Angus & Mearns Liberal DemocratsWorking Year Round for Angus, Mearns & Stonehaven

May/16

29

What needs reforming in the EU? Part 3 (of 3)

I have interrupted the blogs on what needs reforming in the EU to discuss sovereignty and immigration. This is because, although claimed not to be, both are in fact fully within UK control. The UK agreed to free movement of labour as well as of capital because both benefit the UK. The other 27 member states accept the UK has the sovereign right to change its mind and leave both the EU and the Single Market. If the UK then wants to be part of the Single Market, it will have to accept its rules. These include free movement of labour, paying towards its costs, and having no say in making its rules. This is the same as for Norway and Switzerland.

What can be negotiated with the EU is what David Cameron has just negotiated. The other member states have confirmed that the Euro is not the currency of the EU. This ensures Eurozone members cannot impose their rules on the UK. They have also agreed an opt-out for the UK from ‘ever closer union’. This ensures the UK will not take part in any United States of Europe. It is now up to the UK government to do what it should have done decades ago for the British people. It will also have to deal with the consequences of immigration.

What still needs reforming in the EU is the attitude of political leaders in most member states. Most people in Europe support the European project as a mean of making war unthinkable. Those who have led that project have had a very top-down attitude to achieving it. They have put creating the structures of Europe before solving the problems their people want sorted. The UK is not the only country whose leaders prefer just to manage the economy and public finances. Constructing the Single Market with the necessary free movement of labour has highlighted all the long-standing infrastructure and social problems. That is why nationalism is on the rise in Europe. The rise of nationalism risks wrecking all the progress in building peace and prosperity which has been achieved since WWII.

Some of the EU’s politicians seem finally to have realised that Brexit is possible. They also see that the European project could unravel if it happens. If the UK decides to remain, it is very important that all governments start to address their own internal problems. This would be easier if at the same time they work together to make the EU more effective. Policy decisions in areas where the member states have agreed to cooperate would then be taken and implemented more rapidly. This work to reform decision-making in the EU will have the chance to happen, with British input, if we vote to remain on 23rd June.

May/16

27

On immigration

Those campaigning to leave the EU claim that this is the only way to prevent people coming into the UK. I would have two questions. First, is it a bad thing that other people want to come here to work? On the face of it, it means that there are plenty of jobs in the UK. Second, how would the NHS cope without workers from overseas?

In my experience, there are genuine concerns about immigration. They relate most often to fears about housing and jobs. Will immigrants crowd local people out of work? Will immigrants crowd local people out of homes? These fears are real, and come from years of British governments failing to sort the problems people have. Not enough homes have been built. Money has been pumped into mortgages. These two factors together make houses more expensive and price people out of the housing market. The affordable homes owned by councils were sold off, so they were not there for the next generation. The Tories now want to do the same thing to housing associations in England. Other infrastructure, like schools, hospitals and transport, has not kept pace with population changes. Local authorities have been starved of cash. They are now unable to act as proper local government but simply administer central government policy.

None of this is the fault of the EU. Nor would it change if the UK left the EU. Imagine the UK votes to leave on 23rd June, and stops paying money to the EU. Would the Treasury really spend this money on doing what no government has done for decades? It would be much more likely to use it all to pay down the deficit. That would be consistent with George Osborne’s policy of a smaller state.

Much the same applies to jobs. Everyone should have the opportunity to work. Some of the jobs, such as in agriculture, involve unsocial hours that not everyone is willing to accept. Others involve skills that not everyone has. Education should be about helping individuals to find out what they are good at, what they like doing, and which can be the basis of a long-term job. Everyone living in Britain should have these opportunities. In reality, there is a shortage of some types of skill, which is why some workers are hired from overseas. Some foreign workers are more ready to work for low pay at anti-social hours. Leaving the EU would just mean the UK would recruit workers from other foreign countries to fill the gaps in its job market. Helping British people into jobs needs a concerted effort to help them find what they can do in today’s job market, and give them the skills they need.

