Sunday, 24 January 2021

Why Boris Johnson cannot say 'no' to a second Scottish independence referendum

In the face of polls showing increasing desires in Scotland for an indyref 2 Westminster is busy trying to sound as stern and pompous as they can in saying 'never, never, never'. But Boris Johnson must know that so long as the firm majority of people in Scotland want a further referendum this will, ultimately, be impossible to resist.

Why do I say that? Well, it's not because the SNP, having increased their majority in the forthcoming Parliamentary elections, may decide to hold their own unilateral vote. I hope they decide not to do this simply because the unionists will boycott the vote rendering it meaningless, and no, I can't see the Scottish Government seriously attempting to declare unilateral independence, though they might joke about it. That's because in practice it would end up being a joke.

No, the problem for Westminster is that after the Scottish Parliamentary elections, if Scottish sentiment continues to increase in favour of a vote, then. to cut a long story short, English voters will start piling on the pressure for Johnson to agree to an independence referendum. First we shall see demonstrations in Scotland, maybe then civil disobedience campaigns (more and more likely as things drag on), and of course the Scots will descend on Westminster in large numbers. The only barrier to all of this I suppose, is the extent to which social distancing criteria will still apply. But then it didn't deter the BLM protesters in the USA last summer. Oh yes, and suggestions that anyone in England who has some connection with Scotland will also get a vote in the referendum will be simply blown away by Nicola Sturgeon. In the end the Johnson Government will have to deliver a referendum on terms which are mutually agreeable.

Now as to whether another referendum will actually produce a Yes vote, now that's another question, and I'm not going to make a prediction on that. We have to remember way back in 1995 when the Quebecois had a second independence referendum. The Yes vote was leading by a large majority in the polls but ended up losing by one per cent in the actual vote. But maybe it is actually in nationalists' interests for the whole argument about Westminster granting a second referendum to drag on for a while since the sense of indignation at Westminster's stubbornness may encourage more Yes voters to turn out and deter the unionists. 

Westminster can forget any argument that it is too soon after the last one to hold another vote - after all everyone knows that since then Brexit has happened which fundamentally changes relationships. On the other hand of course it is simplistic to argue about how soon an independent Scotland would be able to (re)join the EU. This is simply because Scotland, in practice would, for a time at least, join the European Single Market, like Norway, rather than be a full member. That is because Scotland would not, as a full EU member, be able to negotiate its own trade agreement with England that was different with the now current UK-EU agreement.

But of course, for political scientists not to mention everyone else, we're in for an interesting time ahead!

Monday, 11 January 2021

Could there be a fascist takeover of the US in 2025?

 It is now possible to conceive a plausible scenario where there could be a civil conflict followed by fascist takeover in 2025 following the 2024 elections. NBC has published an opinion piece concerning the alarming propensity of new Republican lawmakers to support the over-turning of the elections on January 6th and how in a close election in  2024 a Democrat Presidential victory could be overturned at the ensuing joint session of Congress. Yet the NBC's scenario may leave out further possibilities for undermining an election result.

The NBC, drawing historical parallels, points to 1860 when lawmakers from the South walked out of the joint congress in opposition to the election of Abraham Lincoln in a move that foreshadowed the civil war. Of course it is quite possible that if the Republicans win the mid term elections in 2022 then they could have a majority to enable them to refuse to certify a Democrat Presidential victory at the joint session in January 2025. That would require all or most Republicans to go along with this, which did not happen this time.

But another plausible scenario is that Republican officials or administrators at a state level refuse to certify election results which could simply lead to them not being counted when the Electoral College met in December. Indeed there was a threat that this might happen in Michigan last November when Republicans initially refused to certify results in Wayne County (with a very large batch of mainly pro-Biden votes). Such actions could swing the electoral college, certainly in a close race depending on one state's votes, towards giving the Presidency to the Republican challenger (Trump or Trump-like?).

If a Democrat win was reversed this way at the Electoral College then it would be the Democrats who would be mounting the (probably unsuccessful) challenge at the following joint session of Congress. This would be attended by rising civil disturbances as Democrat supporters mounted demonstrations against the election chicanery. A new Congress, perhaps with a Democrat majority in either or both the House and the Senate could refuse to cooperate with the new President alongside some Democrat-run states. There could be a mounting civil conflict which may give to rise to increasing interventions by the National Guard and, ultimately,  the military. Arrest of Democrat leaders accused of formenting civil unrest could follow....................

