Quotulatiousness

April 22, 2014

A “Western colony for gays and paedophiles” versus “a superpower empire that was not conquered by anybody”

Filed under: Europe, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:02

David Blair compares the two revolutionary movements in Kiev and in Donetsk:

They are bitter enemies, but they run revolutions in much the same way. Here in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” – as pro-Russian demonstrators like to call this part of eastern Ukraine – the protests look much the same as did in Kiev during the February Revolution.

Once again, everything happens around occupied government buildings, where you find barricades piled high with tyres, passionate speakers and vitriolic propaganda, all surrounded by masked men with clubs and iron bars. The pro-Russian protesters of Donetsk took up their cause in bitter opposition to the Maidan revolutionaries of Kiev, but their methods are pretty much identical.

Earlier today, I spent some time behind the barricades of what was once the administrative headquarters of Donetsk region. This 11-storey building is now the seat of power for the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, which plans to hold a referendum on whether to join Russia by May 11. A triple rampart made from tyres laced with barbed wire now protects the building, manned by sentries in miners’ helmets and black balaclavas.

From a wooden stage in front of the building, a constant relay of speakers calls down fury and vituperation on the new government in Kiev and their supposed masters in America and Europe. There is an epic imagination to the crudeness of the propaganda.

My favourite poster shows a crying baby above a picture of Adolf Hitler and an assortment of drag queens. “Where will your baby live?” asks the caption. “In a Western colony for gays and paedophiles? Or in a superpower empire that was not conquered by anybody?” The latter sentence is accompanied by a picture of a jubilant infant raising both tiny fists in triumph.

April 20, 2014

If Scotland chooses separation, should it take Northern Ireland too?

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Patrick West believes that Scotland should include Northern Ireland in its new country if the separation vote succeeds:

[A union] between England and Wales could, possibly [succeed]. Despite the wishes of Welsh (and indeed English) nationalists, the two countries are physically and economically linked – just have a look at the commercial relationship between Bristol and Cardiff or Liverpool and north Wales. But Northern Ireland would resemble a very odd third partner in this hypothetical, slimmed-down UK, cut off by the sea and by culture (there are no peace walls in England and only Southport has annual Orange Order parades).

So, I have a better suggestion: if Scotland declares independence, shouldn’t Northern Ireland go with it? No, let me rephrase that: if Scotland becomes independent, it has a moral obligation to take Northern Ireland with it. Ulster is, after all, far more of a Scottish colony than an English one, demographically speaking. From the reign of King James VI of Scotland (who also became James I of England in 1603), Ulster was disproportionately colonised by Scots (many of whom later left for America to become ‘Scotch-Irish’), which explains why Presbyterianism was always a more popular denomination in Ulster than the Church of Ireland. The Scottish legacy is also reflected in efforts in recent decades among Protestants to cement an ‘Ulster-Scots’ culture and language. While you will see the Scottish saltire at Orange Order marches, you won’t see an empty-handed Cross of St George.

The two lands are united in their love of and hatred of Glasgow’s two football teams and by simmering sectarianism. The Scottish National Party (SNP) was very keen to jump on the Braveheart bandwagon. Why not go even further back in time? Parts of Ulster and Scotland were once united in the sixth and seventh century in the kingdom of Dalriada. The revival of this ancient kingdom, should Scotland vote ‘Yes’, would make much more sense than Northern Ireland’s continued bondage to England. After all, most English people are notoriously ignorant about Ulster. During the Troubles, the English regarded the province with a mixture of irritation and indifference, which is why the IRA in the 1970s knew that England would only take notice if there were bombs on the mainland. ‘They’re both as bad as each other’ and ‘fancy fighting about religion’ were the two common reactions. To the English, the Northern Irish are a foreign people, which is why they found the grating, mangled accents of John Cole and Ian Paisley so amusing – so otherish, so strange.

There has been little love in the opposite direction. To Irish republicans, England was always the occupier, and most Ulster Catholics had good reason to come to dislike the English after 1969. It was with English accents that they heard their houses raided, their husbands and brothers interned and shot. Meanwhile, Ulster Protestants have always – with fair reason – suspected that London wanted to rid itself of the Six Counties, hence the actions of 1974 and 1985 (even 1912), when ‘loyalists’ rebelled against a perceived perfidious London government.

