy more, creates more displaced people and more resentments, and puts off the day when more people living there can see a better peaceful future with economic progress. The only purely ” good”  target is military equipment of the evil ones out in the open and away from civilian populations. All other targets are hedged with hazard and political risks.

The USA this time round says it is bombing to halt the advance of IS forces, on the grounds that they have evil intent towards people of other religions. They do so with the permission of the Iraq government. At the same time the USA recognises that the current Iraq government is not uniting its country. The USA we hear wants political change in Iraq. I wish the US well in trying to halt possible genocide. That is a noble aim, but one which may prove difficult to achieve from the skies above.

For our country, I am glad the UK is committed to giving humanitarian aid on a larger scale. We need to help seek a diplomatic solution. The attempted break up of Syria and Iraq is a violent political process, but it is ultimately a set of political problems. No single group seems to have the military power to win, establish a new civilian government and gain the respect of the diverse peoples of these countries. Too many people living in the region think violence is the answer to their troubles. Organised western violence on any realistic scale is unlikely to be able to impose a settlement of these underlying disputes. Nor will it help convert people from believing in violence to believing in the arts of  peace.

The last time some of the armchair Generals urged UK intervention was over Syria. Then they wanted amongst other things to arm the Syrian rebels. Many  of the weapons of those rebels we are told  have now been captured for use by IS forces. Today we are being asked to arm the Kurds. Do we now support an independent Kurdish state?

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Freedom and England

 

On Tuesday I am giving the McWhirter Memorial lecture at 7.30pm on HMS President, moored on the Victoria Embankment in London.

I will use the opportunity to make the case for England. If we assume Scotland votes to stay in the Union, the three main Westminster parties have promised more powers including powers over parts of taxation will be passed to the Scottish Parliament.  This will be the time to recognise that England too wants and deserves devolved government, enjoying the same powers of self determination of laws, spending and taxes as our Scottish neighbours and friends.

I will ask Who currently speaks for England? Why do the EU and many senior politicians in the UK want to break England up into regions that we do not seek or recognise? Why can’t English MPs at Westminster make the decisions for England, and speak for England, in the way the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh does for Scotland?

If we are revisiting Scotland’s settlement, we need to consider England’s at the same time. Many English people will not accept Scottish members of the Westminster Parliament voting through taxes on England that they do not have the power to impose on Scotland.

Should against all the odds Scotland vote for independence then the rest of the UK will need a new constitutional settlement, which will emerge from the negotiations over separation. It would also accelerate the need for the renegotiation of our EU relationship. One of the reasons why many English people are Eurosceptic, is they have the feeling the EU wants to remove their country from the map of Europe through strokes of the legislative pen and through administrative decisions which ignore, counter order  or bypass or country.

Posted in Uncategorized | 109 Comments

Newly mint the groat if you want Scotland to be independent

 

The reason Alex Salmond cannot answer the currency question is he does not truly want Scotland to be independent. He wants devo max. An independent Scotland would mint its own coins and create its own currency. Putting the symbols of the nation on the banknotes is one of the ultimate acts of sovereignty.

Alex Salmond wants a dependent Scotland, dependent on the Bank of England for its money and interest rates, and dependent on the EU for much of its legislation and government. The problem with this model is the rest of the UK and the rest of the EU will have views on what kind of a deal he could do, were Scotland to vote for his new kind of dependence. It could be a worse deal all round than Scotland currently enjoys within the UK and under the umbrella of the UK’s selective and idiosyncratic membership of the EU. Scotland could not expect opt outs from the Euro, Schengen and full tax contributions to the EU in the way the UK has negotiated.

Putting the symbols of your country on the banknotes is more than a nice to have, more than mere  display. It means that the currency is supported by the taxable capacity of the country which issues it. It means that country, with all its wealth, tax revenue and legal powers stands behind the currency.

In 2008-9 the UK state and the pound sterling  stood behind the two large Scottish banks that were in  financial trouble, RBS and HBOS.  RBS was almost too large for the UK state to stand behind. Losing just 1% of its assets meant losing £22 billion. It is difficult to see how the Scottish state, with just 8% of the UK’s tax revenue, could have stood behind such a massive bank in a credible way.