The effect on the world as a whole of development of autocracy in the USA would be dramatic. The UK Government (Labour or Conservative) usually has a pretty craven attitude towards whatever the US President wants, for example. But there could be much worse outcomes than this. The world would enter a terrible phase in which it would be dominated by effective dictatorships in Russia, China and the USA. Much worse could follow.

Clearly it is time to call out the conspiracy theorists for what they are, but have rising levels of fascist-style intimidation already risen too high for many Republican politicians to resist? A key problem is that many closet racists in the USA simply regard any US Government formed on the basis of a multicultural ideology as being illegitimate. This overrules democratic norms. They yearn for the old times when civil rights were, at best, accorded minorities on the assumption of a white supremacy which is now seen as being under threat. It is a fundamental problem with US identity politics which makes the drive towards populism and the undermining of democracy especially severe in the USA. 

The argument is not really about patriotism or whether America should be first - otherwise so many of the right wing politicians wouldn't be arguing for secession by Texas and other states! It is about whether the USA exists as a white supremacist state or a multi-ethnic, multicultural state. It is a deeply existential struggle.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Yes, the USA is heading towards autocracy

Until very recently comparing contemporary events in the West with the 1920s was little more than a joke that one could make but gradually bit by bit some key indicators are becoming comparable. The first most obvious sign is the reluctance by leaders of one or more major parties to recognise democratic outcomes as being legitimate. The second sign is the increasing activism of armed militia associated with political parties. The third is the socio-economic environment. All three, at least in the case of the USA, are showing uncomfortable signs of mirroring what happened in 1920s Europe. So far the similarities seem to go only so far, but the danger is the direction of travel, and the likelihood that background economic conditions will worsen in the coming years.

The first point is the refusal to recognise the legitimacy of elections by the defeated candidate Donald Trump.  The danger now is that anyone who does recognise as legitimate elections won by Democrats are going to be purged from the party. Those Republicans willing to recognise a future Democratic Presidential victory may simply be forced out of office. In addition to this is the tendency towards Republicans refusing to certify elections that have been won by their opponents. For instance in Pennsylvania Republicans were very reluctant to certify Biden's victory (he won by 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania), and are now refusing to certify an otherwise elected State Senator. Will Republicans adopt this strategy in the 2024 Presidential elections, but more thoroughly next time?

The second point is the growth of armed militias. In the 1920s there were the blackshirts in Italy, the falangists in Spain and the brownshirts in Germany. True, they faced militant factions from the left (until they were crushed by dictatorship), but in the USA there is also rising militancy from the left. In the US interventions by armed 'Trumpist' militia are, as we all now know, becoming more significant. In the 1920s the far right militias had sympathisers in the police, and it seems there is no shortage of sympathy for Trump amongst the US police.

The third point are deteriorating circumstances for lower middle classes and increasing inequalities of income. Whenever we emerge from the current coronavirus crisis there will be a debt laden public and private sector. With this is likely to come rising inflation that cannot be tamed by increases in interest rates because of the effect on householders and businesses. 

Of course there are various dissimilarities. Niall Ferguson has talked about some of these, though as he recongises, in the shadow of recent events the extent of the dissimilarities have narrowed. As one Guardian columnist has recorded, Hitler's putsch in 1923 may have been unsuccessful, but he was all too successful a decade later. Will history record the storming of the Capitol Hill as a turning point? Quite probably - but maybe in the wrong direction as far as US democracy is concerned. It could even lead to a much wider civil conflict involving, ultimately, the military. The left tends not to do well out of these conflicts in modern capitalist states. If the elite fear being controlled by neo-fascist tendencies, they tend to settle for charismatic strongmen who rule an attenuated democracy, or not all. This can range at best from a limited democracy as in Orban's Hungary to outright dictatorship as in Dolfuss in Austria in the 1930s.