By davidmay

Rumbles: urgent action needed to secure future of energy sector

The Lib Dem MSP is entirely correct that action is needed as soon as possible for the UK and Scottish Governments to work together to help out oil industry as receipts have fallen so much and more job losses are occurring. So far over 1/3 of jobs have gone and I know that out town and area have seen increases in unemployment and this directly impacts of local families and obviously local businesses so Mike Rumbles is absolutely correct when he has said new figures which revealed North Sea tax receipts have plunged to their lowest level on record show the scale of the challenge that Scotland’s energy sector is facing.

Figures from HMRC showed tax revenues from the sector were negative for the first time, generating -£24m in 2015/16. This is compared to £2.1bn in 2014/15.

This announcement came the day after Shell confirmed they are set to cut hundreds of jobs in Aberdeen.

Commenting, Mr Rumbles said:

“Hot on the heels of the announcement of further job cuts, these figures underline the scale of the challenge that the energy sector in the North East is facing. We need Scottish and UK government ministers to work together to ensure that the industry is given every chance to succeed.

“Unions have warned that the current rate of job losses has the potential to fatally undermine the long term future of the sector in Scotland. We need to see concerted moves to protect a skills base that has been built up over the last four decades. This means working with companies to protect as many jobs as we can and investing in training to ensure that the next generation of North Sea energy workers have the skills they need to rebuild the sector quickly when the opportunity presents itself.

“We need to see increased investment in alternative renewable energy sources but the fact is that the North Sea will remain an important part of our energy mix in years to come. We cannot afford to just stand by and watch the industry in difficulty and it is time that action from Ministers matched the scale of the problems we are experiencing.”

From:: David May

May/16

27

Southesk Court

By davidmay

IMG_2450

I was connected by a constituent as the work done on the building on behalf of the council has quite evidently not been completed. I spoke to several residents in the sheltered housing complex and they have similar problems at their windows. I saw it both from the inside of one of the residents flat and also from the outside and it is important that the work is done as soon as possible. I made contact directly with a senior council officer and he indicated that he will get the work done at the earliest opportunity by the contractor.

IMG_2458

From:: David May

May/16

27

Constituents issues

By davidmay

IMG_2469

As well as preparing for and speaking at an important council committee this has again been a very busy week for dealing with constituents issues. I have following up with officers on several such as pot holes, planning , green bin charging, council toilets, waste, signage, incomplete work done by a contractor and drain covers. I am glad to report that initial work has already been started on the pot hole and will be finished next week.

From:: David May

What those campaigning to leave the EU seem not to understand is that British sovereignty has not been lost. Signing a treaty is an agreement between states to do certain things. It can be repudiated, though this is rare. It is up to the individual states to do what the treaty says. The UK has not signed up to as much as other EU states, but has done what it has agreed to. Two apparently contrary examples show this. The first is on controlling our borders, the second about trade negotiations.

The UK did not sign the Schengen agreement, and opted out of it in the 1999 Amsterdam Treaty. The UK has therefore at all times been in full control of its borders. The fact that its governments have not spent enough on border control has nothing to do with the EU. It is the UK’s fault if its border staff cannot access lists of undesirable aliens and lets them in. It is the UK’s fault if it does not check who is leaving the country, and find out who is overstaying their visa. The Tories have chosen to set net migration targets, which cannot be measured, never mind met, on current staffing levels. If we knew who was leaving, we would know how long people coming to the UK stay.

On trade, all the member states have agreed that EU trade negotiations shall be conducted by a single person, the Trade Commissioner. This does not mean that the Trade Commissioner can do what she likes. She receives a negotiating brief with input from the Council of Ministers, the 28 heads of government. The brief also has input from the elected European Parliament. The European Parliament can refuse to ratify a draft treaty. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty further requires much greater input from national parliaments. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the USA have generated a lot of concern in many EU member states including the UK. In particular, people worry that the proposed arbitration arrangements may allow big US companies to put pressure on governments. The idea of companies avoiding having to settle disputes in the courts is not liked. France and Germany are so concerned that they have issued a joint statement that they want TTIP to be recognised as a ‘mixed’ agreement. This means it must be ratified by all 28 national parliaments and not just the European parliament. At the beginning of May, the relevant French minister was reported as saying he believed the talks had come to a halt. This shows that working together in Europe increases the public’s clout in negotiating with the world’s most powerful nation.

