Gaming out devolution

What’s the central fact of the debate about how to renegotiate the union after #indyref? Here it comes: there is a hard deadline in May 2015, when there must be a general election.

This is important because it changes all the actors’ bargaining positions.

The situation

Usually, in British parliamentary politics, a majority can do pretty much anything, but the minority can stall for time up to about a year, when the Parliament Act kicks in. But this changes when an election is coming; everything that was left on the agenda automatically falls when Parliament is prorogued.

It’s possible to pass leftover legislation through the so-called washup. Basically this means that if all parties agree on a text, it can be passed. That’s another way of saying that when there is less than a year left to ago before an election, the minority’s power to delay is effectively upgraded to a power to spike. If everyone has to agree to something, everyone has a veto.

If you have a very big majority you can hurry things up, although the House of Lords can still cause trouble. If you have time, you can force it. But at the moment, nobody has a big majority, and the election is in May.

The model

All parties have committed to passing a Scotland bill, implementing more devolution. The Tories want a biscuit in exchange for this, something like “English votes for English laws”. Labour, for their part, would like regional devolution. And there is a deadline. Because of the deadline, the Tory-led government can’t just pass what it wants.

First of all, there may not be a majority in the Commons for EVEL, as I think I will call it, although there may be for evil. Labour hates it; the Scots, Welsh, and Irish hate it; several Lib Dem ministers, notably Danny Alexander, would have to resign immediately if it passed because they couldn’t vote or speak on their own ministerial business. The Tories are in favour but I’m not sure if they are unanimous about it. That doesn’t give you a majority.

Even if you somehow got one, though, there isn’t enough majority to pass it quickly, before the deadline. That needs either a big and stable majority, or the opposition agreeing to co-operate. So, pretty much everyone involved has a veto on passing anything substantial.

That means the question is “Deal, or no deal?”, or in political science jargon, “is this better than the Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement, BATNA?” The alternative for all parties is “go to the country with our proposal on the manifesto”.

The parameters

The Tory proposal is either EVEL or some sort of “English parliament”. If, like all other devolved administrations, it was elected on proportional representation, I can see this turning out quite shitty for the Tories, with Labour, Liberals, left-of-Labour, Greens, and ‘kippers all over the place. It might also ruin the game for Tory county councils, aka Tory MPs at an earlier stage in their careers. And it would be very difficult to defend something that parallels Westminster 90% of the time as a sensible use of public money. So I think they would go for EVEL rather than EP.

The Labour one looks like some sort of regional devolution, whether city regions or even a Northern entity. This would obviously be just great for Labour (and possibly also both left-of-Labour and ‘kippers). I don’t know about you but “a powerful voice for more regen and infrastructure money in your community” beats “we solved the West Lothian question” as a slogan in my opinion.

The Tories also have the problem of trying to appeal to pro-Union sentiment – which turns out to be a thing! – by taking Scots’ and Welshmen’s votes away.

Even if EVEL polls reasonably well, it may be rather like Euroscepticism in being an issue a lot of people agree with, vaguely, but don’t care about much. Tories seem to have a fatal attraction to those. I tentatively think EVEL would help in Tory-UKIP fights, although the ‘kippers might pick up EP as a counter-offer. They are a protest party and it’s a more strident protest, and if it happened they would probably have better chances of actual influence in it. On the other hand, regdev would help Labour mobilise pretty much everywhere there are substantial numbers of Labour voters.

The output

Well, that would suggest Labour’s BATNA is better than the Tories’, so the Tories would be advised to make a deal that gets something passed before the 2015 GE, rather than see them walk. Of course, there is a potential rogue actor in that some of the Tories might rebel. From a Labour point of view, that would just be gravy. Question the parameters if you like, but this does seem to be what Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband are doing.

See here, and here.

#burybadnews: the burying. here are some boring links about fish

So I promised to check what bad news was getting buried over the indyref. Here are some stories.

NHS foundations crash to first-ever monster deficit: official

NHS foundation trusts are struggling, missing waiting list targets, spending a lot of money on agency staff, and have had a sector-wide deficit for the first time. 19% of the trusts are officially in the doghouse. There’s a report here.

