Yesterday the government kept its first promise to Scotland by publishing a Command paper setting out the various political party views on further devolution to Scotland. All 3 main parties tabled proposals before the referendum and have resubmitted them for this document. The Green party and the SNP have also decided they wish now to be part of this debate, and have submitted their own proposals. The SNP of course did not table devolution proposals before the referendum vote as they preferred simply to leave the union. No other parties have written in.
The SNP want most powers now to be granted to the Scottish Parliament. The three main parties of the Union propose a wide range of new powers for Scotland. Over the important issue of Scotland’s role in setting and raising taxes, there is some disagreement. The Conservatives propose that Scotland be given the power to set the rates and bands of personal income tax. The Lib Dems also wish Income tax to be “almost entirely the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.” Labour proposes allowing the Scottish Parliament to control three quarters of basic income tax and its rate. Labour would also allow Scotland to increase the higher rates. Conservatives and Lib Dems are happy to devolve Air passenger duty, but Labour is not. Conservatives and Labour agree about devolving certain welfare benefits like Attendance Allowance and Housing Benefit.
The parties now have to get on with hammering out an agreement about the exact range of additional powers and duties that will pass to the Scottish Parliament. I asked Mr Hague yesterday for a further assurance that he will soon know whether or not the Liberal Democrats will allow a government motion to give us English votes for English issues, or whether we need to find another non government route to put it to the Commons and have a vote. He assured me he had set a deadline of the end of November for agreement – or lack of it – on resolving the unfairness to England, and confirmed that if there was no agreement Parliament should still be asked to vote on this crucial matter.
A few posters are sending me several very long contributions every day. I am currently very busy with a lot of speeches to make (with travel), work to be done on the English votes campaign, and on EU and economic issues, and media interest. I am finding it difficult to keep up with all these long pieces.
I would urge each of you who send lots to send me shorter and fewer contributions each day. I will sometimes just delete very long ones from people who send in lots to make it a bit easier to keep up.
The background to the Bloomberg speech, hammered out in a series of private meetings the Prime Minister held with some Conservative MPs, Ministers and his advisers, was a realistic and pessimistic view of the problems facing the present EU.
The PM said that three major issues were going to require fundamental EU change. The first is the “problems in the Eurozone.” The second is the “crisis of European competitiveness” where the EU as a whole is failing to compete and generate the jobs and incomes it needs. The third is the “gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years – and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is – yes – felt particularly acutely in Britain”.
I entirely agree. I find it bizarre that the many people I debate the EU with from the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties in the UK or from the mainstream governments and parties on the continent, cannot seem to grasp the seriousness of the EU crisis and the need to make major changes. When I put to them the obvious need for a new relationship for non Euro members as Euro members plunge into greater political union, they either tell me I am wrong or seek to change the topic. When I say the EU energy policy or the business regulation policy is exporting jobs and prosperity to Asia and America from the EU there is a wish to deny or ignore the reality.
The speech explained to EU audiences that the UK has “the character of an island nation, independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty”. The PM said he did not think there is a “single European demos” so there cannot be an EU wide democratic government. He explained that many of us “fear that the EU is heading for a level of political integration that is far outside Britain’s comfort zone”.
So, when people say what is the negotiating position, I say this is the negotiating position – the restoration of Parliamentary sovereignty and democratic accountability for the UK. The UK seeks a decisive move to being an independent state co-operating and trading with partners on the continent. At the same time we would be happy to accommodate the wishes of Euro members to create a political union for them which could not possibly include us.
Bloomberg should not be a prelude to some horse trading. It’s not a case of gives us back our fish and we will put up with your energy and agriculture policies. It’s not a case of repeal a few directives and let us make more decisions on welfare and we will be happy. Bloomberg is more radical than that. What Bloomberg pledges is to restore our right to self government. We want to trade and co-operate with the rest of the EU. We do not wish to be bound ever more tightly by rules, laws and EU government decisions.
Now UKIP has an MP at Westminster, who has considerable experience of Westminster as a former MP, does this make UKIP one of the “Westminster parties” that are the problem according to UKIP?
Whilst many of you have been praising Mr Carswell for switching parties and getting himself back into Parliament and condemning me for not doing the same, I have been working with like minded Conservative colleagues to get major changes of policy and approach within the Conservative party.
People often ask me now what kind of renegotiation does Mr Cameron have in mind? They accept that we have changed Conservative policy in three fundamental ways. It is now official policy to say the current EU relationship does not work in the UK’s interests. It is policy to see if we can negotiate a relationship that would be in the UK’s interests. It is also policy to give voters the choice of whether to stay in or leave. I regard these as crucial changes which means we now have a Conservative European policy I support. This was the policy which Mr Carswell welcomed strongly when he heard the speech.