Thursday, 24 December 2020

We need better regulations and incentives, not carbon taxes on domestic gas, to save the planet

 Whenever an economist or someone who seeks to make themselves out as being a go-ahead free market type wants to declare their interest in saving the planet from climate change, you can bet your life it will largely involve a call for hefty increases in carbon taxes. And now people are saying that is what we need to get heat pumps installed in the UK. That includes a lot of people who should know  better, judging by evidence to the House of Commons' Environmental Audit Committee recently.

But they are barking up the wrong tree. Sure, price rises affect energy behaviour, of course, but can economists point to any big green technological changes that have largely been promoted by energy tax increases? Advances in wind power, solar pv, energy efficiency in buildings, efficiency in lighting appliances etc have all been achieved almost entirely through carefully targeted regulations and incentives.

The same will be true for heat pumps; especially for heat pumps! Heat pumps are partly stymied in the UK because they are manacled by certification and building regulations that were drawn up for gas heating. See more on this at 100percentrenewableuk.org/blog. Heat pumps are very successful on the continent for two reasons, only one of which is the fact that prices for domestic gas supplies are much higher relative to electricity on the continent, making heat pumps much more cost-effective. 

The other factor is that building and certification regulations allow them to be built for the market, that is they do not have to be built as big for a given house as UK regulations insist, and they can be run without 'zoning' which, again allows them to operate much more efficiently. An especially terrible example of the disinformation and confusion spread by the big energy companies is described in one of the more useful type of consultancies, that is something commissioned by environmental groups. on the amount of self-serving nonsense spread by the gas industry trying to inflate the case for hydrogen.

But let us get back to the price argument. If you want to make the technology more cost-effective in terms of price, then do not go down the path of trying to impose large increases in gas prices through a carbon tax or something similar. That will produce massive political resistance in the case of the highly sensitive domestic heating market. Instead have incentives that work properly - like a mixture of the renewables heat incentive and installation grants together. New build housing and housing in areas not connected to the grid are good markets to establish a British heat pump industry initially. The Energy Saving Trust says as much anyway.

Of course we have to source the money for the incentives from somewhere - and here levies on energy consumption for specified purposes can usually be politically acceptable. On the other hand we should resist the pressures from the big energy companies for self-serving subsidies that are added to the costs of electricity. The roll-out of so-called smart meters is a case in point which is paid for by a levy on electricity consumers. Most of these have been given to companies who do not offer smart tariffs, yet the scheme is costing energy consumers large quantities of money just to save the companies themselves some meter reading costs. 

Then there are the subsidies for Hinkley C and then Sizewell C which will be levied just at the time when the levies used to prime-pump the renewable industries are falling. Yes, keep electricity costs down by sourcing electricity from renewable energy, not nuclear power or carbon capture and storage.

A lot of the problem results from the confusion spread by economists who are hired by the big energy companies. They know their free market theory and equations about supply and demand, and they know what the companies who commissioned them want them to say. But in fact they know little about the institutions - the regulations and the industrial practices - that act as barriers to, and ways of framing, real life markets. 




Saturday, 5 December 2020

Webinar on achieving 100 per cent of Scottish energy consumption from renable energy

 Recording of webinar on how and why the Scottish Govt should set a target to achieve 100 per cent of ALL energy from renewables - see https://100percentrenewableuk.org/blog If you live in Scotland, please sign the petition! https://100percentrenewableuk.org/achieving-100pc-of-energy-in-scotland-from-renewable-energy-petition

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

how all or most of our energy needs can be provided using less than 7 per cent of UK waters

 Yes, you've probably guessed it! Offshore windfarms will do the trick of providing all our energy needs using around 7 per cent of UK waters. Of course it makes sense to have as much onshore wind and solar as well - it's always good to have diversity and it spreads business around and lowers cost.

You can read more about how we get this calculation by visiting the website of 100percentrenewableuk

Happy renewables!

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Government slashes energy efficiency spending by 80 per cent in so-called 10 point climate package

 Andrew Warren, the Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, says that spending on energy efficiency has been slashed by 80 per cent. Meanwhile the gas and nuclear lobbies are being paid many hundreds of millions of pounds for projects that are unlikely to cut carbon emissions for many years to come, if ever. See 100percentrenewableuk.org/blog

Join the fightback against the Government’s toadying to nuclear and gas interests and register for the FREE WEBINAR on December 3rd to support the campaign for Scotland to set a target of achieving 100 per cent of ALL energy used in Scotland from renewable energy.