Friday, April 18, 2014

Scottish independence: has Maastricht already severed the Union?

Reading Rodney Atkinson and Norris McWhirter's "Treason at Maastricht",  I come across a very topical possibility:

"Some statutes within the British system of an informal constitution could perhaps, at some stretch of the imagination, be regarded as less critical. But this could certainly not be said about the Union with Scotland Act, for in 1706  the Scottish people decided to share a Sovereign and a Parliament. Since the new Parliament of the UNITED Kingdom was to be in England (and the physical existence of the Scottish parliament dispensed with) the terms of the Act of Union were absolutely vital. The Act is the nearest we possess to an actual constitution. The Scots, effectively, gave up their Parliament only in return for the guarantee that the new (English dominated) Parliament would not curtail or in any way diminish their rights. If they did so (as has now happened under the Maastricht Treaty) then the Act of Union would be null and void and not only would the United Kingdom cease to exist but so would the authority of the Parliament at Westminster which was spawned by the Act of Union.

This is exactly what has happened..."

If the authors are correct (and they were legally careful in laying before the authorities their treason allegations against Douglas Hurd and Francis Maude), it would seem that because of this breach of contract Scotland has been free since 1993 and there is no need for a Scottish referendum.

 Will you tell Alex Salmond, or shall I?

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Lord Blake on the need for a referendum

My Lords, I wish to make one point and one point only: the debate is about the constitutional effects of ratifying the Maastricht Treaty. I strongly believe that whatever those effects may be they should not occur without the endorsement of a referendum. I happen to have the honour of being president of the Campaign for a British Referendum, or CBR in the acronymic world in which we now dwell. This is not an organisation which is either anti- or pro-Maastricht. No doubt some members have strong views one way or the other, but they are united by the view that whether one is for the treaty or against it the issue is of such constitutional importance that it ought to be submitted direct to the popular vote.
 
The referendum is not, as some claim, un-English and unprecedented. Mr. Harold Wilson, as he then was, promised in 1974 a referendum on the renegotiated terms of Britain remaining in the EC. That was duly held in 1975, very much on a cross-party basis. Referendums have been held on other matters, as noble Lords have said.

We shall no doubt be told that there is no need for a referendum because all three parties supported Maastricht at the general election in April last year. But that, of course, is precisely why we should have one. The issue was never properly discussed. In any case, elections turn on a host of other matters such as Mr. Major's soap-box or the war of "Jennifer's ear". One can never, or hardly ever, have a single issue election. Nor, in general, would one wish to have such an election. However, there are single issues of such importance that they deserve to be put not only to Parliament, which is elected on a multitude of issues, but to the people as a whole. That particularly applies to major constitutional changes which are in effect irreversible. I am not saying that irreversible changes should never be made. I am simply saying that they should not be made without the express agreement of the nation.

We shall no doubt be told that the issues are too complicated and difficult to be put to the public and that they will not be able to understand what it is all about. If a referendum on Maastricht can be held in Eire, Denmark and France without any complaints that it was too obscurely worded or that people did not know what they were voting for, surely it cannot be beyond the wit of a British Government to achieve the same.

During the discussion about the Statement on Maastricht on Monday in your Lordships' House it is recorded at col. 928 of Hansard that my noble friends Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lady Chalker both said it would be desirable for noble Lords to be adult and sensible in considering this matter. Ought not the Government to recognise that the British public by and large are adult and sensible and are perfectly capable of making up their own minds in a coherent fashion on the subject of Maastricht?

House of Lords, 17 February 1993

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1993/feb/17/maastricht-treaty#S5LV0542P0_19930217_HOL_201

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Baroness Thatcher on the EU referendum

... perhaps Lord Attlee was right, that there [is] a place for a referendum when that is the only way of putting an important single constitutional issue to the people. Otherwise, having two main parties, we vote on a general manifesto, and there is no way of putting an important constitutional issue to the people, except by a referendum. That is why we have had referenda on Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They were constitutional issues. [...]

No elector in this country has been able to vote against Maastricht—none. It has been impossible to do so. I think that when one looks at the extent of the powers which are being handed over, it would be disgraceful if we denied them that opportunity. Yes, we waited with bated breath for both Danish referenda. They thought that people were bullied out of their first decision. So much for the unanimity rule.

Further, in the other place less than half the honourable Members voted for the treaty. The electorate has not been able to vote and half the honourable Members in the other place—less than half; 292 out of some 650—voted for the treaty. We are in the Rome Treaty and in the Single European Act and we stay there. I believe that to hand over the people's parliamentary rights on the scale of the Maastricht Treaty without the consent of the people in a referendum would be to betray the trust—as guardians of the parliamentary institutions, of the courts and of the constitution—that they have placed in us.