April 15, 2014

“You want to go into politics to fix public finances and put things in order? Fine. But to pump your fist and say you want a country? Tabarnac

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:30

In Maclean’s, Martin Patriquin reflects on the disaster for the separatist cause that was the Quebec election:

Sovereignty isn’t dead. It is impossible, sovereignists themselves often say, to kill a dream shared by a rock-ribbed 30 per cent of the population. Rather, Quebec’s sovereignty movement goes through fits and starts, peaks and valleys, a sleeping giant that can wake up and roar at a moment’s notice.

[...]

In this respect, the mortal enemy of the sovereignty movement isn’t the Liberal Party of Quebec, the Trudeau family, the federal government, Quebec’s immigrant population or any of the other central casting nightmares conjured up by the sovereignist movement over the years. No, the real enemy is the march of time.

As such, the sovereignty movement was pushed that much closer to obsolescence with the recent election. This Liberal win, like all Liberal wins past, means no serious talk of referendum, sovereignty or separation for four years at least. Decimated and leaderless, the PQ ranks will likely have to suffer through a wrenching leadership campaign before turning its sights on Philippe Couillard’s Liberals. PQ strategists will have to explain the party’s rudderless, error-prone election campaign that tanked its relative popularity in the space of a month. In the longer term, the PQ MNAs will have to answer for the party’s so-called Quebec values charter, which many feel targeted Quebec’s religious minorities­—and in all likelihood hurt the party’s chances of moving beyond its white, francophone base. All of this will take time, which isn’t on the PQ’s side.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Buoyed by a jump in the polls and a listless showing by Liberal Leader Couillard, Marois confidently called an election on March 5 with every expectation of getting a majority government. Instead, she (and the province) got a quick and nasty campaign dominated by referendum chatter and the short-term economic tremors it inevitably causes. The mere mention of an election last fall caused Montreal’s real estate market to dip.

Without a doubt, the turning point in the campaign was the press conference to introduce superstar PQ candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau:

The smart political strategist would do the following: put Péladeau on a stage and make him talk strictly about how he transformed Videotron from a Podunk cable company beset by labour troubles into the province’s leading cable and wireless concern. In the vacuum of a month-long election campaign, Péladeau the businessman could easily hide the red-ink-stained legacy of the PQ’s 18 months in power.

Instead, we got Péladeau the Quebec separatist. On a chilly Monday morning three days into the campaign, Péladeau took the stage with Pauline Marois and, after a 13-minute speech vaunting his economic record and the beauty of his riding of St-Jérôme, he uttered 30 words that would overshadow his campaign and that of his newly adopted party. “Finally, I end by telling you that my membership in the Parti Québécois is in line with my most profound and intimate values,” he said in French. “That is to say, make Quebec a country!”

[...]

In the immediate aftermath of Péladeau’s declaration, Marois mused that citizens of a separate Quebec would have their own Quebec passport; people and goods would flow freely over the open and undefended borders with Canada. Quebec would use the Canadian dollar, and lobby for a seat with the Bank of Canada. Her strategists quietly put an end to Marois’s flights of fancy within 48 hours, but the damage was already done. And it was irreversible.

In Quebec City, Péladeau’s candidacy should have hearkened a return of the PQ in what has been a bastion for the right-of-centre Action Démocratique du Quebec party and its successor, the CAQ, led by former PQ minister François Legault. Yet Péladeau seemingly did himself in with those 30 words in this surprisingly conservative and federalist region and beyond. “I’m so disappointed in the guy it’s ridiculous,” says Mario Roy, an insurance broker and sometimes radio DJ, who in 2010 worked on a campaign with Péladeau to bring an NHL team to Quebec City. “You want to go into politics to fix public finances and put things in order? Fine. But to pump your fist and say you want a country? Tabarnac.”

April 8, 2014

“It’s important to understand the scale of the calamity that has befallen the Parti Québécois”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:02

Paul Wells on the electoral catastrophe for the PQ in yesterday’s provincial election:

Its share of the popular vote, as I write this, is solidly below the 28% the party won in 2007 when André Boisclair was its leader. This is, in fact, the PQ’s worst election result, in share of popular vote, in 44 years. The only time it ever did worse was in 1970, the first campaign the party ever fought.

Philippe Couillard did not have a flawless campaign but he has a full majority term to get the hang of premiering. And Quebec usually re-elects incumbent governments once. In fact, Pauline Marois becomes the first Quebec premier to fail to be re-elected since the 1920s.

But these are garden-variety problems. The PQ’s woes go much deeper still. It is now 15 years since the party won more than 40% of the popular vote; the Liberals did so in 2008 and again tonight. This is because the PQ sits on a policy it cannot sell: secession from Canada. But now it has added a second unsellable policy to its kit bag: a plan to fire librarians and emergency-room physicians if it is possible to tell by looking at them which religious faith they practice.

