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Does Boris Johnson’s ‘deal’ pose the end of the Union?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, October 20th 2019

It has been another tumultuous Brexit week. But this is not the end of Brexit, or even the beginning of the end, but just another staging post in this drawn-out process.

Fundamental to the Johnson deal is what is proposed for Northern Ireland. In place of the so called ‘backstop’ the province is instead put in a special place in relation to the rest of the UK and EU.

It remains legally in the UK customs territory, while practically remaining in the EU customs union. There are no border checks proposed on the UK-Irish border, but instead new checks between the province and the mainland.

The deal puts forward the ‘consent’ principle whereby the Stormont Assembly – currently suspended – can vote by simple majority every four years to continue these arrangements; if there is cross-community consent this can be extended to eight years. Read the rest of this entry »

Scotland needs fundamental change. A nationalist project is not enough

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, October 16th 2019

Five years after the indyref and three years after the Brexit vote Scottish politics feels like it is in a holding pattern, full of pent up pressures, but stuck in a vortex of powerful forces beyond its control.

The SNP, who just met at their annual conference in Aberdeen, are by far the leading party. Yet their dominance can be overstated, it being aided by the fragmentation of multi-party politics, divided opposition and the negatives of Labour and Tories. The most recent Panelbase poll put the SNP on Westminster voting intentions on 39%, up 2.1% on 2017, with the Tories on 21% (-7.6%), Labour 20% (-7.1%) and Lib Dems 13% (+6.2%); on a national swing this would give the SNP 48 seats (+13), Tories 5 (-8), Lib Dems 5 (+1) and Labour one (-6).

Steve Richards’ recent book ‘The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to May’ cites Tony Benn’s idea of politicians who change the political weather as ‘teachers’. Sad to say none of the current politicians in this land would qualify as such leaders. Who were the last teachers in our politics? Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown to an extent; Tommy Sheridan on the margins; maybe Jim Sillars and Margo MacDonald would qualify too. For a nation that prides itself on its idealism we have been short of politicians who have successfully transformed attitudes. Read the rest of this entry »

Politics and People Power is changing Scotland and beyond

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, October 9th 2019

Demos and marches are part of the ritual of politics – from today’s pro- and anti-Brexit gatherings, to the direct action and interventions of Extinction Rebellion, and the spate of pro-Scottish independence rallies criss-crossing the nation.

They are often dismissed by those in power and the mainstream media as pointless and having little to no effect. But that is too easy, glib and cynical. Instead, while many marches have a limited impact, only preaching to the converted and not reaching out to persuade beyond the base, others represent something significant and have a lasting influence – whether capturing a moment, defining a movement, or bringing into sharp focus an argument, cause or defining set of principles.

Historically this is obvious. The huge Chartist rallies for democracy in the 19th century; the Suffragette protests of the early 20th century; the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement; the huge anti-Vietnam war protests in the US in 1969 which shook the Nixon administration; and the anti-Communist rallies which spread across Eastern Europe in late 1989 and which brought down the rotten Stalinist dictatorships one after the other. All these and more are examples of people power bringing about change – often literally in the sense of regime change, or often in terms of existing regimes changing their behaviour. Read the rest of this entry »

Deal or No Deal? Brexit Endgame or the End of Britain?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, October 6th 2019

Boris Johnson has finally revealed his Brexit plan with less than one month to his intended exit date from the EU.

Constantly presented as a ‘deal’ by insular British political discussion and media who have contributed so much to fueling Brexit, it is in fact nothing of the sort. It is rather an agreement between Boris Johnson, the Northern Irish DUP, the Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) and what remains of the parliamentary Tory Party. Politics does not stop at the House of Commons or the English Channel despite recent appearances.

What does the supposed Johnson non-deal entail? Is it a real plan or just a diversion and preparation for a No Deal Brexit? And if so, what are the implications for Scotland, for the Scottish Tories implicated in this – and the independence question? Read the rest of this entry »

The crisis of British democracy and Parliament isn’t going away anytime soon

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, September 29th 2019

The British Parliament returned to work last week – reopened after the historic Supreme Court verdict.

Its undertakings were highly charged, contentious and even abusive in language and exchange. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox sneeringly stated ‘this Parliament is dead ’ with ‘has no moral right to exist’, Boris Johnson talked dismissively of a ‘paralysed’ and ‘zombie’ Parliament, while even the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg described it as ‘exhausted and broken’.

Beyond the drama and high tension, one emerging question is what is the appropriate role and purpose of the UK Parliament? How can, and should, it best exercise power – and hold government to account? What is the appropriate role of MPs? Is it to reflect on their own views and bring their expertise to any issue, or to listen and represent the views of their constituents? And how does representative democracy live alongside the popular democracy of a referendum?

Is Parliament flexing its muscles and showing that there can be a new rebalancing of power between legislature and executive? Or is what is emerging an unsustainable, uncontrollable mess where making clear decisions will increasingly prove more and more difficult? Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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