- oD Russia
- oD 50.50
G4S: securing whose world?
Devalue or Else!
Can Europe make it?
Re-birth of the nation?
Caroline Morris (Wellington, Victoria University): New Zealand's introduction of direct democracy in the form of citizens' initiated referendums could have valuable lessons for politicians looking for cures for the problem of democratic disengagement in the UK. In a 1993 survey, when the direct democracy legislation was brought in, 63% of respondents agreed with the proposition that "People like me have no say" and 66% said that "Politicians don't care what people think". By 2005, these figures had fallen to 48% and 44% respectively.
Chris Thomson (Barcelona, SCC): In yesterday's CiF, Ian MacWhirter writes: “Where the SNP proposal falls down is not in its open-mindedness, which is quite sincere, but in the way its national conversation is to be conducted. It is being offered as a kind of consultation exercise with no clear destination or procedure. It is not clear what happens at the end of it, nor who will decide how the results of the consultation are to be assessed. This is important because the 1989 cross-party Scottish constitutional convention, which led the last national conversation about devolution, had the authority to draft a constitutional blueprint which became the Scottish parliament. There is no comparable body to conduct the task this time. The SNP govern alone, and Alex Salmond will decide what the conversation means.”
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): To salute India's independence I have been honoured to publish a guest post on Pickled Politics about how India's constitution is far ahead of our own. I link to Rajeev Bhargarva who shows how issues posed by multiculturalism and religion are framed much better by what India achieved in 1950 than by, for example, the constitution of the United States.
Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYMedia): The SNP will not win an independence vote before the next general election. There, said it. End of. The interesting thing is that Alex Salmond is more than aware of this and his pincer movement with the white paper yesterday is a great example of a politician on top of his game.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): When Gordon Brown began his premiership by opening up a wide-ranging consideration of the constitution, many of his colleagues and advisors questioned his judgement. But Brown was aware that deep and long-term forces are at work undermining the existing settlement: forces released by the New Labour reforms after it took power in 1997, but not tamed by them.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): It's hard to find the Scotland White Paper. The link to the page where you can download a pdf version of Chosing Scotland's Future is here. The link to 'A National Conversation' is here. Towards the the end of the day on which the white paper was published it has the first 200 comments. The way that Salmond now dominates the debate can witnessed by watching Newsnight. If you just want more fiscal powers for the Holyrood parliament, as David Steel argues, then Salmond's response is let there be a referendum about that too! Just as Neal Ascherson predicted here in OK, the opposition parties are making themselves unpopular by ganging up against a referendum. Even though a majority at the moment wish to vote against independence - they still want their say. Kirsty Walk reports in her blog that Newsnight invited on the Tory peer Michael Forsyth, who was once his party's secretary of state for Scotland, to urge the Conservatives "to back the referendum in order to shoot Alex Salmond's fox for once and for all". As if there is a magic bullet that will kill the national question (but then Kirsty is part of the Scottish-British political class too). Forsyth dominated the studio discussion telling Labour, Lib-Dems and presumably his own Scottish party that by refusing to trust the people they looked "frit" and are playing Salmond's game.
Guy Aitchison (Bristol, OK): Alex Salmond today launched the SNP government's White Paper on Independence which he hopes will begin a "national conversation" on Scotland's constitutional future. A range of possibilities will be debated, said Salmond, though the existing settlement was "no longer an option". The three opposition parties at Holyrood have united against the White Paper in a Unionist coalition. In a joint statement released yesterday they said that they would consider “how best the interests of the people of Scotland can be served", suggesting the prospect of a parliamentary review on the state of devolution rather than another constitutional convention.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Conservative Party candidate for Richmond Zac Goldsmith can be watched on YouTube thanks to a middle-distance interview with him by UnlockDemocracy. You can see it via the link below. Towards the end he is asked, "What are the costs of involving the public in decision-making? Its a great answer,
Philip Hosking (Cornwall, The Cornish Democrat): You may have noticed the recent Scotsman article on the new citizenship test that people wishing to gain UK citizenship must take. Designed to improve integration and assimilation of new immigrants it purports to be a sort of cultural primer – a test based on knowledge of the officially sanctioned book "Life in the UK: A Journey to Citizenship". This book is a fascinating insight into how New Labour imagines life in our country today. And what it leaves out is as significant as what it puts in.
Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYmedia): As Neal Ascherson points out on OK, the first 80 days of the SNP administration has got off to a positive start. He also posts about the strong polling results that the party has achieved ahead of the independence white paper that its government is due to publish next week. This will have a series of options short of full independence in Europe. These will include bolstering the powers of Holyrood and starting to get responsibility at Holyrood for broadcasting, and other issues.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): If you are at all interested in the fate of Britain read this post - and DON'T stop when you come to a short word beginning with 'W'.