[...]

On all three policies — secession, coercive state atheism, and university tuition — the PQ is stuck between an electorate that doesn’t agree, and a party base that will not retreat. Compounding the near-guarantee of further PQ grief still further is its insufferable belief in its own infallible mind meld with the Québécois collective conscience. The PQ knows better than anyone on sovereignty, secularism and higher education. Or so its members tell themselves. So it will not abandon policies the broader Quebec population, including much of the francophone majority, finds risible.

The PQ is in clear danger of becoming Quebec’s Tea Party: a fringe movement in thrall to esoteric mail-order theorists and proud of it, ensuring continued defeat and resistant to any attempts to fix it. I won’t be predicting the death of separatism; that’s a cliché. But I do predict an extended purgatory for a PQ that will wonder, for a very long time to come, why everyone points and giggles when its leaders proclaim the things they believe most profoundly.

I’m not sure the Tea Party Wells refers to exists in any form other than media stereotype (although there are lots of individual Tea Party activists who fit the bill), but the rest of the piece strikes me as being pretty accurate.

April 3, 2014

September, 2014 – the potential start of “interesting times” in the UK

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:09

If Scotland votes in favour of separation from the United Kingdom this September, it will kick off a period of vast political uncertainty on both sides of the border:

The potential negotiations are all frighteningly close. In just six months time difficult discussions between the Scottish government and Whitehall could be getting under way. David Cameron would lead for the Rest of UK, but only as a weakened Prime Minister contemplating a legacy centred on the loss of the Union. His Westminster opponent Ed Miliband would have to contemplate the loss of many Labour MPs from north of the border. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage would presumably be jumping up and down shouting “bye-bye Scotland, close the door behind you” and stressing that England should be for the English. That view would, I suspect, be very popular after the Scots had raised two fingers at the English in the referendum.

In Scotland, once the Nationalists had woken up with a massive collective hangover, there would be bedlam too, with Salmond the victor and head of government demanding to lead for the Scots in negotiations on oil and so on. But should one man be allowed to create a separate state and dictate its constitution? Shouldn’t a wider group of founding fathers and mothers come up with a plan that Scottish voters can then be asked to approve? To help, the better Scottish MPs and peers at Westminster would very quickly have to go home to try and prevent Salmond turning the whole exercise into a massive vanity project. They would also have to stand for seats in the next Scottish parliament elections, or retire and pipe down.

All this would be taking place against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and intense emotional turbulence.

In such extraordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would put up with Scottish MPs trying to carry on as normal and then standing for election in 2015 as though nothing had happened. The Members of the Scottish Parliament would say that they now spoke for Scotland. The English, Welsh and Northern Irish at Westminster would be justified in saying later this year to those MPs from Scottish seats: what are you still doing here?

March 17, 2014

On the election trail, the PQ would rather not talk secession right now

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:27

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells explains why Pauline Marois would prefer that the separatist part of the Parti Québécois platform just be background information:

The salvation of Quebec’s sovereignty movement has always been the reluctance of many voters and, indeed, of most political journalists to read and remember. Did you know that Jean-François Lisée, the Marois government’s minister for relations with anglophones, expects as many as 300,000 Quebecers to flee the province after a Yes vote in a referendum? Probably not. I’ve never seen anyone quote Lisée about the likelihood of a major post-referendum exodus. Yet he wrote it up in a book he published 14 years ago, and on the off chance anyone forgot to buy the book, he posted an excerpt on his blog, where it remains to this day. Lisée cites estimates between 150,000 and 300,000 departures after a Yes vote, before adding that even though it would mostly only be anglophones, it’d still hurt:

    There is no doubt this exodus would be all kinds of trouble for Quebec. The anglophone community contributes to Montreal’s and Quebec’s economic success, to its progress toward a knowledge economy … and powerfully contributes to connecting us with anglophone America, our main client and partner. The departure of 100,000 or 200,000 of them would stop Montreal’s economic recovery in its tracks and aggravate Quebec’s demographic decline …

Funny how he forgot to mention any of that during the 1995 secession referendum.

