what you get here

This is not a blog which opinionates on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Friday, September 26, 2014

Some Notes on a Crisis

I left several books in the mountain house last week about the global crisis which I need to retrieve and get into eg
·         Austerity – the history of an idea by Mark Blyth - a Brit who is now a Prof In "Political Economy" (no less) at an American University and who actually writes clearly and powerfully! See this lecture of his.
·         European Spring – why our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and how to put them right  by Philippe Legrain - who has a rather dubious CV as an adviser to Barroso and Think-tanker but whose book - if a bit repetitive - looks a useful narrative.... 
·         Crisis without End – the unravelling of western prosperity; Andrew Gamble - see below
·         17 Contradictions and the end of capitalism ; David Harvey - see below
·         Buying Time – the delayed crisis of democratic capitalism ; Wolfgang Streeck - also see below
·         Capitalismand its alternatives; by leftist Chris Rogers - a decent review of which I haven't yet been able to unearth
·         Utopia or Bust - a guide to the present crisis - a small book by American writer Ben Kunkel who has reviewed in excellent prose for the London Review of Books and who, like James Meek, looks at economic issues from a non-specialist point of view
·         The End of the Experiment?  by Andrew Bowan which has an accompanying blogsite- Manchester Capitalism -  which helpfully offers explanations of the key parts of the book

But a different sort of book distracted me this last couple of days - Together – the rituals, pleasures and politics of cooperation produced a couple of years ago by the famous sociologist Richard Sennett. For a good sense of both the man and the work, this interview in Brick Magazine is quite excellent.
Much as I appreciated the freshness and elegance of the discourse – and the references to Tonnies, Robert Owen, Saul Alinsky et al - I could have done with some recognition in the book of the role of cooperatives.
I wrote some years ago about the Mondragon Cooperative in the Basque country – which rarely gets proper credit for its amazing employment record (employing more than 80,000 people in that mountain area). I was sad to see that it hit a bad patch last year and had to close one of its affiliates.

But let me again raise the question I posed in my review last month of Phillip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste – how neo-liberalism survived the financial meltdown;
Where, amongst the hundreds of books produced in the last few years about the global crisis, is the annotated bibliography to help us sift and classify them? 
Mirowski’s book has a 41 page list of books and posed these questions –
·       What were the key causes of the crisis?
·       Have economists of any stripe managed to produce a coherent and plausible narrative of the crisis, at least so far? And what role have heterodox economists played in the dispute?
·       What are the major political weaknesses of the contemporary neoliberal movement?
·       What lessons should the left learn from the neoliberals, and which should they abjure?
·       What would a counter-narrative to that of the neoliberals look like?

But the book only really touches (and briefly) on the second of these questions – the others he suggests “demand lavishly documented advocacy and lengthy disputations” and maybe an alternative left project. His book, he concludes with surprising modesty for such a pyrotechnic writer, simply “dispels some commonplace notions that have gotten in the way of such a project”. Neoliberals have triumphed in the global economic crisis, he suggests, because -
·                     Contrary evidence didn’t dent their world view
·                     They “redoubled their efforts to influence and capture the economics profession”

This conclusion, frankly, left me feeling a bit let down - after I had devoted a couple of days to wading through his verbiage……surely a guy with his experience and reading can do better??? What we need are comparisons and classifications of this reading…..

The titles of the books on my little list are significant – and three of them seem to promise a bit more –Wolfgang Streeck of Koln; David Harvey of New York; and Andrew Gamble of Sheffield – so let me just share some of the reviews before I actually get into them

You can get a sense of Wolfgang Streeck’s writing from this article from New Left Review. He writes in his latest book - Buying Time – the delayed crisis of democratic capitalism -

Previous crisis resolution instruments are not available anymore. The traditional toolbox containing inflation, increasing sovereign debt levels or making cheap credit available to private households and corporates has exhausted itself. At different junctures of post-World War II development these policy instruments served as short-term fixes – or capital injections – to support redistributional objectives. The original twist in Streeck’s line of argument is that such objectives and the means to achieve them chiefly served to benefit those market actors who needed them the least.

When focusing on Greece Streeck’s ire is not only reserved to the troika’s activities and misjudgements. He has a keen eye for the domestic origins of the fiscal crisis in Athens. Streeck emphasises that this crisis is primarily the result of a state that is forced to turn to sovereign indebtedness as a mechanism to replace taxes, which the authorities fail to collect from its better off citizens. Streeck highlights the extensive capital flight beginning in 2009 and the privileged tax status that shipowners, farmers, various liberal professions and the Orthodox Church continue to enjoy in Greece.

But the flight crew sitting in the ECB tower in Frankfurt fundamentally lacks the key ingredient of democratic legitimacy for their costly and risk-prone interventions. While these operations allows decision makers to again buy some time, Streeck does not consider this arrangement to be more than a short-term form of financial doping. And the cost for the ECB’s reputation is considerable as evidenced by various resignations of German members from its governing council during the past three years and the challenges it faces from the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany.

Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that Streeck’s book has unleashed a fierce debate, predominantly so far in Germany. His domestic critics, including the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, the former SPD Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Joschka Fischer from the Greens, have either accused him of nostalgia for national currencies, being naïve about the merits of currency devaluations or lacking a workable alternative scenario outside the cornerstones of EU integration and euro area membership.
The polemical reactions of many of his critics only serve to confirm that Streeck appears to have hit a raw nerve among many in Germany. He emphatically rejects the national consensus demanded by the political and economic establishment in Germany and its prominent academics, who equate Europe with the EU and consider the single currency as a fait accompli of TINA politics, i.e. ‘There Is No Alternative’.

Indeed, the policy alternatives that Streeck offers are controversial. That is their purpose and they merit a thoughtful debate. He wants the euro to become an anchor currency parallel to the reintroduction of national denominations. Streeck is in favour of giving back to national governments the option to devalue their currency and thus creating leverage for discretionary policy intervention. A return to an orderly and flexible currency exchange system is equally part of his recommendations as are capital controls to stem recurring capital flight and tax dodging in the euro area.
But his underlying argument about policy alternatives is that contemporary capitalist societies in Europe urgently need an infusion of democratic oxygen, citizens’ involvement and a public willing to articulate different options. How this can be voiced is anybody’s guess, not least Streeck’s. Given that numerous democratic institutions have been reduced to mere bystanders in the course of the past crisis management years, Streeck formulates a rather pessimistic, but entirely reasonable alternative.
He pointedly asks why should only markets be allowed to panic and follow herd instincts? What happens when civil society threatens to do the same? Streeck argues that democratic mobilization and civic engagement should be the orders of the day. The protests may be desperate, loud, display a makeshift air and be highly disorganized but they are absolutely necessary. The ‘’αγανακτισμένοι’’ in Greece or the “indignados” in Spain are examples of a growing constituency across Europe who feel they are being treated with contempt and that their dignity has been hurt.

David Harvey, although a geographer, is the world’s best- known exponent of Marx. His Origins of Neo-Liberalism can be read online. His latest book is a small one which tries to compress his extensive work into 17 Contradictions and the end of capitalism

Drawing on his previous commentaries on Karl Marx’s Capital, David Harvey’s latest book is a brave attempt to translate that monumental work into the simplified language of the 21st century. It is beautifully written, persuasively argued and – in these dismal times – refreshingly optimistic about the socialist future awaiting us all.
The author begins by drawing “a clear distinction between capitalism and capital”. “This book”, Harvey explains, “focuses on capital and not on capitalism.” More accurately, the topic is the hidden engine that drives capitalism, not the rickety vehicle as it trundles along bumpy roads. Harvey is not only interested in finding out how the engine works and why it sometimes fails. “I also want to show”, he adds, “why this economic engine should be replaced and with what”. No shortage of ambition, then.
Although it might seem force, I can see why this distinction is necessary. To write a short book – or indeed to do any kind of science – you have to simplify, abstracting away from reality in all its complexity. “How does the engine work” is, I suppose, a different question from “Where are we going?” or “Will we ever arrive?”

Focusing simply on the engine, Harvey’s 17 contradictions are exclusively internal ones – tensions intrinsic to the hidden mechanisms driving the circulation and accumulation of capital. It’s a convenient strategy that allows him to set aside such “external” factors as, say, changing gender relations, epidemics or warfare. But I couldn’t quite understand the basis on which some topics were excluded and others discussed at length.
Harvey’s 16th contradiction – entitled “Capital’s Relation to Nature” – includes the looming prospect of catastrophic climate change. It’s an excellent, scientifically well-informed chapter and one of the highlights of the book. Harvey claims it as an “internal” contradiction on the basis that capital is a working and evolving ecological system embracing both nature and capital. I agree with that. But in accepting that point, aren’t we including the bumpy road as part of the engine? If climate change counts as “internal”, what justification is there for excluding race and gender? Harvey explains: “I exclude them because although they are omnipresent within capitalism they are not specific to…capitalism”. Well, no, but then neither is environmental degradation. The consequences might be more terrifying today, but humans have been triggering extinctions since the beginning of farming and probably before. Mammoths once roamed across Europe…

My other criticism is that while Marx wrote quite a lot about revolution, Harvey goes strangely silent on the topic. As a result, the book’s final pages remind me of going to the wishing well and asking for 17 nice things that ought to happen – solidarity everywhere, no alienating work, everyone creative and fulfilled. It’s an inspiring list. But it does little to help us think about how to get there or if it would really work. Marxists need to do more if we are to sound convincing.

But the book I am most looking forward to is Andrew Gamble’s Crisis without End – the unravelling of western prosperity

This is not a book on the financial crisis per se, but one that uses the crisis as a point of departure to consider how our world has been ordered over the past century, along the way displaying in-depth understanding of the events leading up to the crash and the actions taken to respond to it.
Before analysing the consequences of the crisis for neoliberalism, Gamble lays out his notion of a neoliberal economic order and details how the current international economic system was set in place after the Second World War. This section is extremely valuable, as most scholars connected to post-structuralist or post-Marxist schools of thought are content to use neoliberalism as a kind of bogeyman-placeholder for all that is wrong with the predominant political and economic system in the West without ever defining the notion.

