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This week’s editor

Alex Sakalis, Editor

Alex Sakalis is associate editor of openDemocracy and co-edits the Can Europe Make It? page.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

This is the articles section of OurKingdom, openDemocracy's blog on the future of the United Kingdom.

The Sun's shameful attempts to blame hospital staff for government failures

Disgraceful attempts by The Sun to blame, 'name and shame' NHS staff for failings are designed to obscure the ideological idiocy being imposed from Westminster.

How libel laws help privatisers and harm the NHS

The government claims it is making NHS more transparent. But libel laws shield health companies from scrutiny.

Debating independence, avoiding the issues

Scotland faces a range of major challenges relating to demographic pressures, how to nurture the next generation, spending cuts and economic distribution. But the lack of substance in the campaigns around Scottish independence is depriving Scots of the debate these issues demand. 

The Anxieties of a British Nationalist by Ed Miliband (aged 42 and two quarters)

The Labour leader's attempt to open a conversation on Englishness should be welcomed. But it stops short of real engagement, while its cack-handed clumsiness tell us much about the party and Miliband as a leader.

Britain and the problem of living in the past

As Jubilee celebrations die down in the short period of calm before the Olympics, questions arise about what all this means, what Britain and Britishness is, and what the future might be for both.

Out of Time: bringing history to bear on economics and policy

If politicians learned from history, they could avoid repeating its policy mistakes.

Capitalism and the University: the debate ends, the struggle continues

After the tuition fee protests, before the market-friendly White Paper on Higher Education was silently abandoned, there was a crucial space for reflection on the English university. Was it facing a neoliberal attack? Or essential reform? What was the ideal university? And how could it be realised?

The mystery of IRG Ltd: Britain's former defence secretary and the right-wing lobby

Last week, Britain's defence secretary resigned following the revelation that he was using a friend with close links to right-wing lobbyists as an unofficial foreign envoy. While the government attempts to bury the story, Opposition leader Ed Miliband has a duty to pursue the truth.

David Cameron must remember the lessons of Bloody Sunday

In the aftermath of the riots that swept across England last week, the UK government must not rush to adopt draconian policing tactics.

When conniving is not collusion: The Murder of Rosemary Nelson

Was there state collusion in the killing of Rosemary Nelson, the solicitor who was blown up by loyalists at her home in Lurgan in 1999? Two very different answers to that question were put forward in the Commons this week, following the report of the inquiry into her death

Britain's voting referendum: a 'Yes' to AV is the real threat to the coalition

As Britain prepares for its referendum on 5 May argument about the party political consequences are starting to figure as strongly as those over the merits of the choice on offer.

How to defeat the Coalition

There is enough energy in the public's opposition to the cuts and the marketisation of public services to frustrate and split the UK's Coalition government. But this will need a forensic approach.

Mission Creep: How the ACPO empire hyped eco-terrorism

The exposure of an agent raises questions about the policing of climate protests

The military response to direct action, General Kitson's manual

In 1971 a counter-insurgency manual set out an operational response to non-violent direct action protest movements as well as military insurgencies like the Provision IRA in Northern Ireland, drawing on the UK's colonial experience. Today, it holds a surprise for a new reader.

Northern Ireland Secretary quizzed over dissident contacts

Is the British government talking to dissident republicans?

Cloned food, open your throats for market nihilism

Produce from cloned animals has now entered the British food chain for the first time. This represents the dawning of a hazardous new era of for-profit nihilism and animal eugenics.

Book Review: Voices from the Grave - Two Men's War in Ireland

How do you document the history of a conflict in which illegal organisations are among the central players? Voices from the Grave, by the veteran Northern Ireland correspondent Ed Moloney, is an intriguing attempt to answer that question.

Crash report: Has the left learned the lessons of the financial crisis?

When financial markets collapsed in 2008, it was widely seen as the end of an era dominated by neoliberalism. Is the left making the most of the opportunity to fill the vacuum? That's the question at the heart of After the Crash - re-inventing the the left in Britain, a new e-book available free from Lawrence & Wishart.

The Hatfield House Mystery - Is a pan-unionist alliance on the cards?

It has been a strange month in the politics of Northern Ireland, and last week was no exception

Leaders' troubles could shake devolution in Northern Ireland

It has been a strange couple of weeks in the politics of Northern Ireland. In a striking coincidence, the leaders of both major parties have come forward with revelations about their families that have raised questions about their own conduct.

MPs back change for England

In the dead week between Christmas and New Year, IPPR has sneaked out some interesting survey results that could prove fateful in 2010.

Could the DUP hold the balance of power?

With opinions polls continuing to show tentative signs of a narrowing Conservative lead, talk of a hung parliament is growing. This has a distinctive significance for Northern Ireland, where signs of a political opportunity for local parties will be closely watched.