One of those trusts is Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, King’s Lynn. This has been the subject of a Care Quality Commission report, which was released today, strangely enough. Secretary Hunt is sending McKinsey consultants to King’s Lynn, so if you live around there, try to stagger over the boundary before collapsing or something?

Morecambe Bay NHS is in trouble, and Hunt is sending it one Fiona West as Improvement Director. There seems to be a lot of it about.

Here’s a story of dodgy NHS procurement in Worthing.

Also in the NHS, a standard has been published setting out what information A&E wards should give the police when someone comes in who has evidently been the target of a violent crime.

The NHS is also sharing information with you, as it has a new data visualisation web site. I don’t know why that needed burying, unless it’s the detail that private-sector contractors don’t have to put any information on it.

Changes to GP practices’ catchment areas have been put off until January.

Do-gooders: three opportunities to lobby the powerful at PHE, OFCOM, and DWP!

And Public Health England has a global strategy, which sounds important! Rather like OFCOM, which invites comments on its Plan. There’s a plan, apparently.

Bash 7-day dole wait: don’t miss out!

Over at the DWP, they want you to wait an additional 7 days before you get any Universal Credit. The consultation on this measure has just opened, so get in there and object! The committee that will read your objection is as follows. It has an expert on Scotland.

The Committee’s Chair is Paul Gray. Its membership comprises: Les Allamby, John Andrews, Simon Bartley, Adele Baumgardt, John Ditch, Keith Faulkner, Colin Godbold, Chris Goulden, Matthew Oakley, Judith Paterson, Nicola Smith and Diana Whitworth. Its expert adviser on Scotland is Jim McCormick.

Sad IDS floundering as he misses by a million

Fortunately this may not matter much as the DWP is only 986,740 behind on its target of 1 million people receiving UC.

Sir Humphrey humphs once more as Sheinwald gets spooklomat gig

Speaking of information sharing, the government said it would appoint a senior diplomat as special envoy for law enforcement and intelligence as part of the DRIP legislation. The job goes to supermandarin Sir Nigel Sheinwald, former UK permanent representative to the EU, ambassador to the US, head of the Overseas & Defence Policy Secretariat, and prime minister’s foreign policy adviser.

In other bigwigs, the boss of Siemens UK joins the board of BIS, and an accountant becomes finance director of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, while Alex Salmond made his last act-in-office the appointment of four Queen’s Counsel. Anyone know them?

UK housing policy is a sorry mess and Eric Pickles is a fat clown

Islington Council has been trying to stop landlords converting business or industrial premises into low-grade housing. Housing minister Brandon Lewis has ordered them to stop, but no publicity, because he did it on the 17th.

Lewis also gave a self-congratulatory speech at the National Housing Federation in which he claimed Ebbsfleet new town and pre-fabricated buildings would solve all our problems, thus adopting two of John Prescott’s ideas from about five years ago.

Lewis’s boss, Eric Pickles, gave an utterly asinine and ridiculous speech in which he claimed to be fighting “the Binquisition”, blamed Brussels, talked about “Communist Cuba”, and promised weekly bin collections for zero money.

Here is a list of 21 magistrates’ courts that are trialling new technology.

Where was Islamic charity trustee going with the poor box?

The Charities Commission is starting an inquiry into something called Worldwide Ummah Aid after one of its trustees was stopped leaving the country with a large amount of cash. The terms of reference sound more fraudy than terror-y, but both are possible and either would be news.

The Cabinet Office may have hoped that the referendum would prevent the following embarrassment, but I notice that they have replied to one Williams’ Freedom of Information Act request with a message that their inbox is full.

Wrexham child protection report: exclusive

A lady in Wrexham has received the report she wanted about a complicated scandal regarding Wrexham child protection and a whistleblower. Fascinatingly, Wrexham council disclosed it over the #indyref. The report is here and mostly about nepotism.

Airlines can make you pay for checked baggage, the European Court has ruled.

Some stuff nobody in their right mind would read

Here is something trivial about tax discs, and something trivial about the Dartford tunnel toll. Baroness Kramer (remember her?) launches some ITSO cards (remember them?) A small flood relief project not quite in Leicester. Awards.

The government lobbying registers for the DCMS Permanent Secretary, the DWP Permanent Secretary, the Home Office Permanent Secretary, and Department for Education ministers have been updated but I haven’t spotted anything interesting.

