This week we discuss Scottish independence, Parliament’s role in Britain leaving the EU, an “Islamophobia” controversy involving an Olympian, and identity politics – joined by Carl Benjamin, better known as the YouTuber Sargon of Akkad.
The former chancellor Alistair Darling argued that Scots should be given a second independence referendum if the appetite for one emerges, only a year after the Jocks voted to remain part of Britain.
Having fronted the Better Together campaign opposing independence, the former Labour MP told the prime minister David Cameron it would be “daft” to deny a vote if the demand was there, even as Westminster devolves great chunks of power to the Scottish parliament in Holyrood.
“My view is if people really, genuinely want to have a vote you are daft to deny it,” he told the Times. “It’s a bit like in Spain: The Spanish government seem determined not to hold a referendum [on Catalonian independence] which always seemed to me to be just fanning the flames.”
Since winning over almost all of Scotland in the general election the Scottish National Party (SNP) has been taunting Westminster with the potential of another referendum, as well as preparing for Scottish elections which could be framed as a mandate for another independence poll.
Earlier this week Nat leader and Scots first minister Nicola Sturgeon said their manifesto for the Scottish elections would include a timescale for another vote, as well as stipulating events which much prompt it, such as Britain voting to leave the EU in a referendum in 2016-17.
“It’s then for people in Scotland, whether it is in this election or in future elections, to decide whether they want to vote for our manifesto and then if there is in the future another independence referendum,” the Fishmonger of Holyrood said.
“Whether that’s in five years or 10 years or whenever, it will be down to the people of Scotland to decide whether they want to vote for independence or not.”
At the time of the referendum Alex Salmond, the then leader of the Nats, had called the vote a “once in a generation opportunity”; He presumably views such ballots as “once every-time-we-feel-like-it opportunities” these days.
Two weeks ago a poll from Ipsos Mori revealed that Scots would vote in favour of independence if the referendum was staged today, with 53 percent in favour and 44 percent against.
Image Credit – Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle by Dave and Margie Hill edited by the Right Dishonourable
Calling the Scottish National Party parochial is an exercise in tautology, but the response of the party’s Europe spokesperson Stephen Gethins MP to the revision of the EU referendum question still comes off as amusingly narrow:
“Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon put forward the case for a ‘double majority’ – to ensure Scotland cannot be ripped out of the EU against its will. Any decision to leave the EU, taken against the wishes of the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland Wales or England, would be unacceptable and should be taken to ensure this does not happen.”
This, followers of politics will note, is a quotidian example of reeling out an old message to new events. Under this double majority rule all four nations in Britain (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) would have to opt to leave the EU for the country to quit – or to put it another way, if one wanted to stay, all must stay.
Clearly it is an absurd stance. Under the rule any one of the nations might well be forced to stay inside the EU against its will – surely as great an injustice as Scotland being “ripped out…against its will”, if one is to take the right of nations to independence seriously.
And even that assumes that the relationship is equal between the four. But it’s hardly a secret that the potential for democratic illegitimacy is greatest in the case of England, home to 53m compared to a mere 5.3m in Scotland, 3.1m in Wales and 1.8m in Northern Ireland, according to the 2011 census.
Of course Sturgeon’s proposal is in itself part of the Nats existential challenge to Britain, with the party arguing that Scots’ interests should be considered as distinct from their English (non)brethren.
But there is also an intriguing whiff of unionism to her proposal, which argues in constitutional democratic fashion that the wishes of the majority cannot snuff out those of the minority, however large the difference in population. It is on such a principle that the United Kingdom was built, and shows even the Fishmonger of Holyrood has some unionism left in her.
Image Credit – Scottish parliament in Edinburgh by Tharnton345
Politicians in Britain are fond of talking about “tough decisions”. Even on the Left, which is supposed to be the more generous wing, the Labour leader Ed Miliband was happy enough to declare his willingness to tackle “difficult” ones at the leaders’ debate on Thursday.
Why then, was there such a furore over Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s comments over health tourism? Having prefaced his view with the disclaimer that people would be “mortified” that he dare talk about it, Farage said:
“You can come to Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retroviral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient. I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to is put the National Health Service there for British people and families who in many cases have paid into this system for decades.”
A predictable backlash followed, with outrage on Twitter and attacks from the other panellists. At the time Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, said: “When someone is diagnosed with a dreadful illness, my instinct is to view them as a human being not consider what country they come from.”
This sounds nice, but it is hard to believe that any of the panel (bar Green leader Natalie Bennett) truly believe in not discriminating against foreigners when it comes to the health service. The alternative would mean offering free health care to all 7 billion people living in the world, which even the Greens would recognise as a bit ambitious.
That doesn’t mean that Farage’s interest in health tourism is not misjudged. In a country open to foreign travel and trade some health tourism is inevitable, or at least would be costly enough to clamp down on that it was not worth the bother. The figures he quoted in regards to HIV (7,000 diagnoses a year, 60% of them accounted for by foreigners) amount to a piffling addition to the health service bill, and the total cost of health tourism is equally piffling.
According to Farage the total cost of health tourism £2bn, a figure that is based on this research commissioned by the coalition. As George Eaton of the (leftwing) New Statesman pointed out at the time, this is not really true:
The £2bn figure refers to the total cost of treating foreign visitors and temporary migrants (such as students and seasonal workers), many of whom are eligible for free treatment and pay tax, not “health tourists”.
The report actually estimates the cost of health tourism at £70m. In the fiscal year 2013/14 the total bill for the NHS was £109.721bn, according to the NHS Confederation, a trade body.
In the end the controversy over Farage’s comment shows both sides posturing. The Left does not really believe that Britain should pay for the world’s healthcare, and the Right are not so bloody minded that they will pursue fraud at any cost.