UKIP critics argue that all this is not good enough. Some even say we will not get a referendum. That simply is untrue. If Conservatives win a majority of seats next time we will ensure there is a referendum.
They say it is not possible to negotiate a new satisfactory relationship. Let us suppose that counsel of despair is true. Then we will simply vote to leave, as the British people will sensibly conclude the current arrangements or something like them are not what we want.
They say the negotiating demands have not been spelt out and the Prime Minister will settle for not very much and present it as a triumph. Those who say that have either not read the Bloomberg speech or do not understand it.
Bloomberg makes clear the Prime Minister wants nothing less than the restoration of Parliamentary sovereignty. He said : “A new settlement subject to democratic legitimacy and accountability of national parliaments where member states combine in flexible co-operation, respecting national differences, not always trying to eliminate them”. In other words if the UK Parliament wishes to impose border controls or make its own decisions about welfare payments it should be free to do so.
Islamic extremist forces have captured more territory and are threatening an important city in the north west. A pilot has recently been brutally beheaded. Thousands are now dead as a result of the extremist uprising, and many thousands more have been thrown out of their homes. The black flag flies in many places proclaiming the new Caliphate.
All this is happening in Nigeria with very little western attention. We have not been asked to intervene militarily to defeat the forces of Boko Haram which now threaten a large part of north western Nigeria. Different standards and considerations seem to apply to Nigeria from those the President of the USA and his allies apply to Syria.
Those of us who urge caution about our further military engagement in Iraq and possibly Syria need some explanation of why the west ignores these actions in Nigeria, unites to take action in Iraq, and remains split over what to do in Syria.
We also need to know from Mr Obama and his advisers how they see the war in Iraq and Syria developing. Yesterday we were told that it is unlikely that bombardment from air and sea can save Kobani. The forces on the ground who could lift the siege and relieve the city may be unable to win their local war. Kurds there tell the west they do not have the weapons, and co-ordinating between the ground forces and the many western airforces now capable of bombing the area is clearly difficult. Mr Obama will be under pressure to have more and more troops on the ground short of fighting infantry. There will need to be special forces in case captives can be released, intelligence gatherers, communications experts, people who direct incoming fire and assess damage and accuracy achieved, suppliers of weapons and advice to the local ground forces and many others besides.
It is easy to see how the west drifts into a more dangerous ground war. The more people we put on the ground to help others fight, the more people we have at risk. If the risks miscarry, do we then send in ground troops to retrieve the situation?
I do not see how you can quarter fight a war successfully. To me there are two choices. Cancel more bombing and leave matters to local forces. Or put in enough force to clear Iraq of ISIL forces. I would do the former. The latter draws you into war in Syria as well, and leaves open the huge question of how would you then settle the politics and governments of these huge areas once you had defeated ISIL? How do you avoid creating a power vacuum which other nasty people fill? How do you get the governments of Iraq and Syria into good democratic shape, capable of governing their whole country in a peaceful way with the consent of all the warring groups? The President does have to think through what he will do if bombing is not enough, and if the forces fighting the war on the ground are unable to win. He also needs a good political strategy to win over hearts and minds in the event that local forces do round up or drive out all ISIL miltary people.
Today we awake to find that Clacton has the same MP with the same views as it had before the by election, and to find that Labour has once again won the Heywood and Middleton seat. It’s a strange “earthquake” that leaves Parliament with the same voting balance on matters Eurosceptic, and one of the same people.
If UKIP had won in Heywood I would have welcomed that. An extra Eurosceptic vote and the replacement of a federalist Labour MP with one who would support a new relationship with the EU and an In/Out referendum would have been welcome. Mr Carswell will be able to do less as a UKIP Eurosceptic than he could do as a Conservative one, because he will no longer have a voice and vote within a large Parliamentary party. He will need to rebuild some of his links with us Conservative Eurosceptics if he wants other MPs to back any of his proposals, second any of his motions and help him get some airtime in a Parliament which requires numbers to achieve things.
It will be interesting to see how the Farage/Carswell relationship works. Mr Carswell already sounds at variance with his new Leader over immigration, and sounds as if he fancies being the UKIP leader. In the Commons, of course, Mr Carswell will be the UKIP Leader – and Chief Whip, and spokesman on every topic. It will have the fortunate consequence for him that he will never have to rebel against his own Parliamentary whip, but for Mr Farage it will mean there is now a very independent voice speaking for UKIP who may not be the same as Mr Farage.
On balance I fear last night has slightly weakened the overall Eurosceptic cause.
It was interesting to see how much Lib Dem support has vanished now they are so clearly the most pro EU option available. In Clacton their vote collapsed from 12.9% to 1.4%, and in Heywood from 22.7% to 5%. This too has helped Labour hold a seat for its more moderate pro EU stance.