Lisée goes on to suggest means that might “reduce” this exsanguination from the Quebec economy, and I’ll leave it to readers to consider whether any of them constitutes more than wishful thinking. I’ll note only that he sees in promises of protection for Quebec’s anglophone minority “an important negotiating tool at the Quebec-Canada table” during post-referendum secession negotiations. I’m afraid this escapes me. “In return for allowing us to treat our anglophone minority well, you must … allow us to treat our anglophone minority well … or it will … uh … leave and become part of your workforce.” Then they’ll really have Ottawa over a barrel.

[...]

Anyway, I belabour all of this precisely to point out why Pauline Marois looks a little spooked these days whenever somebody asks her about her party’s raison d’être on the campaign trail. Negotiating, not with some vague angelic notion of reasonable Ontarians, but with Danielle Smith and Terry Glavin over the terms of deconfederation, in an attempt to stem a stampede of highly educated Quebecers that would, in Jean-François Lisée’s picturesque description, “stop Montreal’s economic recovery in its tracks,” is not super-high on most Quebecers’ to-do list for Q4 2014. How many Quebecers want to hear less campaign talk about sovereignty? Seven in 10, says today’s Léger poll [PDF]. One of my favourite rules of thumb holds that a party led by a veteran campaigner should have an advantage over a party with a rookie leader, but that’s predicated on the notion that experienced leaders are reassuring. A promise of nonstop secession headache eliminates Marois’s incumbent advantage. She could, of course, promise not to hold a referendum if elected. But that would tear her party apart. I almost feel sorry for her. Just kidding.

March 12, 2014

Quebec federalist leader calls for more concessions to Quebec (of course)

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:55

It’s apparently come to the attention of even soi disant federalists in Quebec that the rest of Canada is still taking advantage of Quebec and that concessions will be needed to begin to make amends for all our exploitation of that downtrodden province:

The leader of federalist forces in the Quebec election says Canadians from coast to coast should be prepared to make concessions to the province if there is any hope dealing once and for all with the recurring threats to national unity.

With an ascendant Parti Québécois seeking re-election and speaking bullishly about a new push for independence, angst outside of the province’s borders is noticeably higher in this election than in previous campaigns since the failed 1995 referendum on sovereignty.

The surprise candidacy for the PQ of multi-millionaire media titan Pierre Karl Péladeau, majority shareholder of Quebecor and the Sun newspaper chain, has only ratcheted up that tension, a rare across-the-board endorsement in an open letter signed by leading sovereigntists, including former PQ leaders Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry as well as ex-Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe.

[...]

Couillard raised the spectre of a new push for a constitutional amendment that would recognized Quebec as a “distinct” society in Canada. This after two failed attempts at Meech Lake in 1987 and Charlottetown in 1992 and the refusal of former PQ premier René Levesque to sign the repatriated Canadian Constitution in 1982.

The federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused the idea of re-opening the Constitution to introduce an elected Senate or to set term limits for Senators. The federal Conservative leader has said repeatedly there is no willingness in the country for another heart-wrenching round of talks that, if they fail, could breathe new life into the grievances of those who want an independent Quebec.

Harper contented himself with passing a 2006 motion in the House of Commons that recognized “the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada,” but it carries no specific obligations or responsibilities of Ottawa and affords no new powers to the province.

Update:

March 5, 2014

Interesting times in Quebec

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:05

Paul Wells points out some interesting facts about the political situation in Quebec and sums it up as “and then a referendum ate them all”:

2. In 2007 the PQ ran on a relatively mild version of its traditional calling card, nationalism, and a now-vanished party, the ADQ, ran on what might politely be termed populist nativism. Together they held Jean Charest’s Liberals to a minority, but if a single party could combine nationalism and nativism, it might box the Liberals in more completely than two could. That’s the calculation Jean-François Lisée made, and first as Marois’s counsellor and then as a rookie MNA and senior cabinet minister, he has encouraged the PQ’s transformation into a party with much of the appeal those two parties had in 2007. The rest of Quebec politics, and especially, the Liberals, have had 8 years to prepare for the play the Marois-Lisée PQ is making, without much success. All elections are unpredictable and Quebec has been surprising in many ways lately, but I’d bet a loonie (though not a penny more) that the PQ wins a majority.

[...]

4. Will she hold a secession referendum? If I were Lisée, I would tell her this: PQ premiers who didn’t hold referendums are not remembered fondly today. Pierre Marc Johnson, Bouchard, Landry. The two who did are heroes of the movement, even though they lost: René Lévesque and Parizeau. To which group would Marois rather belong?