While one does not have to agree with the anti-neoliberalism rhetoric, Gamble’s introduction ably sets the pace for what follows by showing that while the crisis wounded the neoliberal order, five years on it seems remarkably unscathed. He then embarks on answering his main question: Why has the neoliberal order proved so resilient, and can it renew itself in the face of the challenges to its effectiveness, sustainability and legitimacy that the crisis revealed?
Gamble lays out three hypotheses – thesis, antithesis and synthesis – about why we haven’t seen much change in the aftermath of the recent global financial crisis.
1) The crisis was just a blip. Although it seemed serious, it has no long-term significance for the functioning of the present economic system because it is not structural.
2) The 2008 crash revealed not just a serious malfunctioning of the financial system but deeper underlying problems that need fixing before recovery is possible.
3) And most plausibly, in Gamble’s view: the crisis has revealed an impasse. The fundamentals governing the international economic order have changed, but since the immediate crisis was contained, incumbent policymakers could stave off radical change. However, the neoliberal order has become highly unstable and postponing change will lead to further breakdown or deadlock. Hence the “crisis without end”.

A compelling line of argument appears in Gamble’s second step, where he discusses the three fundamental conflicts underlying the functioning of the neoliberal economic order that the crisis has not only revealed but intensified. He compares the current crisis’ characteristics to those of the two major crises in the 20th century in light of the dilemmas that he sees as inherent in the international neoliberal order: governance, growth and fiscal trade-offs.
- The governance dilemma lies in the tension between a unified international market order and a fragmented state system, between international connectedness and national sovereignty, in which the emergence of new powers poses severe challenges to the existing order.
- The growth trade-off manifests itself in the tension between the incentives needed for maximising private gains and the social conditions necessary to facilitate private accumulation. The question of how sustainable growth can be achieved in the face of prolonged stagflation and environmental risks is at the heart of this dilemma.
- Finally, the fiscal dilemma concerns the legitimacy of markets, as uncontrolled competition undermines social cohesion and solidarity, especially with increasing debt and falling living standards.

Gamble paints his picture in broad strokes, and in arguably overly gloomy shades. The welfare state may be more resilient than he might admit, especially its continental and Scandinavian versions, because different primary mechanisms of redistribution were originally put into place. While the Anglo-Saxon variety relies mainly on redistribution through taxation, the continental version is contribution-based. Since the fiscal dilemma implies difficulties of raising revenues from taxes, inequality is more of a problem in the tax-based redistributive systems prevalent in liberal market economies.
The fundamental dilemmas underlying neoliberalism raise the question of what has to change before a new era of prosperity in the West can be established, and Gamble considers four scenarios.
The first is the default, where nothing much changes and rising internationalisation leads to further shocks and a perpetual crisis.

The other three scenarios move away from a unipolar economic order; in scenario 2, to a bipolar situation in which US-Chinese competition over resources and markets spurs protectionism and a decline in trade with renewed fiscal and monetary problems.
Scenarios 3 and 4 involve multipolar situations, with either multilateral cooperation including emerging powers leading to a more diversified new market order (scenario 3), or with conflictive and bloc-building tendencies bringing more fragmentation and decline in international flows (scenario 4).
Evidently, scenario 3 is most likely to restore confidence and build conditions for sustainable growth.

Alas, Gamble leaves the question of how to achieve scenario 3 unanswered, and concludes that the future is likely to include aspects of all four. Like me, the reader may be left wishing he had taken a few more risks in identifying conditions that make different outcomes more likely.
This is clearly not a book that crunches numbers and draws conclusions based on well-identified empirical evidence, but Gamble gives his own account of the general feeling that there is something wrong and lethargic about the way the West is dealing with the aftermath of the financial crash, and that only more radical change can lead us back to sustainable growth and prosperity.
Like Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Gamble shows that the global financial crash and its effects are not just manifestations of the normal capitalist cycle, but extraordinary, and will affect the world and the international economy for decades to come. Although he analyses the crisis through the lens of a critique of neoliberalism, this does not distract from his insights into the challenges for economic and political systems at both transnational and domestic levels.
Where Piketty’s book convinces with myriad historical data and empirically derived evidence, Gamble’s gripping narrative persuades via insight and anecdotal evidence.

My personal quibble with Gamble’s approach is that we must have faith in his analytical brilliance and persuasive argumentation, because none of us knows the counterfactual – what type of social and/or economic system would generate better societal outcomes, and better from what perspective? Arguably, more rigorous empirical identification and quantitative evidence would have helped the momentum and credibility of some of his arguments.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The long haul

Although the campaign was a long one it seems it wasn’t long enough – most of the significant books about the issue appeared, curiously, only in the last 6 months of the 28-month campaign (see the readings at the end of my little E-book The Independence Argument). And the surge in the Yes vote came only in that last few months and week – with the British political class pouring north in the last week to try to tempt the Scots back into Empire. Another few weeks would probably have exposed the weakness in the new promises – but even if the yes voters had nudged ahead, the evenness of the split between separatists and unionists would hardly have given the sold basis which a new nation requires…….
Independence, of course, has been on the agenda for more than a generation but the overall majority of the nationalist government came only in 2011 – in the aftermath of the Con-Lib Coalition which followed the UK General Election of 2010 and which was clearly the clincher for so many erstwhile Labour voters to switch to the SNP. 
So most serious Scots (and aren’t we all such?) have had only a few years to think of independence as a serious option.