A minister gave a speech, but there was no news in it. And here are some quite boring links about fish.

Save it for Nogoodnik

A quick thought. I have to say I was pretty conflicted reading this. I mean, there’s basically nothing I want more than David Cameron’s downfall, and I’d like to double my lifetime score of downed Tory prime ministers. But then, I’ve already stated my reasons.

Here’s a relevant story. In one of those WW2 comic books that still existed when I was a kid in the 1980s, I remember a storyline in which our SOE hero infiltrated the Nazi nuclear bomb programme. In this timeline, apparently, they hadn’t gassed or exiled or otherwise alienated everyone competent to build such a thing, because the Nazi proliferators were close to testing by the time our man arrived. The plan was to assassinate the project’s Turing figure, Professor von Nogoodnik or whoever. Having just about survived what was either a successful low-yield test or a high-yield fizzle, the sort of thing the North Koreans sometimes pull, our man realises that the Leader himself has unexpectedly shown up to observe the tests.

But – horrors – he only has one bolt left for his crossbow! Did I mention he was using a crossbow? Because, eh, reasons, I think. He hesitated between the targets, but eventually concluded that another fanatic could take over from Hitler but von Nogoodnik was irreplaceable. I guess the timeline stuck close enough to history that the Nazis had gassed or exiled or alienated all the other physicists, but not him. Also, did it matter that much now they’d conducted a successful test or at least a really big bang? And from what we know of Nazi politics, the idea of a seamless transition of power is pretty crazy.

Well, the plot has a few holes, but you can’t realistically have a comic book story with a Nazi nuclear bomb factory without at least one of the things going off, can you. So Nogoodnik gets it between the eyes. The end.

Now, even if Cameron had to resign, that wouldn’t necessarily mean a general election. Some other fanatic could take over. Iain Duncan Smith accidentally having the premiership thrust upon him via a succession of unfortunate events has a sort of queasy plausibility. It’s the sort of thing that happens to him, like writing a terrible novel, or marrying an heiress, or being saved from the political scrapheap…by prominent Yesman Bob Holman, of all people.

Jerry’s Final Thought, and #burybadnews

If you haven’t yet, read the Rodent who says some of the same things I’ve been saying but more fun, and shorter, and Scottish. Beyond that, I’d like to point out that tomorrow’s vote is a licence for two of the slimiest pols in the game to agree whatever they want and ram it to everyone else, claiming it’s irrevocable. Draw your own conclusions, and if it doesn’t work out, the 2015 general election could become a referendum on the terms.

Anyway, still trying to look ahead a little, here’s a micro-project of mine. With the biggest political event since oxygen nailed on for tomorrow, it’s a racing certainty flacks in droves will be gagging to bury bad news. That disturbing research finding, unpopular announcement, or long-delayed FOI application? Tomorrow’s the day.

Being modern an’ all, if you see it, report it on #burybadnews like so.

Vote yes to get rid of Rupert Murdoch

I have recently been reading Nick Davies’ Hack Attack, and you bet there’s going to be a review. In the meantime, here’s Alex Salmond in October 2010. Rupert Murdoch wants to buy the rest of BSkyB, has already planted Andy Coulson in Downing Street, and his lawyers are fighting Justice Vos’s demand that they hand over the e-mails.

Fred Michel [Murdoch's PR man] persuaded the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, to tell newspapers in Scotland that the bid was important to protect jobs

This was when Vince Cable was trying to hold out against the lobbying, and his spad Giles Wilkes (of blogging fame) comes out pretty well from it.

Later on, in February 2011, with much more of the truth about his papers in the public domain, even though they’d got rid of Cable, OFCOM was proving difficult. PR man Michel had a card up his sleeve.

In the background, Fred Michel wheeled in the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, who agreed to talk to Hunt about the importance of the bid for the Scottish economy and wondered if Sky News would like to organise a pre-election TV debate featuring himself

When Murdoch needed him the most, Salmond came through. Now, Murdoch comes through for him.

Or maybe not?

I’m always early, he’s always late. One thing you learn is, you always gotta wait.