I ran a little summer competition. It asked who has just admitted to a huge release of energy when he realised that the idea of Britishness did not have to entail a unitary state. Rather, it was just a historic moment lasting from 1707 to the 1950s. He then added,
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The entertaining EU Referendum continues its good work reporting on the growing network of calls for a referendum on the new EU Treaty. They are also keeping an eye on the opposition and linking to pro-European Treaty arguments, not least a new 10 Downing Street petition in its favour,
Neal Ascherson (London and Argyll, author): The latest opinion poll shows the SNP with an unprecedented lead over Labour in Scotland by 48 to 32 per cent. At the same time it shows that the nationalists' core demand for independence lacks popular support by a similar margin, with 49 per cent against and 31 per cent in favour. So as we approach their first 100 days, how should we assess the new government in Edinburgh?
Andrew Blick (London, Houses of Parliament): Some interesting consultation papers are emerging from the government's constitutional reform programme: but they are not yet receiving the attention and scrutiny they merit. One of them is 'A Consultation on the Role of the Attorney General'. The post of Attorney General is constitutionally anomalous: its holder is appointed by the Prime Minister, yet required to act as 'guardian of the public interest' with regard to important decisions such as bringing (or not bringing) criminal prosecutions. The latter role surely requires execution by someone who is - and is seen to be - independent of the executive. Already the government has proposed that the A-G will no longer be able to direct prosecutors in individual criminal cases - a step forward, though there will be exceptions for 'national security', a category often abused to avoid political embarrassment. We now need to address broader issues - for instance, if Parliament is to be asked to endorse military actions - as is intended - should it not be should be entitled to view in full the advice provided by the A-G on their legality? If Parliament was not in recess, perhaps it could be discussing these issues.
Jon Bright (London, OK): David Mepham and David Held have an article up on openDemocracy today outlining Gordon Brown's foreign policy challenges. As Kanishk Tharoor recently pointed out on these pages, a change in style of the transatlantic special relationship could be significant in itself. But Mepham and Held correctly argue that Brown will need to do more than wear a tie to Camp David to improve Britain's tarnished image abroad. Their prescription is a wish-list from fans of multilateralism and global governance - focus on human rights, hearts and minds, universal values and creative diplomacy.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Its been hard - so far - to get Conservatives to write for OurKingdom about how they see the future of the Union. Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster was asked for his views in a question session on ConservativeHome. The question was: "What should the Party do to minimise the effect of a surge in English nationalism as the next general election approaches? Is a policy of English votes for English Bills enough, or should we at the same time pro-actively seek to give the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments more powers over their economies?" The answer is remarkable, it deserves to be read in full:
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): One has to chuckle. The excellent ePolitix has just completed a survey of more than a thousand of its well-connected users and "only 15 per cent think the Conservative leader will make it to Number 10 - while 62 per cent think he never will". This judgement reinforces the current running poll of polls in UKPollingReport. There is many a slip, of course and Guido Fawks has placed £50 of his ill-gotten gains on Brown losing the next election citing the coming economic crash. It seems to me that this is a case of GF projecting his pyromania onto the voters. If the economic cycle nose-dives, most people will stick with Brown 'for fear of worse' - after all, even die-hard Tories may think twice about putting the country into the hands of an inexperienced Tory environmentalist if world capitalism is crashing around us. Cameron has positioned himself as a luxury item.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The 100th anniversary of the 1911 Parliament Act can be spotted on the political horizon. Noting that, exactly 96 years ago today, the Act stated that there should be "a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis", Unlock Democracy have called for a democratic second chamber to be finally elected in May 2011, just three months short of the Act's centenary,
Tristan Stubbs (London, ERS): Gordon Brown knows that in policy announcements, presentation ranks as highly as substance. One early demonstration of his avowed change from Blair is the new PM's unwillingness to use that nettlesome adjective - ‘historic' - to describe government plans. His predecessor's famous ‘hand of history' phrase remains for the former prime minister's critics a deliciously quotable example of Blair's suspected hubris.Brown was therefore wise to leave it to others to underline the significance of the constitutional reforms he announced on July 3 (pdf). According to the Guardian, a Bill of Rights or written constitution (the green paper promised a consultation on both) would ‘transform the historic settlement of the state'. It was, enthused the Power Inquiry, an ‘historic constitutional moment'.
Guy Aitchison (Bristol, OK): More clashes between the SNP and Unionists north of the border. Individually these may seem superficial or largely symbolic, but as others have been pointing out on OK, together they amount to a sustained Executive strategy to move towards independence. One of the ongoing battles is over flags. The Scotsman today reports the latest row, which is over who has the authority to decide which flag flies highest over Edinburgh castle, the Union Jack or the Saltire. SNP MSP Christine Grahame claims it is the Executive, the Royal British Legion Scotland and the Scotland Office say it's the Queen. The Executive is perhaps wisely carrying out a review of guidelines on flag-flying policy.
One of the uglier aspects of our 'special relationship' with the US is the enactment in law of a treaty providing for rapid extradition to the US. Under this law, bitterly criticised by our judiciary, Britain extradites for trial in America anyone wanted in a US court. We do this without question and require no evidence even of a case to answer. Our courts may intervene only to confirm the identity of the person being shipped.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Who has just said this? I was surprised:
We can now see that the idea that Britishness must be conceived just within the confines of a unitary state, has been merely an historical episode, lasting perhaps from 1707 to the 1950s. There is a great release of energy when you recognise the reality of something as profound as this.