You can rely on the BBC to side with the Lib Dems against England. Sure enough they are advertising a programme to chart the support they detect for devolution of power to some great English cities. This betrays a lack of understanding of why we need English votes for English issues now – the devolution of Income Tax to Scotland.
If the purpose of more devolution is to create a better governed UK where people are happier being in the UK as a whole, then surely the place to give devolution to cities a trial is Glasgow. We know that Glasgow is the one city in the UK where a majority want to leave our country. Surely that would be the place to test out this devolution to cities? Why does the BBC only ever want to split up England, and never examines the case for splitting up Scotland?
Under the Lib Dem/BBC cities model there are two particularly hard questions for them to answer. The first is why only big cities? Why Newcastle and not Sunderland, or why Sunderland but not Reading, or why Reading but not Wokingham? Why no rural areas? Are people only capable of more self government if they chose to live in large urban areas?
The second is how many different rates of Income Tax do they want? If they want all in England to have the same rate, as they clearly want all in Scotland to have the same rate, why can’t England have a devolved system for deciding its rate of Income Tax as Scotland will have?
Recent poor figures from Germany show that the Euro malaise has spread to the motor economy of the zone. Growth remains very slow and unemployment high in many countries within the single currency area. Money growth is almost non existent, confidence levels are low and new credit constrained.
The European Central Bank is putting the commercial banks through further stress tests. These may be necessary, but they are taking a long time. During this process banks are reluctant to lend additional money, for fear of their ratios remaining poor or weakening further. The ECB is offering more cheap loans to the banking system, but all the time they have limits on their balance sheets it is difficult for them to take full advantage of this to lend more money on to the commercial sectors.
The German authorities are still keen to avoid full scale Quantitative Easing in the zone to offset the weak bank position. All the time the commercial banks are under tough control any monetary experiment will have limited favourable impact on activity.
Meanwhile, in both the US and the UK self sustaining recoveries are underway, with commercial banks now capable of lending more money to facilitate sensible investment and consumption. In Japan where they are undertaking another huge quantitative easing they are still struggling to get decent money growth owing to the problems of their commercial banks.
In due course the UK and US will be able to put interest rates up a bit to make savings more worthwhile. In the meantime at least the US and UK have ended quantitative easing and do have growth and a better record on generating new jobs. The Euro zone still has not worked out how to recycle or limit the huge German balance of payments surplus, nor how to transfer enough money from rich to poor, or how to create a commercial banking system which can finance a decent recovery.
Trying to help settle Iraq, Syria and Libya is proving very problematic for the west. The politics of identity and religious loyalty is always complex and can become violent if governments fail to carry enough of their people with them.
Perhaps we should remember the UK’s difficult experiences in Northern Ireland. No-one then suggested escalating the violence because some in the Republic supported the IRA, and no-one thought the UK should take action against the USA because some US citizens were helping fund the Republicans. The UK state tried to keep it as a law and order matter in the province, seeking to enforce laws against violence whichever side in Northern Ireland perpetrated it. On the occasions when the police or army used too much force on the ground, by mistake according to the authorities, it usually set back a solution rather than helping. The more people who died on both sides, the more the bitterness intensified. Progress was only made when all agreed to sit down and talk about how to come up with a better future.
We need to ask what we learned from this difficult situation, and whether that knowledge can be deployed in places like Ukraine and Iraq where there are worse civil wars and terrorist actions within the state. The intervention of external forces may be well intentioned, but it is very difficult to see how military engagement can lead to a stable peace when there are so many struggling factions and when there are underlying power struggles between Shia and Sunni and between large regional powers surrounding Iraq. The barbarism of ISIL is rightly widely condemned, but other factions, armed bands and armies are killing people as well.
The west is going to find it difficult to help. We lack enough people with the language skills and with a deep understanding of the religions and politics of the area. It is asking a lot of our troops when we commit them to police a foreign country where they cannot speak to the people they are trying to help, where they do not automatically understand many of the local customs, and where attitudes towards the law and obedience to the authorities are different to those in a western democracy. I am glad this time we are not putting boots on the ground. The boots that do the walking have to support the men that do the talking. It is going to take more talking and politics of a high order to bring some stability and peace out of the civil wars in current Middle Eastern states.
There are also worrying reports coming out of Iraq that ISIL forces are now well embedded with the civilian population and are involved in providing or taxing and controlling some local economic activity. This makes any military solution that does not also kill the people we want to help so much more difficult, and reminds us that as and when ISIL forces are defeated there needs to be recovery work on the ground to rebuild damaged facilities and assist in creating a new functioning economy and civil society. The unwillingness of Turkey to take action against ISIL for fear of helping Assad, and their worries about Kurdish separatism, provides further evidence of just how complex and difficult this situation is. Turkey is after all a member of NATO and should be a strong US ally, but on this occasion sees things differently to the USA.