Politicians often try to deal with Murdoch on a transactional basis, but the problem is that he doesn’t deal with them on market terms. The bully at the bully pulpit of crash-bang capitalism does not practice it himself. It’s too risky. Rather, he wants to create an enduring patron-client relationship, to shape the human terrain in which he operates. He doesn’t rent; he owns.

What will Murdoch be allowed to do in Scotland post-yes? As far as I can see it, the only politicians in the UK who mean to stand up to him are Labour heroes like Tom Watson, Chris Bryant, and, yes, Gordon Brown, Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price, and a few hyper-unionist Tories like, yah, Peter Oborne. The rotten centre is nowhere. It has never been able to convince itself that it has enemies in that quarter, even when the police informed it of the illegal surveillance, as was true of Tessa Jowell.

The UK and its enemies

Following up on the Euro-Nationalist Zombie post, here’s a thought. What if Peter Oborne had a point? Yeah, I know, but suspend the vomiting reflex for a moment. I’ve pointed out before that he is usually wrong, but often wrong in an interesting way. He’s long been convinced that the political elite is cool on the United Kingdom as a state, but I always assumed that he just wanted to bash Labour.

The UK as we know it is united, to a very large extent, by what’s left of its social-democratic ambitions and socialist institutions, as well as its claims to maintain a great power role. So far I think Tom Nairn, Dan Hannan, and pretty much anyone else would be able to agree. I am now going to stand upon this and step forward.

The rotten centre of British politics – roughly from David Miliband rightwards past Nick Clegg and onwards through the prime minister to about halfway across the Tories – is convinced that the institutions are all terribly out of date and kind of naff. I don’t actually think they theorise it any more deeply than this – it’s a generalised aesthetic-emotional response, not an intellectual or a practical one. Hence we get endless policy ideas that sum up to putting some public service or other in a Tesco.

They also have views about economic and strategic issues. In short, they usually think Brussels or rather Frankfurt is right about the economy, more or less. Although they fight about how far this goes, they like free trade, are supportive of neoliberal economic institutions generally, and they are fiscally rightwing. In parallel with this, they think Washington is right about diplomacy and war. There is no place for a distinctive British view here. As regards the third axis of politics, identity or culture, they adopt a sort of tourist London identity, taking on all its tolerance with none of its solidarity. All the Notting Hill, none of the Bob Crow. This is what this blogger calls Fucking London as opposed to the city, London.

So the institutions are icky and must go. The UK, in fact, must go with its quirky health service and its economic union that’s both a transfer union and a social insurance union and its professional civil service and its navy and all. I suspect that given his druthers, Cameron might not be so unhappy to see it go. Historical and tribal factors mean that he can’t admit this, hence the entertaining squirming.

Also, there’s got to be a reason the two politicians most committed to keeping the Union are Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling…

Euro-nationalism, a zombie idea

There are few things as powerful as an idea whose time has passed. So often, they finally get their chance after the historic moment has been and gone, when the circumstances have changed but the careers built on the idea no longer can. John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics applies this to macro-economic ideas. This is basically what I think about Scottish independence, or rather the larger project of a Europe of little republics, as Chris Brooke calls it (in this facebook überthread), of which it is indivisibly part.

What was the idea? Starting in the late 1970s, nationalism re-emerged in Europe as one of the so-called new social movements, a form of identity politics that promised to break up the boring, outdated national states and bring government closer to the citizen. There was both a traditional form of this new nationalism, which swung predictably to the far right, and a modern form, which adopted the tone, style, and intellectual apparatus of the New Left.

The relationship with Europe was critically important, and complicated. Some people saw it in dialectical terms – the technocratic, unelected commission was the ultimate continent-spanning distant masculine institution, but it was only under its aegis and through its mechanisms that the new nations could emerge. Others saw the emergence of new states and the weakening of old ones as a force that would drive integration forward, creating a demand for European-level government and a new constituency for it among the politicians elected by the new nationalism. The two options can be identified with the new nationalists themselves and with the European institutions.

To begin with, this was captured by the notion of a “Europe of the regions”, but then the end of the Cold War and the beginning of European enlargement gave the whole thing a tremendous kick. New states, and indeed new nations, were being created in numbers. The dream was alive.