Currency matters. The rest of the UK is right to signal we could not live with a so called independent Scotland staying in the pound. Surely there has been enough misery on the continent, as countries have struggled within the Euro zone because they do not share a tax, spending and transfers policy. If you share a currency with the neighbours you do need central control of tax, benefits, transfers and much else to make it work.

If Mr Salmond is as keen on membership of the EU as he usually claims, he should also be honest about the logic of the Euro. Were Scotland to join the EU on its own, why would it get a sweetheart deal to stay out of the most important federal policy of them all, the common currency?

The true  answer to Mr Salmond’s question is just this. His kind of independent Scotland would need a transition period with the groat, its own currency, followed by full membership of the Euro. To join  the Euro Scotland would be required to cut its debt and deficit to qualify.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 122 Comments

Are the states created by the 1st World War in the Middle East now collapsing?

 

It is a strange coincidence that at the very time when the western powers remember and reconsider a war 100 years ago, the Middle East is testing the borders and consequences of the 1919 peace. Both Syria and  Iraq, creatures of the war to throw off Turkish imperial rule, are being sorely tested in brutal civil and religious wars a century later.

On May 16 1916 France and the UK signed the secret Asia Minor Agreement – or Sykes-Picot deal. They had the private consent of Russia as well, though the Bolsheviks took a different view when they overthrew the Czar. The infamous Sykes-Picot line gave to the UK influence over Jordan, South Iraq, Haifa and Acre, and to France North Iraq, Syria and the Lebanon. It became a matter of deep controversy when it was made public later. This agreement jostled with the wish of the UK to offer Palestine as a homeland for a  small neutral Jewish state, and with the pledges of Lawrence of Arabia and others to the Arabs that the Arab nation would also have a free and independent Arab state.

The results of these varied wishes can be seen today. The Arabs did get free territory and states of their own, but not all of the land and cities that they wanted. Lawrence saw Damascus as a capital for the Arab state, but France did not share this view when it took possession in 1920. The borders of Syria and Iraq did not reflect the patterns of tribal and religious allegiance, posing problems for their rulers to find ways to keep the different groups together in harmony. Israel became the Jewish homeland, attracting many settlers. It caused tensions with  the Palestinian Arabs which the allied powers had not thought through well.

On 29th June Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared the Caliphate and announced his intention to overthrow Sykes-Picot. I did not write about it at the time, as I had no idea how serious it might become. Today reports from the region tell us that the new state has taken territory from both Syria  and Iraq, has defeated regular armies, captured oil fields and Mosul and claims to control an area from Aleppo to Diyala. Some say it now has a population of 6 million in an area larger in  size than  the UK.

Official sources from Shia governments say that the Caliphate hard liners have attracted Sunni support, but this will melt away once, for example,  Iraq deals better with the Sunni minority. One side  wants the world to think that the Islamic state is a temporary rebellion which will be defeated by splits in its own ranks and by a stronger military response is due course from Iraq and Syria. The other side says that the IS is gathering strength all the time. As it gets more revenue from oil and other assets, so it can arm itself better. As it expands its territory it attracts those who dislike  Shia government, and can control those who have to live under its jurisdiction. It can , they say, change the map of the Middle East fundamentally.

What is true is the brutal civil war of Syria continues, with the main opponents of Assad turning out to be IS, the militant advocates of the new Caliphate. The democratic and more moderate opposition that the west wanted to back and believe in  is being squeezed between the forces of Assad and the forces of the Caliphate. Iraq remains in deep trouble, with Kurds, Sunnis and Shias battling against each other. The state now faces a serious challenge from the IS.

It is difficult to see how the west can make things better. As I have written before, we should be neither pro Sunni nor pro Shia. Being against Assad, an unpleasant dictator, could help IS, which is not a great place to be either. The UK should concentrate on energy self sufficiency in these uncertain times. It should keep our military out of the Middle East as  our troops cannot easily intervene to help force a better outcome.

The USA has the force which could stop IS. President Obama has been wrestling with the military, political and moral issues over intervention yet again in this area. His current announcement that he might both bomb IS forces to prevent more Christian/Kurdish places being taken and drop humanitarian relief supplies to those already displaced shows the difficulty of his and the west’s position.

Intruding a western army into Iraq or Syria would not be a good idea. Eventual victory would make the west an occupying power, left with the formidable problem of how you then mend the local politics so they can become self governing again. Eventual withdrawal or defeat would cause more death and misery for no good purpose.