It was indeed only in the last year that left intellectuals in Scotland got round to setting out their various stalls – whether in blogs or books, whether separatist, unionist or neutral. Two journals give a good picture of their fare - Perspectives and Scottish Left Review
I’ve been a “socialist” all my adult life - coming to political awareness in 1956 in the days of the Hungarian and Suez misadventures; and of the New Left; and then got caught up in the “modernising” mood of the 60s and 70s which culminated in New Labour. I’ve always been “broad” left – opposed to the paternalistic and centralising part of the Labour tradition but always (if reluctantly) impressed with the coherence of the hard left’s analysis. But, these days, the strongest critique of the power structures of the corporate system is mainstream – from the likes of David Marquand; Wolfgang Streeck; Mark Blyth ….My blogposts as a whole reflect this global concern.

I excerpted a couple of reviews earlier in the month of Yes – the radical case for Scottish Independence – but only managed to read it through yesterday. Foley and Ramand put a very coherent case that Britain is not working but are less than convincing in the case for independence!
Clearly they lacked the time to marshall the proper arguments

However I sense, these days when the dust is still settling, a new determination. The focus of the British political class may now be on constitutional niceties - but my judgement is that the next year will see a renewed attempt by the broad left to set out a realist leftist vision for Scotland. Yesterday’s blogpost gave some evidence for this - and promised to try to put more of a “governance” spin on the Scottish argument.
I had failed this past month to see any recognition of the cost and complications of building a new state system – and spotted a relevant publication only a few days ago. Pat Dunleavy is an academic name to conjure with (although he seems to have gone very quiet this past quarter century) but he surfaced in June with a pamphlet which gave an optimistic spin to these questions about costs and capacity – Transitioning to a new State. (There’s also an interesting conversation with him about how the British civil service misused his research)  

I referred yesterday to the frequency with which attempts to break the status quo had been frustrated. We have not just the well-known flower revolutions, “springs” and “occupy” movements - but the more cerebral preparations of the “Power” Inquiry of 2006 in the UK which campaigned for more than 3 years with a strong agenda of electoral reform – but failed to make any headway.
Only, it appears, the Scottish Constitutional Convention of the 90s had the mixture of breadth of support; coherence; and staying power which effective social change seems to require.

In the past 20 years I’ve had the privilege of talking with groups of civil servants in countries with inflexible systems of power. I have always given a message of hope which I described as the “opportunistic” or “windows of opportunity” theory of change.

Most of the time our systems seem impervious to change – but always (and suddenly) an opportunity arises. Those who care, prepare for these windows. And the preparation is about analysis, mobilisation and trust.
·       It is about us caring enough about our organisation and society to speak out about the need for change.
·       It is about taking the trouble to think and read about ways to improve things – and helping create and run networks of such change.
·       And it is about establishing a personal reputation for probity and good judgement that people will follow your lead when that window of opportunity arises.

So my message to Scots is that it’s time for proper preparation. Too much was left to the nationalist government – whose 600 page White Paper had a confused message. It’s time for a deeper analysis; with a broader base; and for the long haul

Monday, September 22, 2014

“Normal service” resumed?

For every reader I’ve lost in last month’s more or less exclusive focus on the Scottish referendum, it appears I’ve gained at least another. I think readers will understand why, a month ago, I abandoned my usual subjects to try to give you all a sense of the arguments which were going in the small country I abandoned in 1990…..

Although the blog will now return to other themes, it will follow events in Scotland with more regularity. What happened there these past few years is part of the outflowing of anger and hope we have seen in other parts of the world in recent years as citizens have taken to the streets to object to the way their world was being governed.
Each outburst – whether in Turkey, Ukraine, Egypt…- had its specific reasons and shape but all focused on the misuse of power. My new readers in Turkey and the Ukraine know they belong to a wider movement which may use slogans – but know that social change needs more than that. They are keen to learn from one another – and to go beyond the simplistic manuals of protest and regime change that people like Gene Sharp perfected (with American cash) a decade or so ago. 

I remember tantalising the Uzbek officials who attended my classes at the Presidential Academy in Tashkent with what I called the “opportunity theory of change” – namely that political change happens suddenly and fortuitously and requires individuals (who may not fit our images about leaders) who have prepared rigorously and who have the capacity both to inspire followers but (most difficult) to manage the building of the organisational capacity which will follow success.

Social change requires a challenging combination of emotion, preparation…and opportunity. The emotion has to be channelled; the preparation both analytical and political; and the opportunity calculated and managed…. The new website which I will (hopefully) be inaugurating in October when I get back down to Sofia will be focusing on social change – initially the more neglected analytical elements of that process…..

I wanted yesterday to explore how my countrymen were dealing with the outcome of the vote – and what better way than to look at some of the 100 or so sites which Bella Caledonia - one of the most famous Scottish bloggers - identifies on her blogroll. Her Saturday post was a good one -

My anger is not that we voted to remain under a UK flag, it’s that we voted not to give the power back to the people. Whilst we will remain locked in a system that is demolishing our human rights and our society, my hope remains, because unless we choose to let them can never have power over our imagination.
We don’t need anyone’s permission, so lets just start building it anyway and let us build it not on binaries, but with depth, diversity, and humanity.

Let us not replicate the model that distributes power so unequally, lets not go back to party politics, adversarial posturing and divisiveness. Let’s take our time to build it, and bring everyone with us this time.
It can be done, if we can learn from what was most valuable about the YES movement and realise that it is not leadership from above, but individual innovation towards mutual benefit that was our strength. This will be our most productive and powerful tool.