House of Lords, 7 June 1993

http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=108314

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Lord Jay on Maastricht and unconstitutional change

... the doctrine that the Crown—that is, the Government—is entitled to make treaties without parliamentary approval becomes untenable when a treaty alters in a major way the whole constitution of the United Kingdom. On that doctrine, the Government can make a treaty with anyone from China to Peru, abolishing the wish of Parliament, and then inform Parliament that it had no right whatever to intervene. That is surely absurd.
 
[...] in my view the whole deplorable muddle over the treaty and what it does or does not mean overwhelmingly supports the case for a full and fair referendum, to enable the electorate to make up its mind. The treaty, after all —and there is no dispute about this—proposes revolutionary changes in the constitution of the UK and a major surrender of power over the economy, as has just been said, over foreign affairs, security and defence and on the legislation about citizenship.

17 February 1993

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1993/feb/17/maastricht-treaty#S5LV0542P0_19930217_HOL_201

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Westminster rainbow, and an apology

... as seen by people who "know better"


I thought, let's have a live debate. Instead of each of us squawking unregarded in his little internet cage, let's assemble in central London, at a politicos' watering-hole a step away from the Palace of Westminster, and sort the wheat from the chaff on the EU referendum issue. With any luck and a lot of promotion, we might get some politicians, spads and journalists in on the strength of topical enlightenment and a drink.

The time is right. Local and European Parliament elections are set for May 22nd and Parliament reconvenes on June 3rd, by which time we'll know the results.  This could be a bumper year* for UKIP, hence the roasting Nigel Farage received this week on HIGNFY.  Further ahead are the Scottish referendum on September 18th and the PM has spoken of a possible EU plebiscite in 2017 (Salmond is already connecting the two*).

Initially I tried for Monday 9th June - the first late-night session in the Commons. But the pub room is permanently booked Mondays, probably for exactly that reason. So I chose Thursday 5th instead, when the House rises at 5 pm and there might be energy left to stroll across the road for a liver-crippler.

What ought the motion to be? How about...

“Do we have a right to an EU referendum? (And if not, should we hold one anyway?)”

A referendum on sovereignty should not be merely an electoral inducement like promising tax cuts and better hospitals. It goes to the heart of our claim to be a democracy. But is there anything in our history, Constitution or legal system that asserts our entitlement? That hasn't yet been acknowledged in the circles that matter.

The 1975 "Common Market" referendum wasn't conceded as of right, either. Remember that we had already been in the EEC two and half years before it took place, and it was only granted because the National Front and more importantly the Labour Party were dead set on getting us back out.

That's the first question, is it a right in any sense (including moral and philosophical)? Then, if yes, is there any reason why we shouldn't exercise it? And if it's not a right, what are the pros and cons of a referendum, apart from temporary tactical political considerations?

Then I started to invite people to speak.

Among the off-centre personalities, A cautioned me (correctly) that mainstream politicians and advisers would shun the meeting if B was on the platform. I say correctly, because having initially indicated his willingness to participate, C - one of the mainstreamers and with potentially very valuable expertise and authority - then withdrew because A had given space on his site to ideas from the Freeman movement. I begged him to reconsider - see below.

But C then looked at B's site and rejected him, too, on the grounds of ideology but also because one of the latter's posts featured an infelicitous phrase likely to make a PC reader's antennae twitch irritably. Immediately afterward, C then noted with horror that I had given space on Broad Oak to consideration of both the Freeman movement (whose arguments I still struggle to understand) and the ECG campaign to prosecute what it sees as the British traitors in the EEC/EU saga. C then made it clear that he would have no further communication with me. There is no evidence that he had read my rationale of liberal debate - perhaps he was in too much of a hurry to wash off his hands the pitch with which I had defiled him merely by secondary association with those beyond his pale (in a week when HM the Queen herself shook hands and dined with Martin McGuiness).

So I thought "What's the point?", cancelled the room and sent apologies to all those I had invited so far.

I am now beginning to think that I was grossly in error to do so. I had ducked my head at the first shot, but then my nature is not especially combative and I grew up in a family where anything could be discussed. I'm not used to a garlic-and-crucifix reaction to ideas. To those others whom I did invite, I apologise sincerely for my intellectual cowardice; I think I am starting to rediscover my spine. I shall be making further enquiries to see if it is possible to get a range of views on this most vital constitutional issue, and let the illiberal recuse themselves.