Referendum rethink - The Liberal Democrats and the future of Scotland

Tom Griffin (London, OK)The SNP may not yet have the votes to get their planned independence referendum through the Scottish Parliament next year, but the proposal is certainly creating waves among their political rivals.

The Liberal Democrats announced yesterday that MSP Ross Finnie is to review their opposition to a referendum and report back to a special session of the party's Scottish conference on 30 October. 

Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott has staunchly opposed a vote up till now, but there was notable pressure for a change of stance from some Scottish activists at the UK Lib Dem conference last month. 

No openDemocracy reader is alike – A tribute to Joan Burchardt

The 90 year life of a remarkable Englishwoman is recalled by her niece.

Salmond puts independence on the agenda

Tom Griffin (London, OK): It's now official. The Scottish Government will bring forward plans for a vote on independence in 2010. Alex Salmond announced the Referendum Bill in Holyrood today as the centrepiece of the SNP's new programme for government.

On the face of it, this was something  of an empty gesture, as Salmond's minority government does not have the votes to get the bill through the Scottish Parliament. Yet wise heads like the BBC's Brian Taylor and Slugger's Brian Walker believe there is more to the story than that.

Even if it falls, the referendum bill is likely to keep the constitutional issue on the agenda until the next Holyrood election.

Calman's Catch-22

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Is there a fundamental flaw at the heart of the Calman Commission's  proposals for devolution of tax powers to Scotland?

Economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert believe the plans would have some perverse effects that could leave Scotland caught in a deflationary trap, as The Scotsman reports: 

the Cuthberts warn that under Calman – set up by Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – growth in Scotland's economy could also disproportionately benefit the Treasury, rather than the Scottish Government, because Holyrood would get to keep only 10p out of every tax band. 
For every 1p cut in income tax, Scotland would need to raise an extra 5 per cent income from the basic tax payer, an extra 7.5 per cent from those in the 40p bracket and an additional 8 per cent from those in the top 50p bracket, which will be brought in next year.

The Herald carries a Labour reaction:

"This is Alice in Wonderland economics. It is right that if the Scottish Parliament used tax-varying powers that would have consequences for the budget of the Scottish Government - that is the point. It's barmy to argue that the Treasury should make up the shortfall."

All the major parties in Scotland would agree that part of the point of devolving tax-raising powers is to strengthen the incentive for the Scottish Government to manage public spending responsibly and to grow the Scottish economy. If the Cuthberts are right, Calman may not achieve this. They foresee circumstances where tax cuts could boost the Scottish economy and swell UK Treasury receipts yet leave Scottish finances worse off. Conversely, they think Holyrood might well be forced to raise taxes at the expense of economic growth to maintain revenues.

The Cuthberts argue that these effects can be avoided if the Scottish Government receives a fixed percentage of all income tax in Scotland, on the model of a revenue-sharing system currently used in Canada.

That would mean that while decisions made at Westminster would continue to affect Holyrood's revenue,  Holyrood's decisions would also start to have an impact on Westminster's revenue from Scotland:

Successful operation of such a system would require that the UK and devolved governments are willing to operate in a collegiate manner – being appreciative of, and respecting, the impact that their own actions will have on the revenues of the other parties. The implication is that a successful tax sharing system would have to involve a more federal way of working than is the current practice in the UK. It would be very unfortunate if the Calman Commission had been forced towards its flawed proposals on tax sharing because it was unwilling to countenance the implication that a proper system of tax sharing would inevitably involve a more federal aspect to the operation of the UK constitution.
The Cuthbert's open letter to the Calman Commission is available as a word file, along with some other very interesting papers, from their website.

Adams seeks Irish unity campaign in Britain

Tom Griffin (London, OK)Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams spoke at Westminster last night on the latest leg of an international tour intended to build support for a united Ireland. In the event, it was a remarkably open-ended occasion, one much more about canvassing ideas than about presenting a finished strategy.

That tone is also reflected in Adams' piece in Comment is Free today:

To achieve all of this requires those of us who share these goals to find ways in which we can work together. Is it possible to put in place a formal structured broad front approach to campaign for a united Ireland? Or would it be better to opt for an informal, organic and popular movement based on core principles?

One definite proposal is for a major conference in Britain next February: 

Of course this conversation, this dialogue, with people here in Britain or in the US or elsewhere will not in itself achieve a united Ireland. That is a matter for agreement between the people who live on the island of Ireland. But British policy toward Ireland is key to unlocking the potential for this change to occur. So, we need the active support of people in Britain.

We need to reach out to the widest possible public opinion, to the trade unions, the business sector, the community and voluntary sector, to the political class, as well as with those of other ethnic minorities who have experienced a similar history of colonisation and immigration. 

One interesting moment last night highlighted some of the dilemmas of building a broadbased campaign in Britain. Adams remarked that there may yet be an independent Scotland before there is an independent Ireland.

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