Scotland is now light years ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of understanding our identity and our democracy. It’s going to be long and it’s going to be hard work, but we must bring them with us, and whilst I applaud those celebrating the #45 we must bring the 55% with us too because if we don’t do that, we will always lose. Divide and rule…
We have all become citizen journalists, researchers, debaters and campaigners, we have collectively undertaken a journey which has brought us to a level of political maturity which I don’t think anyone could have predicted. It’s astonishing, it’s innovative, and it belongs not to our ‘leaders’ but to each and every one of you.

As a society we have evolved into something new, something knowledgeable, an information sharing and commentary network which has turned us into something very powerful, and very exciting indeed. We had purpose. We forgot to eat, we forgot to sleep, we were energised by something bigger than ourselves.
We became voracious in our consumption of the latest opinion or analysis on the latest development. We researched economic theory, constitutional legislation, social policy, renewable energy potential, and we wrote stories shared our questions and fears, and found the answers amongst ourselves. 

We have found our own leadership potential and we are still using it in a collective murmuration that is flocking, forming and reforming, in a gathering momentum towards what I hope will be real structural change. We can’t remain in this state of fight or flight, we won’t survive if we do. We need to find a way to entwine these new behaviours into our culture from ground level. Fight or flight is necessary for a revolution, but what we need now is evolution. We need to be the drops in the ocean.

We’re facing a political system that’s become a zero sum game and the very thing that’s caused the race to the bottom of careerist politicians and neoliberal consensus, is our insistence on binaries. Yes or No. Labour or Tory. Westminster or Holyrood. Right or wrong. We KNOW the world doesn’t work like that, so why do we keep voting for it? Because we haven’t seen what the alternative might look like, we haven’t been able to imagine it yet. I’m going to propose that we imagine it now, that we make it anyway.
We don’t need anyone else’s permission to be creative, but we need to give ourselves permission to bring humanity back into politics and put politics back into our lives. How can we make political behaviour part of our every day culture?

One new website I came across - Frankly Independent - is one I wish I had encountered earlier. Apart from the original historical and European slant it brings, it is an amazing compendium of resources

Another thoughtful post on the aftermath of the vote comes from Gerry Hassan
Something has shifted in Scotland which will never be the same again. This in the words of Fintan O’Toole is the belief that, ‘Ask an important question and people will respond with dignity and recognise they have power’…. The emergence of ‘the third Scotland’, the phrase I coined to describe the glorious, multi-various explosion of self-organising radical currents such as Radical Independence Campaign, National Collective and Common Weal, will have enduring significance beyond the referendum.
They have brought many young people and twenty-somethings into politics and activism for the first time.A host of English centre-left writers such as John Harris and Jason Cowley, editor of the ‘New Statesman’ (and Paul Mason), have expressed an admiration for this tendency and the term. They have both commented that they would love to see a ‘third England’ emerge which forged a space beyond the political parties and traditional ways of doing politics, but know for now it is far off.
They recognise the gathering storm of a problem around the British state as it strips back public services, undermines the public good, and engages in a systematic project of social engineering, openly redistributing income, wealth and power from the poor to the rich. Will Hutton has observed that all of this is one of the main drivers of the independence debate; but he still has concerns about how sustainable a viable social democracy is in a small nation of five million people, sitting next to one of nearly 60 million. He thinks it is possible, but that such a settlement would require a very different, more bold politics than the SNP’s existing version of independence.
This isn’t just about currency union, but charting a different course from the economic straightjacket and orthodoxies of the Treasury and Bank of England.Such writers want to reclaim the radical traditions of England and challenge the idea of ‘the conservative nation’. In this they recognise the power of myths, folklore and imagination in how you go about creating and mobilising a radical community. They note from England that Scotland has travelled quite a distance on this road; and more than we may sometimes care to recognise. 
The difficult ways of navigating centre-left ideas in today’s economic and social world poses huge problems. It is ridiculous to pose that it is anti-solidarity, selfish and about self-interest, to support independence. The debate in Scotland has coalesced on how to give modern expression to such ideas and sentiment: putting the values of solidarity into a lexicon of inter-connectedness and interdependence to produce a politics of inter-independence.One way to aid this debate north of the border is for the non-nationalist voices to come together in a variety of ways to offer competition and hold the SNP to account. A culture of self-determination has to become a vibrant ecology and nurture and support an infrastructure: one with institution building and resource creating.
 Three other thoughtful post-mortems are from
- A famous song-writer and writer - Pat Kane
- the rather crabbit Lallands Peat Worrier 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The settled will of the people?

So no separation! 
I’ve waited a couple of days before trying to compose my reactions. Time to let the dust settle – and identify the best of others’ responses…
In the meantime I updated the preface of my little E-book, changed its title to “The Scottish Argument”, had it printed and bound (back in Bucharest) and read it over in the manner only a physical book allows. Forthcoming months will, inevitably, see several books about the campaign but they will be for a British audience. And I think it would be good to try to put the Scottish debate in the wider context of discussions about democracy and good government in Europe…… So I may well have a stab at that in the months to come.

