Will the new Hadrian’s Wall be a steel immigration barrier?

The Scottish Referendum for independence

On the eve of the Scottish referendum, which, I have to confess, has driven me mad because of the childish behaviour exhibited by both sides, it seems right to explore what might go wrong if Scotland does take the brave step to go it alone – well almost alone because they are still insisting that they are intend to use the pound as currency.

EU membership – renegotiate or re-apply?

The biggest stumbling block must be Scotland’s EU membership. First Minister, Alex Salmond, continues in the belief that Scotland will be able to retain existing membership of the EU by negotiating ‘tweaks’ to current treaties to, in effect, step sideways and remain in the EU once independent. Scotland would also keep the pound and wouldn’t enter into the Schengen Agreement. It seems highly unlikely that the member countries are going to allow this, although the ‘Yes’  camp have justified their position by saying …

“There is no way that the EU won’t want to keep oil-rich, fishing-rich, renewable energy-rich Scotland. And we will keep the pound, because joining the euro is entirely voluntary – as the example of Sweden shows. We have no intention of joining the euro, and don’t even qualify for membership even if we did.”

In the last couple of days there has been much debate among high-level politicians in Europe about Scotland’s position and it should be remembered that EU membership must be unanimously agreed by the very politicians who are now voicing doubts about Mr. Salmond’s claims.

Íñigo Méndez de Vigo is a Spanish politician and is also Spain’s Minister for European Affairs. This week he said: “It is crystal clear that any partner [of a] member-state that leaves the member state is out of the European Union. If they want to apply again, they would have to follow the procedure of article 49 of the treaties” noting that there were “more ifs than a poem by Kipling” as to the possibility and the terms on which Scotland would gain entry. Because of the need for unanimity amongst the member states he concluded that “it is a process that takes more or less five years”.

Sterlingisation – will the new state really abandon its debt to keep the pound?

Salmond appears to be under the illusion that independence will mean that he can almost do as he pleases. This is evidenced by his warning that an independent Scotland, failing an agreement with the remainder of the UK about currency sharing, can simply keep using the pound and walk away from their share of the UK national debt.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said in a damning report that action of this kind would see Scotland isolated from EU and international markets and would bring about “unprecedented austerity”. It noted that such a serious default on debt would mean that rating agencies would mark down Scotland’s current ‘Triple-A’ rating relegating it to below investment grade. The end result of this would mean that the newly independent Scottish government would be unable to raise new funds for up to a decade, according to the NIESR.

Mr Salmond’s explanation that Scotland could not be forced to use the Euro because it would not meet the economic conditions seems not to hold water. Mr Mendez de Vigo said: “There is an aim of all member states to share a common currency.” Sweden joined the European Union in 1995 and its accession treaty was signed in 1994. In the EU following the Euro crisis, it is highly unlikely that Scotland will be allowed to follow Sweden’s example. It would have to work towards ERM II, and this in itself would cause enormous difficulties to the Scottish economy.

The Scot’s Schengen problem

Finally, what of the Schengen agreement? Gianni Pitella, president of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, warned the newly created state of Scotland wouldn’t enjoy the UK’s existing rights to the UK’s opt-outs when it negotiates to join the EU. He said: “An independent Scotland would have no automatic right to the various special treatments that the UK has been granted over the last few decades, from the budget rebate to having no obligation to join the euro or participate in the Schengen area of travel without frontier controls. No new member has been accorded such special treatment.”

From this statement it would seem clear that the Scottish state would have to sign up to Schengen and this could be a really serious matter for England and Wales as, should Scotland be in the Schengen Area, it could seriously weaken the ability of England and Wales to enforce current immigration. We could end up with a frontier barrier like the one erected along the land border between Morocco and Ceuta as the Calais migrant camp moves to Gretna Green!

Shetland’s oil for Shetland?

A further problem will be Islands such as the Shetlands. There has been more than a murmur of dissatisfaction from the leading voices of the 22,000 islanders, with many saying that the Shetlands should follow the Scottish mainland and claim its own independence following a successful ‘Yes’ campaign.

Shetland, with its vast oil reserves, may consider taking steps to become a self-governing territory, similar to the Isle of Man, in preference to remaining within an independent Scotland after a yes vote, the Scotland secretary, Alistair Carmichael, has said.

In an interview with the Guardian, Carmichael said if Shetland were to vote strongly against independence but the Scottish national vote was narrowly in favour, then a “conversation about Shetland’s position and the options that might be open to it” would begin.

Tactical errors of the ‘Yes’ Campaign

It seems sad that Mr. Salmond has set about the referendum without thin king much of this through more carefully. There is considerable concern in Scotland regarding Mr. Salmond’s integrity. Fiona Scott, whose father John Ferguson taught Mr Salmond mathematics at Linlithgow Academy, West Lothian wrote in a newspaper that  “Mr Salmond has succeeded in creating divisions across Scotland that were not there before and that will still exist after the referendum, no matter which way the vote goes. Stories of intimidation, violence and vandalism are rife. Freedom of speech is under threat. Relationships between neighbours are now threatened if you indicate which way you are voting.”