5. In a referendum, political Canada would be represented by a No committee leader, Couillard, who would have just lost an election; a federal prime minister, Stephen Harper, whose party is far less popular in Quebec than Jean Chrétien’s Liberals ever were; and by a reasonably impressive B team (Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau) whose members cannot conceivably work effectively with one another.

Update: David Akin says “That’s some franco/non-franco split on the referendum question:”

Quebec opinion poll March 2014

February 24, 2014

Paul Krugman on Scottish money

Filed under: Britain, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

I rarely find much of interest in Paul Krugman’s blog, but he’s pretty good in this brief analysis of Scotland’s monetary future in a post-independence scenario:

Whether it’s overall a good idea or not, however, independence would have to rest on a sound monetary foundation. And the independence movement has me worried, because what it has said on that that crucial subject seems deeply muddle-headed.

What the independence movement says is that there’s no problem — Scotland will simply stay on the pound. That is, however, much more problematic than they seem to realize.

[...]

In fact, Scotland-on-the-pound would be in even worse shape than the euro countries, because the Bank of England would be under no obligation to act as lender of last resort to Scottish banks — that is, it would arguably take even less responsibility for local financial stability than the pre-Draghi ECB. And it would fall very far short of the post-Draghi ECB, which has in effect taken on the role of lender of last resort to eurozone governments, too.

Add to this the lack of fiscal integration. The question isn’t whether Scotland would on average pay more or less in taxes if independent; probably a bit less, depending on how you handle the oil revenues. Instead, the question is what would happen if something goes wrong, if there’s a slump in Scotland’s economy. As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland would receive large de facto aid, just like a U.S. state (or Wales); if it were on its own, it would be on its own, like Portugal.

As Stephen Gordon points out, this is “another analysis where you can substitute Qc/RoC for Scotland/UK”.

February 21, 2014

Delingpole’s “love” letter to Scotland

Filed under: Britain, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:12

He spends just about as much time trying to persuade Scots to stay as he does in winding them up:

Anyway, here are my ten reasons why I think Scotland and England are much better together than apart.

[...]

3. Deep Fried Mars Bars.

As every Englishman knows, these are the staple diet of inner city Scotland*, usually served with a side order of deep fried pizza, washed down with Irn Bru, and followed with a heroin chaser, which makes them vomit it all up again, as seen in Irvine Welsh’s hard-hitting documentary Trainspotting. (*Although we of course are aware that outside the cities, you subsist on haggis and whisky)

Some Scots like to claim that this a grotesque caricature which is typical of the contempt in which they are held by the snide, ignorant, condescending English. But then, the feeling’s mutual, isn’t it? In any international sporting event, the Scots will always support whichever foreign team is playing England.

And isn’t that exactly what’s so wonderful about our relationship? All the best marriages are based on partial loathing: look at Anthony & Cleo; Taylor and Burton; Petruchio and Katherina. It’s the spark that keeps it all alive.

4. The Pound.

As Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has made perfectly clear, an independent Scotland is not going to keep the pound. Why not? Well look at what Greece did when — with a little book-balancing sleight of hand from its friends at Goldman Sachs — it snuck into membership of the Euro.

So if you want a future where you travel abroad, my Scottish friends, or indeed where you want to be able to be able to import anything at all, it’s very much in your interests to maintain the Union. Otherwise you’ll have to find a currency more in keeping with your new global status: the Albanian Lek, perhaps, or the West African CFA franc, as used by your economic soul-mate Burkina Faso.

5. The economy.

Let’s be blunt: apart from the whisky industry, and what’s left of the tourist industry that hasn’t been wiped out by Alex Salmond’s wind-farm building programme, Scotland doesn’t really have one. It is a welfare-dependent basket case, with near Soviet levels of government spending and a workforce who’d mostly be out of jobs if they weren’t sucking on the teat of state employment.

For various historical and emotional reasons, the English taxpayers who bankroll most of this welfarism — e.g. through the iniquitous Barnett Formula, whereby around £1000 more per annum is spent by the government on Scottish citizens than English ones — have decided generally to be cool about this.

But when we hear about Scotland’s plans to go it alone economically, we’re about as convinced as the parents of stroppy teenage kids are when they threaten to leave home right this minute. The difference is that when in ten minutes’ time we get the phone call “D-a-a-d. Will you come and pick me up? I’ve run out of pizza money” we’re not going to come running.