Here, slightly edited, is part of what I wrote to C:

1. We shouldn't damn a man by the opinions of his associates, or those who may from time to time correspond with him. [...]

2. Even the worst differences of opinion end with signing something in a railway carriage, and yet it's far better to resolve them in rational debate. The two sides of the House of Commons are famously separated by the length of two swords.

3. There are certain matters where people need their understanding correcting before they go too far. We need to know more about the context and implications of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, the common law and the gradual extension of the franchise.

4. We also need to put hotheads right. Burke's response to Dr Richard Price was not only an instrument of correction to Price (and one the latter clearly felt) but a fundamental reassessment and clarification of our political institutions and processes. He may well have saved us from following France into the abyss. What if he had simply refused to address Price's sermon?

5. The hotheads can be handled. [I give an example of a public interview that led to a change of mind].

6. Does it not also say something about the times that these fringe groups have sprung up? The undemocratic means and trends - commented on by both Tony Benn and Douglas Jay in the Debating Chamber - by which sovereignty has been ceded, are partly responsible for the sometimes reprehensible responses they have engendered. This suggests a need for the established power to justify itself openly in order to reassert its moral right to govern.

7. I would therefore beg you, most earnestly, to reconsider.
 
Perhaps it is not the political spectrum that counts, but the intellectual one, the one that measures capacity to consider ideas which one may possibly dislike.

___________________________________________________

 *htp for the links to James Higham

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The Pa Larkin economy

First edition (pic source)
Another sterling piece this week by Archdruid John Michael Greer. Here he discusses how our lives will change as the cost of non-human energy rises and its availability dwindles. In brief, the superstructure of society will crash.

Like Charles Hugh Smith, he envisages a return to a simpler life, where we ourselves make more of what we consume, and trade surpluses. To be more precise, not a simpler life - peasants have to be multiskilled and crafty to survive - but a simpler form of social organisation. Like Smith, Greer sees education as pricing itself out of the market, and in any case it's becoming irrelevant to the skills we will need in the future.

He also touches on what he calls the fashion of despair among those who simply refuse to begin adapting. If we see the present state of affairs as the Golden Age, then of course change means decline and loss.

But there's another way to see it. The model Greer is proposing is like that of Pa Larkin in H E Bates' life-affirming books. Pa doesn't believe in bothering the taxman and when the Inland Revenue sends a young, pasty-faced investigator to see how he can do so well on apparently no income, Pa marries him to one of his daughters and sets him to work. Bates' theme is love - not just of women, but of life. It's interesting to read the four Larkin sequels and see how in different ways they restate and defend the original, glowing vision of how we could be happy.

And like Pa, some of Greer's acquaintances are operating in the "black economy", because doing things the conventional way is a recipe for victimhood.

Some years ago, we met a man in South Wales whose neighbour hasn't worked for years. The latter said he hated both work (in its modern guise) and shopping, and decided to spend the rest of his life doing neither. He'd made enough in his previous career to buy a house before the mad price explosion, and eats well from what he catches in the fields and garners from hedgerows.

We don't all have to do exactly that. Pa Larkin manages on a mixed strategy of cash dealing (turning over money in any venture that is "wurf while"), subsistence farming (no fresher eggs or more organic chicken than from your own back yard) and piling the family into the van for seasonal crop-picking (he lives in Kent, which used to be known as "the garden of England").

Don't forget to love.

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Britain's democratic deficit

The House of Commons, 1833 by Sir George Hayter
(c) National Portrait Gallery

In 1832 the House of Commons had 658 seats. Britain's population was an estimated 14 million souls, of whom (pre the Electoral Reform Act) some 500,000 were eligible to vote in Parliamentary elections. The Act increased the number of electors to about 813,000.

180 years later (2012), the Commons had fewer (650) seats, but the population was four and a half times larger (63.7 million) and the electorate numbered 46,353,900.

The Coalition now in power has proposed reducing the number of seats to 600 (a nice round figure, and coincidentally getting rid of 50 awkward backbenchers).

What has happened to our voice in Parliament, our ability to influence our government? The graphs below may help clarify.
 


 
To get the same ratio of seats to electors as in 1833, we would need 37,503 MPs.
 
Far from reducing the number of MPs, we should be dramatically increasing it - or introducing some system that is designed to reflect more fairly the range of opinions and interests of the public.
 
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Mpemba Effect

Mpemba effect (source: Daily Mail)

A homely article in the Daily Mail includes a tip for making ice cubes faster: use hot water.