Mr. Salmond has an uphill battle, whether he wins or loses the referendum that he was so keen to see take place.


Russia shows its inherently aggressive character …

Now you see it, now you don't ...

Now you see it, now you don’t …

President Putin, the newly-acclaimed champion of peace and defender of diplomacy has done nothing to enhance his reputation as the world’s peace-broker by having the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, invaded yesterday by armed Russian secret servicemen whilst the ship was in international waters.  Putin shouts loudly when one of his token, Islamic dictators feels the muscle of the righteously indignant US at the scope and level of the slaughter in Syria, making dark threats ans bolstering the dictator by what ever means he can.

Those who think that Putin is some kind of hero to humanity, though, should look long and hard at his conduct over the last twenty years and realise that, rather like the Chinese system, Putin’s Russia window dresses its democracy to the world. Occasions such as the invasion of the Arctic Sunrise – manned by peaceful protesters whose only fight is a media campaign – are but the light shining through the weakness in the joints of the polished veneer that Putin seeks to present as Russian democracy and diplomacy. What else goes on behind the facade is anyone’s guess.

What is even more troubling is that all of the Greenpeace protesters are being taken to Murmansk, despite the fact that they have broken no laws. Putin claims to be irritated with the image of the US as the world’s policeman, but who is the world’s policeman now?

Putin has proven himself a vile dictator who manages dissent with reward and retribution – the fabled ‘carrot and stick’ approach. Believe it or not, though, there are many who have been much  more unlucky than Grigori Nekhoroshev, editor of the Moskovski Korrespondent, owned by the billionaire tycoon, Alexander Lebedev. His paper was shut down in 2008 and serves as a perpetual warning to those – corporate or individual – who offend Putin by reporting anything concerning that which he deems ‘private’.

There was a great deal of rumour going on at the time of an affair between Putin, 55, and Alina Kabaeva, 24, who is also an MP in his party, but no one had been foolish enough to dare to print them. The editor agreed that there was no evidence for the story other than that of a party planner, who claimed to be one of the parties in the running to organise the reception. By that stage Putin had already divorced his wife of 24 years, Ludmilla. “I thought we should run the story to help break the taboo,” said Nekhoroshev, but the price was not only his job but that of the survival of the paper: The closure came a few hours after Putin had said during a visit to Sardinia that there was not a word of truth in the story and derided the journalists concerned. The Kremlin fiercely protects Putin’s private life and the punishments are severe for those who take this matter lightly. Russia ranked 172nd of 197 countries in the 2012 Freedom of the Press report by US watchdog Freedom House.

Another paper owned by Lebedev is the Novaya Gazeta, a Russian liberal opposition newspaper well known for its critical coverage of Russian political and social affairs: Since 2001, a year after Putin came to power, four Novaya Gazeta journalists, including Yury Shchekochikhin  and Anna Politkovskaya have been murdered. The investment in a pension for an investigative journalist in Russia is knowing when to keep quiet.

Under Putin’s presidency, all Russian television channels have been brought under the control of the Kremlin, which punishes any newspaper that steps over the line it sets out. “It just goes to show what a terrible state the Russian media is in after eight years of Putin’s regime,” Oleg Panfilov, an analyst, said in 2008 at the time of the closure of the Moskovski Korrespondent. “It is so cowed that one just needs to bark at it to see it hide under a table.”

Putin’s influence extends well beyond Russia though.  Last year a Chechen newspaper was closed down just hours after its editor-in-chief, Belkis Dudayeva, accidentally embarrassed Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed, puppet leader of Chechnya, while questioning Russian President Vladimir Putin. She opened her question to Mr Putin by prefacing it with: “Thank God that Chechnya has now become a region of peace and prosperity…” The ensuing laughter from other journalists seems to have stung Kadyrov, who announced later that the newspaper would be closed down. The Kremlin has relied on Ramzan and his armed militia to put down the insurgency and to rebuild Chechnya but Putin’s economic and military support for the Chechnyan leadership has been rewarded with the embarrassment of international organisations accusing Kadyrov of crimes against humanity in his fight against the rebels and having members of his opposition assassinated.

We should all be petitioning, protesting and writing about Russia’s aggressive act towards the Arctic Sunrise. Putin must be left in no illusion that those of us who live in democratic countries will not accept his bullying tactics towards organisations such as Greenpeace. Of course, the protesters on the Arctic Sunrise are relatively safe in comparison to Russian journalists, but we should still be concerned by the management style that Putin presents – or more often attempts to hide. Within a generation or two Russia will be the largest economic and political influence in the northern hemisphere. Our children and grandchildren may have more to do with Putin’s legacy than we imagine.

Click on the image below to access the Greenpeace protest …

Peaceful protests, but armed aggression from Russia