January 14, 2014

Questions in Parliament – Scotland and the post-referendum military

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

A few answers to questions in the UK parliament on issues relating to the military in a post-separation Scotland, courtesy of Think Defence. First on the official reactions to the Scottish government’s pre-referendum white paper:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Scottish Government on defence prior to the publication of the White Paper on an independent Scotland. [178081]

Dr Murrison: The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), did not have any discussions with Ministers in the Scottish Government about the White Paper on an independent Scotland on defence nor were any requested prior to its publication.

10 Dec 2013 : Column 197W

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [178610]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in Scotland in the event of independence.

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed removal of the UK Trident nuclear submarines from Scottish waters in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [178611]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from Scotland in the event of independence.

And again, on the 17th of December:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence, as outlined in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [180163]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence.

And on January 9th, a question on the estimated costs of defending Scotland in either case after the September referendum:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Mr Gordon Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the pro rata population adjusted cost of defence provision in Scotland in 2016-17; and what the Scottish Government estimates those costs will be for 2016-17 in an independent Scotland. [180865]

Dr Murrison: Defence is organised, resourced and managed on a UK basis to provide high levels of protection and security for all parts of the UK and its citizens at home and abroad. Decisions on spending are based on meeting Defence requirements and ensuring value for money. The Defence budget is for the whole of the UK and is not apportioned on a regional basis. As part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the full range of UK Defence capabilities and activities funded by the Defence budget. The UK Government is confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom and is not planning for an independent Scotland. In the event of a vote to leave the UK, it would be for the Scottish Government to determine the Defence budget for an independent Scottish state.

January 13, 2014

An independent Scotland and the UK’s existing debts

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:56

Robert Peston examines the question of whether a post-referendum Scotland would be debt-free or would have a share in the existing debt obligations of the United Kingdom:

This morning’s statement from the Treasury that the UK will stand behind all its sovereign debts, whether or not Scotland’s people vote for independence, is in a way a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.

That debt, all £1.4 trillion of it, is an obligation of the National Loans Fund.

And nothing can change that — whether Scotland were to decide to secede (or, to pick an unlikely corollary, in the event that the People’s Liberation Army of West Sussex, miffed about fracking, were to declare UDI).

So why has the Treasury chosen to say that the UK will honour its debts, whatever Scotland does?

Well, it is because investors — whom we may think of as sophisticated and informed (ahem) — have been increasingly asking the Treasury and the Debt Management Office for clarification of the status of the UK’s financial obligations in the event of a fracturing of the United Kingdom.

[...]

Who would not vote for independence if an autonomous, separate Scotland would be set free from the burden of UK debts currently equivalent to 76% of GDP or national income (on the latest estimates by the Office for Budget Responsibility)?

Except that even Alex Salmond and the Scot Nats don’t believe that an independent Scotland could, in practice, walk away from its fair share of the UK’s debts — even if they would have the legal ability to do so.

December 6, 2013

Defending an independent Scotland, continued

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Sir Humphrey is back with the next part of his series assessing the needs of an independent Scottish military organization:

Despite the ability to talk to each other being so vital, there seems to be no mention [in the Scottish white paper] of any form of IT infrastructure beyond a vague reference to ‘communication units’ in the paper. This is a real concern — good secure IT able to provide secure communications of classified material and not fall prey to hackers or cyber attack is very expensive and requires specialist skills. It is probably highly unlikely that the UK Government would be willing to allow the new Scottish Government to use its national defence IT system (and arguably would a Scottish Government want to?). This means that in the run up to independence the SDF is going to have to work out how to install an entire communications network from scratch. Don’t forget that provision of IT is contracted out to various different companies for the MOD, so its not as if one can simply divvy up the assets and black boxes.

[...]

The paper commits the SDF to retaining in existence all current MOD sites in Scotland, and possibly restoring RAF LEUCHARS to flying status. One of the challenges facing the MOD at the moment is the dilemma between having a broad footprint across a range of areas, often made up of aged buildings with heavy maintenance requirements, or condensing this into smaller but more modern sites.

The SDF will find itself inheriting a very large footprint of sites, many of which are quite old, quite remote and in need of a lot of work. It will need to decide whether to invest in them, or rationalise and save money for better facilities elsewhere. At a most basic level, is the SDF going to provide housing to their personnel? After all the MOD housing isn’t actually owned by the MOD, but by Annington Homes — this means that at independence there will not actually be any housing for the SDF personnel. It may sound a small thing, but the new SDF will need to quickly work out a complicated contract to house people in married quarters.

[...]