A lot of people conceptualised the new nationalism as a progressive or leftist project. But I think you can make a case that it was as much a neoliberal or libertarian one. On one hand, you can look at it as a way of harnessing the emotional forces of identity to progressive goals that for some reason are no longer inspiring in themselves. On the other, you can look at it as a way of clearing the ground for corporate Europe, getting rid of institutions that might be big enough to get in the way, putting important decisions out of the reach of democracy up there with the ECB air power, and wrapping it all up in the flag. There is a reason why Tories like to kick the idea of a reduced UK or an independent London around.

The whole idea that nationalism had been de-risked by Europe relied on the key European economic institutions, just as these were emerging as a powerful and unaccountable force for deflationary economics, privatisation, and deindustrialisation. Although the same historic period saw the emergence of an explicit social dimension to the European Union, with the Maastricht social chapter, when it came to the crunch after 2007, what were the guarantees of the social chapter worth for the Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese, or Irish?

And the new states of the East got to be the first to try out a variety of flat-tax and other financial experiments nobody would have got away with in, say, Germany or France. That was an extreme case, but it is very, very telling that right around peripheral Europe, and even not so peripheral (Jörg Haider’s Carinthia is a case in point), the newly empowered nationalists and autonomists all seem to have hit on the same economic policy: tax-havens, big banks, and property bubbles. Funny that.

We should look at the results – hardship much worse than Thatcher ever managed – as a policy disaster as appalling as Iraq. As with Iraq, we should demand as an absolute minimum expectation that anyone who wants our vote should go through an agonising reappraisal of whether or not this was ever a good idea. But I don’t see any sign of that, although Alex Salmond is proposing precisely the Europe-of-little-republics model with the euro scribbled out and sterling scribbled in.

From here it reminds me of nothing more than the Olympics, and not the version everyone liked either, but rather the one we feared. An extended and tiresome cheer-up campaign, with shiny-happy West Wing obsessives spinning polls and talking about “big mo'”, lashings of terrible compulsory fun, canned volunteering, and the fullest support possible from Rupert Murdoch.

This is rather why I haven’t been writing about it – participation even to the extent of blogging felt a bit like complicity. Even if the Games passed off in the end without anyone getting shot by the police or run over in the Zil lane, I think the people who were moved out are still waiting for their council flats back. The zombies still have them.

non-thursday music post

OK, you’ve had some #savileweek, some housing disaster, some ISIS. Here’s your unicorn-chaser.

If that doesn’t work, try this:

they play “Salsoul Nugget” about 1.30.xx in and then dig into Aretha Franklin records.

Voluntary neo-colonial

Simon Hattenstone interviews Gordon Brown and thank God turns off his faux-naif shtick for a once or so. Brown:

Going it alone, while still using the pound? “Instead of creating the levers of power for an independent Scotland, the SNP is suggesting a voluntary neo-colonial relationship with the rest of Britain. Scotland wouldn’t have any control of the pound.”

Right. The whole point of the SNP, as relaunched when Brown was writing the Red Paper on Scotland, was to get rid of the City-Treasury influence on monetary policy, concealed by the symbols of Ukania. I republish a post from December.

ISIS strengths and weaknesses in one article

Here’s a description of ISIS moving into new territory.

“They are ready to die, willingly. They are not afraid of anything,” said Capt. Iyad Shamsi, who witnessed the Islamists’ walkover in June in Abu Kamal, Euphrates river town on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.

But it, as the McClatchy reporter says, was a walkover.

“They brought their (black) flags, they distributed their videos,” he told McClatchy. “Everyone was afraid. Some (rebel) fighters just dropped their weapons. Abu Kamal fell after a very short battle, and it caused a Dominoes effect in the nearby town of Shahfah, Sh-hail and to the west.” The Free Syrian army, by contrast, had done no “hearts and minds” work to reassure the population and didn’t even have a flag to plant.

A government that loses is being out-governed, etc. Also this:

Islamic State commanders not only had tactical intelligence, but also powerful means of communications, with antennae and receivers in each vehicle, Abu Mousab said.

Good communications, good mobility, and good propaganda – not far from a definition of blitzkrieg as practiced, especially if you read Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France.

That said, the late cold war airpower infrastructure of the Western powers was basically built to identify mechanised columns and operational-level command structures, and kill them with precision strike.