May/16

24

Team Angus is dead

By davidmay

It was interesting to read in the Courier that “Team Angus” was dead as for many of us the concept was never really alive and more a figment of the council leader’s imagination. How could there be a Team Angus when all the paid conveners and depute conveners posts were decided by him and all service committees were taken up by SNP councillors. Furthermore, this applied to all the other extra paid posts that Angus councillors could be appointed to.

It has always been the case that councillors not in the SNP administration that agreed with reports did so, and made positive comments about the reports that council officers wrote. Like most other councillors it has never been in my case opposition for the sake of, but when we disagreed with the recommendations of a report we made the point and voted accordingly. Surely that is what we are elected to do, namely represent our constituents and not slavishly vote accordingly to what we are instructed to do.

Personally I have been appalled at how the chair of council committees and full council has used recently the competency issue to stop amendments to be heard, and also most recently for a delegation not to be heard. This is in my view the opposite of openness and transparency and not what as a council we as a council should be doing. It is not surprising that the Team Angus is being derided as dead by some councillors and also by many Angus residents.

From:: David May

By davidmay

Scottish Lib Dem Willie Rennie is right when he says that the SNP priorities are wrong as their cutting of Air Transport Duty will lead to increases in carbon emissions from air travel, making it more difficult for meet Scotland’s green targets.
As a councillor in Angus the SNP have forced through swingeing cuts to our council budget and this has led to Angus Council cutting services such as the education budget, closing recycling centres and cuts to services for our Sheltered Housing.

Willie has rightly commented that instead of supporting vital council services, the SNP Government’s priority is cutting taxes for airlines.

The full press release from Willie Rennie –

“Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP yesterday repeated his calls for the SNP to scrap their plans to slash Air Passenger Duty (APD) as the first of the new powers transferred under the Scotland Act 2016 were passed to Holyrood.

Mr Rennie has warned the SNP that cutting APD would lead to increases in carbon emissions from air travel, making it more difficult for meet Scotland’s green targets. Liberal Democrats had previously criticised the SNP for pressing ahead with their APD plan without proper independent analysis.

The Scottish Government have previously cited reports and submissions from the aviation industry to drive forward the policy. An SNP Minister even asked people to look at the Easyjet website in response to a written parliamentary question.

Control over APD and other taxes is due to pass to the Scottish Parliament later this year.

Commenting, Mr Rennie said:

“The SNP have argued consistently they need more tax powers but the one major tax change they propose is a £250m tax cut for airlines. The First Minister has refused to look at raising money to invest in education through income tax and her minor tweaks to council tax ignore the recommendations of her own independent commission.

“The only bold policy in their tax basket is based almost exclusively on analysis from the airline industry and would lead to big increases in carbon emissions from the aviation sector. That is not the way to meet our green goals.

“The SNP have forced through swingeing cuts to councils that are hammering local education budgets. Instead of supporting services, their priority is cutting taxes for airlines. They claim this could cut prices for family holidays, but this will not replace the teaching assistants sacked as a result of their funding squeeze.

“Today saw the first of the new powers that Lib Dems helped deliver through the Scotland Act 2016 arrive at Holyrood and there are more to come. Nicola Sturgeon needs to use the time she has before the tax powers are transferred to look again at her APD plans.”

From:: David May

When I started this blog, the national campaigns to remain or leave were both fairly over the top. That has become even worse today. The claims about the economy can only be confirmed if the UK votes to leave. Those about the UK having to support the Eurozone are simply false. Meantime in Austria, a Green candidate has been elected President. The British media could only hyperventilate about a possible win for the extreme right. None of this excitement brings any light.