At a most basic level, one must ask about how the recruitment and selection process is going to work. To grow a force of some 15000 over 10 years and then retain it will prove to be a real challenge for any military when you consider the small resource base open to it (barely 5 million people). At present recruitment for the UK armed forces is able to draw from a much larger pool, and even then it is a struggle to get the right recruits at the right time. When you look at the potential sets of skills required — Typhoon pilots, Infanteers, Naval Officers etc, and consider that these all have very different selection and training procedures, you quickly realise how challenging its going to be to recruit for the SDF.

[...]

Finding the money to pay the troops will be one thing, but actually finding the troops willing to join will be another. The key worry is that barring wholesale transfer of troops against their wishes, it seems that very few personnel would willingly wish to transfer over to the SDF on independence. Given that the current ORBAT calls for very specialist personnel and skills, one can foresee a situation where the SDF may inherit the kit, but if the operators and maintainers choose not to come over, and if the training pipeline cannot cope, then this equipment is likely to stand empty for quite some time to come, and also calls into question the ability of the SDF to effectively defend Scottish interests.

November 30, 2013

Creating a Scottish air force after independence

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

We looked at the problems of setting up a Scottish naval organization last week, and now Sir Humphrey turns his attention to the proposed air force for a post-independence Scotland. The proposed air force equipment from the white paper included “a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) squadron incorporating a minimum of 12 Typhoon jets based at Lossiemouth” and “a tactical air transport squadron, including around six Hercules C130J aircraft, and a helicopter squadron”:

The first challenge is the Typhoon fleet and how it can be operated to best effect. QRA is a very expensive thing to do properly — it’s not just about having pilots based in a cockpit ready to take off. Setting up QRA is about having a Recognised Air Picture, a means of sharing information and communicating it to the airbase. It is about having the C2 links in place so that in the event of a scramble, the means exist for the senior decision taking Minister to be able to authorise a shoot down decision and then for the pilot to carry it out in an appropriate manner. This ability needs to be available 24/7/365 and is an onerous task on aircrew and support teams.

In the SDF the reality is that with only 12 jets available, their entire effort will be taken up doing QRA — assuming two training aircraft come over, this gives a squadron of 10 aircraft to generate 2 airframes on a constant basis. Take two out of the equation for servicing, two on the flight line and two being prepared to take over, and this leaves you with a flex of four aircraft to conduct all training and flying for the fleet.

The MOD currently estimates that Typhoon costs £70k per hour to fly (full costs), so assuming that it flies for 30 hours per airframe per month over a year (an averaged figure as there will be peaks and troughs), you suddenly realise that it would cost £2.1 million per month, £25 million per year to keep each aircraft going, or a total of nearly £300 million per year to ensure that two jets were constantly available for QRA. This is well over 10% of the putative budget. Add to this the operating costs of RAF Lossiemouth currently exceed £100m per year, and you realise that nearly 20% of the SDF budget is going to be taken up just to run QRA.

As Sir Humphrey pointed out in an earlier post on the naval question, there’s no guarantee that lopping off a “fair share” of the UK’s existing equipment inventory makes any sense for the quite different needs of an independent Scotland. Again, the right approach is to ignore the equipment question at first and instead analyze the actual needs — what does Scotland need their air force to do — rather than building a wish list of impressive machinery that almost certainly won’t provide value for the money. An independent nation needs to protect their own airspace (or be involved in alliances to provide that protection communally), but that requires identification of actual or potential threats to Scottish interests.

Another problem with automatically adopting the same equipment as the UK is that the supporting organizations and infrastructure will also have to be created to utilize the equipment:

The other problem is who actually supports the aircraft — a lot of deep level RAF servicing has been contracted out now, and these contracts will be null and void for the SDF airframes. The SDF will either have to spend a lot of money to introduce servicing facilities (which are not cheap) or it will have to enter into all manner of very expensive commercial arrangements with UK companies to get them to support Typhoon in Scottish service. This sort of arrangement cannot be skimped either — if you don’t service your aircraft, then you quickly lose the ability to fly them. As such a newly independent Scotland may find itself hamstrung by a need to pay a great deal of money in support contracts and servicing contracts and not capital investment in new technology.

[...]

The proposal to acquire C130s seems similarly expensive. There is not, and has never been a C130 basing presence in Scotland. This means that the SDF would need to pay out from the start to set up a C130 support facility and hangar in Lossiemouth. They would also need to find sufficiently trained crews and groundstaff – a small point, but the C130 fleet has been based at Lyneham and Brize Norton for nearly 50 years. Finding a sufficient pool of operators and support staff to uproot from their home to go to a newly independent Scotland is going to be a major challenge in itself.