It was only as I discussed the result with my Romanian partner that I realised how few had been the respected Scottish voices speaking reasonably for continued union. Our cultural elite supported independence so strongly that the minority who were for continued union seemed to have lost its voice – JK Rowling’s was an exceptional voice. Gordon Brown seem to have found his voice only in the last few weeks – until then only a couple of left politicians had dared to take to the streets and halls with arguments for continued union. The business sector also seemed cowed – although Tom Hunter had a Foundation through which some balanced papers were published.   The media was for union and increasingly attracted nationalist fury. And the academic community by and large maintained its academic distance. Religion is no longer the force it was – although the Catholic Church had noticeably softened its anti-independence stance…

Sunday gives time to read the Sunday newspapers - and get a bit of distance via its essayists. But first let me pay tribute to The Guardian which had a very good campaign. For me it was essential reading - with articles from both sides.
Andrew Rawnsley, the Guardian's political correspondent, has the most measured piece  in today's paper. But two of the big Scottish names – novelist Irvine Welsh and intellectual Neal Ascherson – also contribute powerfl bits of writing. Both were “yes” supporters – Welsh more recently but it is his article which has the angrier tone. It also, to my mind, gives a better sense of alternative scenarios than I’ve so far seen (apart from Rawnsley). His argument, basically, is that
·         It is not just the Scots who have been activated by this campaign – but many people in the rest of the UK (rUK)
·         The British Prime Minister – who was panicked into promises in the last week of the campaign - will be unable to deliver a credible package which will satisfy both Scots and English
·         The Labour party lost most credibility in the campaign – they were exposed for many undecided as the neo-liberals they are
·         The campaign allowed the genie out of the bottle. Apathy and cynicism have been rampant in Britain since New Labour disappointed so many hopes – the Scottish campaign has shown a new spirit and the democratic urge will not be repressed

There was much talk of how ineffective the no campaign was. In some ways this is unfair: you can only go with what you've got and they simply weren't packing much heat. The union they strove to protect was based on industry and empire and the esprit de corps from both world wars, and you can't maintain a political relationship on declining historical sentiment alone. With the big, inclusive postwar building blocks of the welfare state and the NHS being ripped apart by both major parties there's zero currency in campaigning on that, especially as they're only being preserved in Scotland by the devolved parliament. The boast of using oil revenues to fund privatisation projects and bail out bankers for their avarice and incompetence is never going to be a vote winner. Going negative was the only option.

Neal Ascherson’s article emphasises the last point and then tries to capture what actually happened in the last week of the campaign -

So this long campaign has changed Scotland irrevocably. Campaign? I have never seen one like this, in which it wasn't politicians persuading people how to vote, but people persuading politicians. At some point in late spring, the official yes campaign lost control as spontaneous small groups set themselves up and breakfast tables, lounge bars, bus top decks and hospital canteens began to talk politics. What sort of Scotland? Why do we tolerate this or that? Now, in Denmark they do it this way…

It was at this moment – 7 September – that the famous poll suggesting a yes victory appeared. Ironically, this may have ensured the yes defeat. It wasn't so much the scrambling panic at Westminster, the stampede of cabinet ministers and MPs for seats on the next train north out of Euston. It was the spontaneous initiative of thousands of Scottish voters, who realised that they could be out of the United Kingdom within days unless they took action. "No thanks" posters appeared everywhere in windows in the last week of the campaign and the undecided, suddenly under pressure from anxious relations and colleagues, began to veer towards a decisive no.

The weakness of the unionists, and of their Better Together outfit, was terrifying. Defenders of the union from south of the border almost all did their cause more harm than good, either by displaying ignorance about Scotland that made audiences laugh, or by imperial bullying. George Osborne's threat to throw the Scots out of the common currency if they dared to vote yes was perceived as shameless bluff by most Scottish viewers and nearly cost him the referendum.

The Better Together leadership, including Alistair Darling, relied on negativity and fear, issuing constant scare-statements that often proved to be misleading or even mendacious. Worse, they seemed unable to set the union to music, even though some of their unofficial followers could make a positive, emotional case for "Britain" which didn't have to rely on either "glorious history" or fancied threats from "forces of darkness". The no case, in other words, won by default; yes ran out of steam and became vulnerable almost within sight of triumph.

Welsh looks at the some of the political consequences already taking shape -

The referendum was a disaster for Cameron (UK PM) personally, who almost lost the union. The Tories, with enough self-awareness to realise how detested they are in Scotland, stood aside to let Labour run the show on the basis they could deliver a convincing no vote. But for Labour, the outcome was at least as bad; when the dust settles they will be seen, probably on both sides of the border, to have used their power and influence against the aspiration towards democracy. Labour voters caught this ugly whiff, the number of them supporting independence doubling in a month from 17% to 35%. In the mid-term, the leadership may have simply acted as recruiting sergeants for the SNP.