The leave campaigners seem to have a vision of Britain making agreements on Britain’s terms. Imposing one side’s terms is not how real world deals are made. We will somehow have the same access to Europe as now but will keep our sovereignty. And yet those who want to leave Europe have been against the United Nations, giving aid to the Third World and taxation. They sound like wealthy individuals who accept no duty to others, and who want to pay no taxes.

What all countries agreed on after World War II was the need to prevent war. The first moves were global, and began with founding the United Nations (1945). British lawyers helped write the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the UN’s Refugee Convention (1951). The Council of Europe (1949) included the Soviet Union. But fear of Russian expansion after the Czech coup (1948) and Berlin airlift (1948-49) led to the creation of NATO (1949). Meantime, physical and economic reconstruction was helped by the US around the world. Europe including Britain benefited from Marshall aid (1948-52).

Everyone knew that both World Wars had started in Europe, with major power rivalry. What could be done to stop the same thing happening again? One possibility was building human links between the peoples of Europe. This inspired the twinning movement, from which grew the Council of European municipalities (1951). The founding fathers of the EU wanted to go further. Integrating national economies would make war physically unthinkable. Bringing the peoples of Europe together would make it humanly unthinkable too. They began with coal and steel (1951), which had been the ‘sinews of war’. They continued with the Common Market (1957). Mrs Thatcher supported further economic integration through the Single Market (1986), but not the added political dimension of the European Union (1992).

What has followed the creation of the EU has shown the strengths and weaknesses of the European project. The free movement of labour has given individuals including Britons experience of other countries. But the failure of national governments to provide infrastructure for their own population has created tensions. The free movement of capital has given opportunities to financial services, which were insufficiently regulated. Creating a single currency should involve greater co-ordination of taxation and a banking union. Germany in particular is not ready for this. The open borders policy has made tracking criminals harder, but allowed tourism to flourish. War between the member states is indeed unthinkable, but economic difficulties and the failure of governments to resolve existing problems have allowed a rise of national feeling. Voters are well aware of all this. The EU has a good record of cooperation where this is obviously sensible, as over climate change, enforcing competition rules on multinational businesses, and tracking down and arresting criminals. But in too many respects, cooperation has not been taken far enough.

The answer to this question depends on the person who asks it. A resident of Scotland or the UK is likely to see things differently from a resident of Germany or France. This is also true of those who live in Hungary, Latvia or Greece. Each country has different neighbours, and attitudes differ on the need to work with neighbours.

In the UK, being on an island allows us to see ourselves as separate from the mainland, but linked to the whole world by the sea. Yet it cannot be true that the sea both separates and joins. In terms of trade, it joins far more than it separates. And where trade goes, fighters can go too. It has always been in our interest to dissuade the fighters from coming. The EU was founded in order to ensure that the nations of Europe had no reason to fight each other. By close economic integration, individual nations would lose the motive and the capacity to fight. However, if the peoples of Europe feel that cooperation has not addressed their problems, they will try to find their own separate solutions.

The big difference in perspective between continental Europe and the UK lies in the experience of warfare. The first half of the 20th century saw Europe twice devastated by war, whereas no battle has been fought in Britain since the 18th century. The two world wars came about because major powers over-reached and miscalculated, but also because national feelings were inflamed by the threat from other nations. Forgetting the past risks repeating it. It is the main reason voters on the continent wish to stay together.

The live issues in the UK revolve around immigration, jobs, and red tape. Some talk in surprisingly abstract terms about the ‘membership fee’ paid to the EU and the sovereignty of Parliament. What bothers me most about the debate is that the UK government has the power to deal with many of the issues raised. As I said in my previous blog, only those powers agreed by the UK government have been given to the EU.

Many other EU countries have issues concerning immigration and jobs. The fact that fewer have problems with red tape will be down to British gold-plating of EU laws. Jobs have been increased by EU action to enforce competition laws against powerful multi-national companies. The aim of international trade deals is to secure more free trade, which supports competition. National governments have their part to play in this. They should be providing infrastructure in education, affordable housing, transport and company supply chains. The best outcomes are likely when national governments and EU work together to generate more jobs for everyone. In working together, they need to become more effective than they currently are. That is what the aim of EU reform should be.

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