November 28, 2013

Poking holes in the proposed Scottish defence plans

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:07

Sir Humphrey says he’s neutral on the political issue of Scottish separatism, but he has a few professional criticisms of the fleet plan contained within the white paper:

At a most basic level, the paper appears to fall foul of what can be described as the ‘fantasy fleet’ syndrome so often found on the internet. In other words, people have taken an order of battle, hived of a reasonable sounding level of equipment and assumed that this would make a good defence force. That’s a great theory, but in reality its likely to be far more complicated than this.

For starters, the British Armed Forces are the product of hundreds of years of evolution, procurement and support. They operate a closely integrated set of equipment, underpinned by a well developed training network, and supported by a very complex set of support contracts to ensure availability. Due to the numbers and amounts of equipment in service, costs can be calculated using economies of scale, and planned workflow, in a way that smaller sized support cannot.

A nascent SDF would find itself operating a truly eclectic collection of units which are not necessarily the most appropriate for its situation. For instance, the proposal that the Navy takes on two Type 23 frigates seems a little odd. The Type 23 is one of the worlds most advanced anti-submarine warfare escorts, and designed to be a submarine killer par excellence. To use it to best effect requires a well trained crew, who have a range of extremely specialised skills. Assuming that no one is forced at independence to join the SDF, the challenge will be recruiting and retaining a core of niche skills to actually employ the vessel in her intended manner. This includes the engineers, weapon systems maintainers, the warfare department and those with the skills and experience at all ranks and rates to use the vessel in its intended manner.

[...]

Similarly, the issue of maintenance will be a complex one. There are no T23s based in Scotland, which means that a great deal of money will be spent creating a permanent support facility for the class in Scotland. In these circumstances the SDF will need to negotiate and establish support contracts, similar to the ones used by the RN, and pay to put in place the complex web of support arrangements in order to keep the vessels available for service. In a small procurement and support budget, it is hard to see where the money will come from for this sort of activity.

The sheer running costs of the vessels will also be a challenge — on average it costs about £20 million per year (source THEY WORK FOR YOU) to keep a Type 23 at sea, and about £3 million for MCMVs and patrol craft. To keep the Scottish Navy afloat, you are looking at an annual running cost of around £60 million — before you consider salary costs of the crew and the shore support infrastructure to go with it. On a relatively small budget of £2.5 billion, it is easy to see how much of a cost it would be just to keep the ships at sea, let alone deploy them.

In a sense, the white paper’s defence plan does appear to have been drawn up with an eye toward “order of battle” and “table of equipment” that would create — on paper, anyway — a scaled-down version of the RN, RAF, and British army. That isn’t the sensible approach for an independent Scotland’s defence needs. The first thing they should have done is analyze what practical tasks their defence forces would be required to undertake, then consider the most cost-effective way to build and equip an organization to accomplish those tasks.

When I was a child, I was obsessed with toy soldiers. I had hundreds and hundreds of them from various eras from Roman versus Celt down to 8th Army versus Afrika Korps. When setting up my “battles”, it was always the soldiers with the cool kit who got to be the heroes: stirring combat poses and cooler weapons were my selection criteria. When I moved on to building models, the same characteristics dictated the particular models I built: more heavily armed ships, bigger tanks, more weapon-studded aircraft. The authors of this portion of the white paper appear to have had similar childhoods … and they’re still influenced by the same selection criteria. What sense does it make for Scotland’s defence forces to operate Type 23 frigates and Typhoon aircraft? They’re cool kit, but do they accomplish the primary protective duties for Scotland cost-effectively? Almost certainly not.

Scotland has a large coastline and significant offshore assets to protect, but it isn’t likely to need the hugely expensive (and admittedly very capable) kit that the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force need to accomplish their wider tasks. Scotland’s navy is much more likely to end up resembling a strong coastguard than a battle fleet, and their air force will probably not be equipped with top-of-the-line fighter aircraft (especially not F-35 or Typhoon fighters) as they would eat a hugely disproportional share of the defence budget for capabilities the Scots don’t actually need.

I strongly suspect the best course of action for Scotland (in the event of a successful independence vote) would be to negotiate a short-to-medium term deal with the rest of the UK to provide military units to Scotland as an interim solution while a sensible Scottish organization was built-up to take on those roles. It might sting the pride of nationalists to admit that they can’t afford to take on the full trappings of an independent state immediately, but it would be far more practical (and far less expensive) than carving off “their share” of the UK’s existing military.

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