As Cameron was at first absent and uninterested, then finally fearful, so the Leader of the Labour opposition looked just as ineffective and totally lost during this campaign. He became a figure of contempt in Scotland: Labour leaders have generally needed a period in office in order to achieve that distinction.
As social media came of age in a political campaign in these islands, the rest of the establishment will be for ever tarnished in the eyes of a generation of Scots. The senior officials of banks and supermarkets dancing to Whitehall's tune, their nonsense disseminated by the London press, was not unexpected, but the BBC extensively answered any questions about their role in a post-independent Scotland……

This vote ensures that Scotland will remain central on the UK agenda. The union was on death row and the no vote earned it a stay of execution; the establishment parties are now in the process of organising their appeal. That has to involve real decentralisation of power and an end to regional inequities. Do the political classes have the stomach and the spine for this? A devo max that gives Scotland the power to raise taxes to pay for welfare programmes, but not reduce them by opting out of Trident and other defence spending, while maintaining the oil flow south of the border, without even an investment or poverty alleviation fund, is a sham, especially as it was denied at the ballot box. It may be perceived as setting up the Scottish parliament to fail, and undermining devolution.

However, it's probably the case that anything more than that would be unlikely to be palatable to the major parties or the broader UK electorate. The biggest problem for the Westminster elites now is not just to decide what to do about Scotland but, crucially, to do it without antagonising English people – who might justly feel that the tail of 10% is now starting to wag the dog of the rest of the UK.
The fact is that the majority of the 25 million who live in London and the south-east are perfectly fine with the bulk of tax pounds (to say nothing of the oil revenues) being spent on government, infrastructure and showcase projects in the capital – why wouldn't they be? The problem is that in a unitary, centralised state, the decision-making and civic wealth of the nation – and therefore practically all the large-scale private investment – lies in that region.
So how can you square the two? Scots are showing they won't go on committing their taxes or oil monies to building a London super-state on the global highway for the transnational rich, particularly when it's becoming unaffordable to their Cockney comrades, driving them out of their own city to the M25 satellites……

The yes movement hit such heights because the UK state was seen as failed; antiquated, hierarchical, centralist, discriminatory, out of touch and acting against the people. This election will have done nothing to diminish that impression. Against this shabbiness the Scots struck a blow for democracy, with an unprecedented 97% voter registration for an election the establishment wearily declared nobody wanted. It turns out that it was the only one people wanted. Whether this Scottish assertiveness kickstarts an unlikely UK-wide reform (unwanted in most of the English regions); or wearies southerners and precipitates a reaction to get rid of them; or the Scots, through the ballot box at general elections, decide to go the whole hog of their own accord; the old imperialist-based union is bust.

Ascherson shows the same scepticism as Welsh about whether the centre will hold in Scotland

Where does Scotland go from here? The last few days have produced a jostling mob of half-promises, most of them provoked  by the 7 September poll panic. David Cameron, borrowing a cliche, states that staying in the United Kingdom is now "the settled will of the Scottish people".
Even SNP figures say independence won't return to the agenda for a generation. This is unlikely to be true. Scotland is being carried along on a process of steady institutional, political and social divergence from the rest of the UK, which will continue.

The case for full self-government will make increasing sense in the next few years. The latest hasty suggestions for increasing the powers of the Scottish parliament are little more than a rehash of existing proposals judged some years ago to be hopelessly behind the curve. Anyway, Mr Cameron now proposes to embed them in a vaster constitutional reform for all Britain. This is unlikely to get anywhere serious, and would take many years if it did. If the Westminster system has one real expertise, it is for gently enfolding radical ideas, like a jellyfish with its prey, and dissolving them to transparent mush.
In the past three days, Scots have looked at one another and asked: "What do we do with all that joyful commitment, with the biggest surge of creative democratic energy that Scotland has ever seen?" For many, perhaps thousands of people, it has been the most important public experience in their lives. Must it go to waste? 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Holding ones breath

As the talking stops, I have no hesitation in awarding my accolade for the most thoughtful blogs to two academic bodies – or rather
- one body - UK Constitutional Law and
- one academic - Paul Cairney of the University of Stirling who, a bit like me, has stepped up his posts in the last few weeks

Cairney’s posts of the past few days have been models of careful analysis – whether sketching out for Canadian inquirers the various aspects of the debate; or exploring the meaning of various  recent surveys
And this explanation of what the latest offers from UK politicians actually mean is as good as it gets - although Cairney also deals with the issue very succinctly.

As I had anticipated, I had another sleep-interrupted night but was delighted to receive at 03.00 a mail from someone who had been my Secretary in Glasgow in the 80s when I was one of the “gang of four” who were the leaders of the Regional government system which was then responsible for most services for half the population of Scotland. Since then she’s been the local aide to the Rt Hon John Reid - who was Tony Blair’s key firefighter in the 2000s – occupying more senior Cabinet posts than anyone else in British political history.
Other people who have sent posts hail from countries such as Portugal, Bulgaria and France – and I’ve noticed indeed from the blog stats that my most regular readers in the past few weeks are from Turkey, France and the Ukraine. Time was when the US topped the ratings….
But it seems that most countries are intrigued by the referendum.....with the Spanish PM issuing a strong warning that an independent Scotland would not have an easy ride back into the EU......