Bombing runs the risk of killing those you do not wish to kill, and also fails to tackle the explosive politics and religious conflicts on the ground.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 110 Comments

The other war – in the Ukraine – needs some media attention

 

I have no time for Russia arming the rebels or assisting them to intensify the conflict in the Ukraine. I do , however, have worries about the continuing high level of deaths and injuries in the intense fighting that has been going on there. I note that the UN says both sides – including  the Ukrainian government – have been shelling areas where civilians are at risk. The UN thinks 1129 people have died in the fighting between mid April and late July. There are unconfirmed reports of children being killed, of an attack on a retirement home and other atrocities.

We do know that the inspectors who need to retrieve the final casualties from the Malaysian airliner and start to investigate the cause of the crash are often blocked by military action from getting to the site. Can’t the government  and rebels at least agree a protected zone around the crash that can be free from fighting so the work can proceed? Does the Ukrainian government have no authority, no moral stance that can command respect in the east of its country?

I find it almost unbelievable that in 2014 in a part of Europe armed rebels fire against the government and local population, and that the government shells and bombs them. Why can’t the newly elected President exercise some political skills and sit down and talk through the problems? In the end this has to be solved by political means. You cannot shell people into accepting  democracy. It has to be built from both sides by active discussion and painful agreement.

I also find it curious that the media, who give us such graphic reports of the bombs, shells and deaths in Gaza, give us so little about the same problems in the Ukraine where the EU is heavily involved on the side of the Ukrainian government.

Posted in Uncategorized | 76 Comments

Cycling is more interesting!

The piece on cycling has evoked many more responses than war and peace, taxation or even migration. It’s a funny old world, when I was  criticised for daring to mention it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 38 Comments

A win for Better Together

 

Like many interested people in England I was unable to see the tv debate live last night between Mr Salmond and Mr Darling. From the accounts and from the only poll so far conducted post debate, it appears that Mr Darling was ahead of Mr Salmond by the same margin as the No campaign leads the Yes campaign.

That implies that most Scots have made up their minds, that No is comfortably ahead, and the debate did not make a difference in favour of independence. I am sticking to my view that Scotland will vote to stay in. Of course there could be some drama in the last month of the campaign that changes things, but that does not look very likely at the moment.

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Why did Baroness Warsi resign?

 

It is curious that Baroness Warsi left her resignation until the very day when the UK’s policy of working with the UN, Egypt and the USA to secure a ceasefire and peace talks over Gaza  finally appears to have achieved something. It is also curious that she delayed resigning over seeking stronger language and a tougher policy until the PM had backed the UN’s condemnation of the attack on the school, had warned Israel not to use disproportionate force and had started a review of arms sales.

The background to her resignation is clearer if you read her whole letter of resignation. It is a letter about her friends and relationships in government, as much as it is about the horrors of Gaza. She is as critical of Mr Cameron’s recent reshuffle, as she is of his words on Gaza.

The letter says  “In many ways the absence of the experience and expertise of colleagues like Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve has over the last few weeks become very apparent”. She praises Mr Hague and says ” He dismantled  foreign  policy making by  sofa government and restored decision making and dignity to the Foreign Office. There is however great unease across the Foreign Office, amongst both Ministers and senior officials, in the way recent decisions are being made”.

In other words, the Baroness seems to say she does not like the new tone of foreign policy based on a clearer view of the UK’s interests and on Mr Hammond’s excellent proposal that it should be a British office, explaining the UK to the rest of the world and pursuing British interests, more than a foreign office explaining the ways of abroad and especially the EU to us.

I disagree strongly with these criticisms of Mr Cameron’s reshuffle. I did not think Ken Clarke was making our EU policy, but many outside government thought he was so his departure clarifies that. I do think we need as a Foreign Secretary someone prepared to say we have to leave the EU if no satisfactory new relationship is forthcoming, something Mr Hague never ventured. I do think we need to sort out the question of the UK’s relationship to the European courts, where Mr Grieve was a faithful adviser who seemed  fatalistically to accept their power.

Baroness Warsi has muddled her resignation by its timing over Gaza. More importantly, by criticising a good shift in the way government works and thinks on the mighty issue of Europe, she has put herself at odds with many Conservatives on an issue that detracts from her stance and focus on the Middle East.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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