Warm water cools faster than cold, a counterintuitive fact known as the Mpemba Effect. There are a number of suggested explanations but the latest (covered a few months ago in the DM) focuses on the weak bonds between water molecules, which is why water forms long chains. The latest theory says the bonds are stretched when the liquid is warmed, and snap back as it cools.

It seems that this new theory is not complete.

I have an amateur tweak: boiling not only stretches the long molecule chains, but breaks them, and it takes some time for them to re-form. During this period it may be easier for the separated molecules (or short molecule chains) to reassemble into the crystalline structure of ice, than for long liquid chains to be converted into the solid form.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Car park snugglers

From motorcloud.net

My wife and I call them snugglers - a term which came down to us from Yorkshire. You park your car in an almost empty car park, but when you return it is quite common to find a snuggler has parked next to you in spite of all the empty spaces. Why is that?

One possibility is that some people use another car to guide them into the parking bay. They can't see the lines and don't have the spatial awareness to park without lining themselves up with something visible such as your car.

Are there other possibilities?

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Bennett on growing old...

...but first Doris Day

The really frightening thing about middle age is the knowledge that you'll grow out of it. 
Doris Day

Frightening? During his late thirties, after his move to Paris, Arnold Bennett used his fictional characters to make a number of somewhat gloomy references to human mortality. Maybe he feared the onset of old age. However he died of typhoid aged 63, which certainly adds a poignant footnote to this :-

Yes,’ he sighed; ‘she contracted typhoid fever in Paris. It’s always more or less endemic there. And what with this hot summer and their water-supply and their drainage, it’s been more rife than usual lately.
Arnold Bennett – Hugo (1906)

Yet he moved to Paris. Maybe he was trying to escape the stifling atmosphere of middle class life. Or maybe it was in other people where he saw a need to escape the tick of the clock.

Poor tragic figure! Aged thirty-eight! An unromantic age, an age not calculated to attract sympathy from an unreflective world. But how in need of sympathy! Youth gone, innocence gone, enthusiasms gone, illusions gone, bodily powers waning! Only the tail-end of existence to look forward to!
Arnold Bennett – Whom God Hath Joined (1906)

‘How old are you, Diaz?’ ‘Thirty-six,’ he answered. ‘Why,’ I said, ‘you have thirty years to live.’
Arnold Bennett - Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

You may ask what right a man aged fifty odd has to talk of a life’s happiness — a man who probably has not more than ten years to live.
Arnold Bennett - Teresa of Watling Street (1904)

Sometimes Bennett also seemed to fear the wisdom of old age, as if disheartened by the prospect of understanding too much too late. I’m beginning to understand this one.

At seventy, men begin to be separated from their fellow-creatures. At eighty, they are like islets sticking out of a sea. At eighty-five, with their trembling and deliberate speech, they are the abstract voice of human wisdom. They gather wisdom with amazing rapidity in the latter years, and even their folly is wise then.
Arnold Bennett - Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

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Monday, April 07, 2014

City of vast and restless melancholy

Portland Place, London, 1906
From bbc.co.uk

Lawrence did not greatly love London. It appealed to his imagination, but in a sinister way. To him it was the city of vast and restless melancholy.

And though there was nothing of the sentimental in his composition, he despised the facile trick of fancy which attributes to cities, heroically, the joys and griefs of the unheroic individuals composing them; London did nevertheless impress him painfully as an environment peculiarly favourable to the intensification of sorrow.

Whenever he went to London it seemed to him to be the home of a race sad, hurried, and preoccupied; the streets were filled with people who had not a moment to spare, and whose thoughts were turned inward upon their own anxious solicitudes, people who must inevitably die before they had begun to live, and to whom the possession of their souls in contemplation would always be an impossibility.
Arnold Bennett – Whom God Hath Joined (1906)

Over a century later I find I’m no fan of London either. For me there is something weird about the place. I prefer small towns, open spaces, hills, valleys and high moorland where the call of a curlew speaks to that poetic spark lurking in all our souls.

Maybe you have to be a Londoner.

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

EU membership is a democracy issue

"If democracy is destroyed in Britain, it will be not the communists, Trotskyists or subversives but this House which threw it away. The rights that are entrusted to us are not for us to give away. Even if I agree with everything that is proposed, I cannot hand away powers lent to me for five years by the people of Chesterfield. I just could not do it. It would be theft of public rights."

Tony Benn, speaking in the House of Commons on 20th November 1991 (7.56 pm onward)

(htp: James Higham)

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