Other issues have been pressing on me this bright mid-September day in the Carpathian mountains
- provoked by the weekend's work drafting a bid funded by EU Structural Funds, I’ve now collated 100 pages from my blogposts dealing with the whole issue of EU funding, performance measurement and training and hope to edit it into a real critique of the nonsense of much of this funding. And, coincidentally, I spotted this review in Public Books of a couple of books about economic indicators. I have to say I am greatly encouraged by the way some good writers (many non-specialists) are now daring (and succeeding) to write very coherently about economic and financial matters.
A superb demolition job on property developers was juggled with an attempt to read David Harvey’s short book “Rebel Cities” - but being much more convinced by Benjamin Barber’s underestimated If Mayors Ruled the World

For a round-up of today’s events in Scotland – follow this live Guardian blog

when Scotland leaves

I did a post last week trying to identify what sort of scenario work had been published assessing the likely impact of Scotland withdrawing from the UK. There wasn’t all that much – but I had missed an interesting bit of work which wikistrat had done in the summer and which led to a short report issued earlier this month with the catchy title - When Scotland Leaves the UK
The lead analyst for this was one Catalina Tully who has a post today which describes how she has turned from a no to a yes. Which is why I find the conclusion rather interesting.

The methodology
In June and July 2014, Wikistrat ran a 15-day crowdsourced simulation to explore pathways for Scotland’s emergence as an independent country, assuming Scotland becomes independent within the next five years. The purpose of the simulation was to portray Scotland’s possible future as an independent state. The simulation, which was conducted over three phases, focused on the opportunities and risks (economic, political and social) that will shape an independent Scotland in 2020.
In Phase I, Wikistrat analysts identified 34 risk factors that threaten the future of an independent Scotland and opportunities available to the new country. In Phase II, analysts developed 25 scenarios based on these risks and opportunities to show different ways in which an independent Scotland may emerge. Finally, in Phase III, analysts developed 15 scenarios that described what an independent Scotland would look like in 2020.
Only four are however (rather briefly) identified in the report whose stark conclusion makes interesting reading -  
Scottish independence offers a modest upside risk and a potentially calamitous downside risk. Scottish independence also rests on several key assumptions that are at best debatable:
• Scotland being able to use the British pound as its currency.
• Scotland being accepted into the EU rapidly and under favourable terms.
• Scotland being able to benefit from NATO protection with a minimal military contribution under an Irish model while maintaining a non-nuclear policy with respect to the British nuclear submarine fleet.
• The costs of running its own government not exceeding the excess tax revenues generated from offshore energy and the contribution it once made to U.K. governance.
The SNP has also inflated the benefits and understated some of the costs of independence. Scotland will probably not realize all the economic benefits of independence when its monetary policy is controlled either in London or Frankfurt, both of which are likely to pursue austere monetary policies that put a drag on Scottish growth.
In addition, the administrative and bureaucratic drag on the economy is probably underestimated. Scotland will assume numerous sovereign rights from Britain, which will take time to sort out and administer. Preeminent among these are border control and immigration. Also, Scotland’s population skews old and its energy revenues are expected to decline. Thus, its prosperity depends on the country’s ability to attract and absorb younger immigrants, which, depending on where the immigrants come from, could profoundly change the country’s character.
 Much of Scotland’s economy depends on protecting its maritime interests, especially its offshore energy extraction and fishing industries. Protecting its Exclusive Economic Zone will be costly and could become more expensive under the terms for joining the NATO alliance. Given worsening ties with Russia, however, EU member states might welcome Scotland as a member on favourable terms, given its oil and gas resources and strategic North Sea location. NATO may view Scotland in the same light.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Last Days of a Country?

My posts have been written for those outside the debate who wanted to get a detached sense of what it was all about. I remain detached – and this is perhaps why I’m not convinced by the arguments from the “Yes” camp.
And, in case some of my Scottish ex-colleagues and friends feel that this puts me into the “traitors’” camp, let me excuse myself by reminding them that my field is government – and my philosophy one of healthy scepticism.

Winning elections requires one set of skills – negotiating separation and governing a nation requires a totally different set of skills.
A question about whether one’s country should be “independent” is a different question from that of whether its leaders have the capacity needed to build a new state and negotiate it into existence….
Of course, separation is nothing new – in recent times countries with which I am very familiar such as Azerbaijan, Czechia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Slovakia and Uzbekistan have done it – not to mention Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine. But leaders of these states had none of the sort of attention focused on them which Scottish leaders will have if its voters chooses independence on Thursday……

Those responsible for the subsequent negotiations will have to spend several years of their lives exploring the precise terms of currency, EU and NATO membership – let alone of precise manner of the separation of British institutions of state into separate entities. They are only few – and only individual – they will, let us speak quite frankly, suffer from considerable stress – and be exposed to massive media exposure. Hopefully they will be able to survive it all. 
One nagging question is who will be minding the shop while all of this is going on - I've seen little comment about what this blogger called the "problem of distraction"

A question about whether one’s country should be “independent” is a different question from a question about whether Scotland should break with a corrupt political class or neo-liberalism.    

The polling stations will open the length and breadth of the mainland and islands of Scotland in just 36 hours. Only then will the arguments stop which have gripped the Scots for at least the 2 years plus since the referendum question was agreed. I would like to say this has indeed been a conversation – but this piece by my friend, Tom Gallagher, gives a different sense

It’s fairly obvious that most people made their mind up a long time ago – since when they’ve been talking past one another – concentrating their energies on those who were wavering or still undecided. I saw yesterday an interesting breakdown of voting intentions by Region which was quite fascinating but, unfortunately, I can find it. So this equally fascinating record of how the various polls have gone will have to do instead. It gives an amazing insight into the amount of money, time and energy that has been spent on polling in the past 2 years.

Those wanting to follow the last days of this nation can do no better than follow this blow-by-blow account