The strange state of a post Scotland United Kingdom

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Thanks to Nicola Sturgeon’s strategic brinkmanship, there could be an independent Scotland in 2019. If it happens, this is the strange state the UK might be in by the mid 2020s.

Yellow submarine

The SNP is unlikely to change its anti nuclear stance and that means the current base at Faslane, where the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent sits, will have be moved.

I can’t see the SNP negotiating on this, it would be political suicide to allow those weapons to stay. That leaves Westminster with a complex and horribly expensive logistics job to build a base elsewhere in the UK, probably on the south coast of England.

Bear in mind we’re already looking at a £30bn bill to replace Trident then add another £20bn – and 20 years – to build another deepwater submarine base. That is a fair chunk of UK Government spend on a weapons system that many see as out of date and of no practical use in modern warfare.

Might all that hassle prompt a Westminster Government to think again about the weapons and if not abandon nukes entirely, then at least think about another platform or a strategic alliance? The SNP could not only rid Scotland of nuclear weapons, but prompt the rest of the UK to follow in the same direction.

Checkpoint Angus

Checkpoints on the A1. It might seem like something out of an alternative history novel, but there is a real risk of a ‘hard border’ between England and an independent Scotland. In fact if Scotland got its wish and stayed in, or joined, the EU it would likely later adopt the Euro and principles of freedom of movement. That might mean a hard border with a non-EU country like England.

Flagy McFlagface

We’d need to have a new flag. There’d be no more blue and white in the Union Jack. There are some attempts at what it might look like here. It’s worth remembering that New Zealand recently held a public vote on its flag with some hilarious submissions. If the UK altered the flag, could it still be called the Union Jack? By the way, the current Union Jack doesn’t reflect any of Wales’ national colours. Could we drop the blue and add some green?

Windsor in a knot

The current monarch has a long standing relationship with Scotland, but the new breed not so much. While I can’t see SNP activists seizing Balmoral just yet, I can see a gradual perception that the Royal family is an Anglo German institution and having them in Scotland might be seen as a throwback to the days of union. An independent Scotland would in essence look and feel like a republic.

Good evening, welcome to SBC

There’s a possibility an independent Scotland could have its own state broadcaster, loosely modelled on the BBC. The SNP’s stance is that it will push for the BBC to be federalised, and will continue to push for new services to be set up as part of the charter renewal process. Opting out of the BBC entirely might be impractical, perhaps BBC Scotland might run alongside any national broadcaster. However, would Scots be happy paying towards the costs of both BBC and a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation?

A version of this blog also appeared in the Birmingham Press.

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PMQs is rubbish – here’s how to make it better

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‘Would my right honorable friend agree with me…’

There are fewer depressing phrases uttered in Parliament, a signal that what is likely to follow isn’t a question but a mindless endorsement of party policy or a reference to an obscure constituency event that somehow reflects well on Government policy.

Cliche time, but Prime Minister’s Questions is Westminster’s set-piece political event, when the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition trade blows roared on by squawking, cheering – sometimes moo-ing – backbenchers.

Trouble is, it’s rubbish. Really dire. Dreadful stuff and a poor reflection of the good work, particularly around scrutiny and checks and balances, that the Houses of Parliament actually do.

Added to which, outside of the Westminster bubble, it doesn’t matter. Whisper it, but no-one is really watching. Most normal people never see it, only a small minority regularly watch. The excellent Isabel Hardman makes that point here.

Only political nerds like me watch the whole thing – and even we think it is desperate viewing, a 40 minute advert for why people tend to dislike politicians.

I’m writing this after a particularly eye-gougingly bad exchange between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. It wasn’t ‘incr-edi-ble.’ In fact, the exact opposite. I seriously recommend you avoid it, but here’s the highlights if you want to go start a revolution.

But you know what? It doesn’t have to be this bad. The basic principle of the most powerful elected official in the land coming to explain herself to representatives of the people once a week is a good one. Here are a few radical, but achievable, ideas on how it could be improved.

1. Voice of the People

There’s no reason why PMQs couldn’t be opened up to members of the public as well. In a 40 minute session there could be three moderated questions, with follow ups, chosen by an independent panel. These questions would set the agenda before a  return to the traditional running order, opposition, followed by other party leaders and then backbenchers.

Famously, Jeremy Corbyn tried, and later abandoned, this ‘voice of the people’ approach. However, put in a neutral, non-party, context it could be interesting.

2. Live Fact Checking

Every time PM or opposition makes a claim, fact-check live – the speaker might interrupt to provide clarification – and publish a succinct report afterwards via social media and on the parliament website. It might show up some of the more outlandish spending claims made by government and opposition.

3. Change the Time

Who, apart from nerds like me, is watching The Daily Politics at noon on a Wednesday? If you want to get more public involvement, move it to 5pm, giving something for the later TV news bulletins to get their teeth into.

4. Move it out of Westminster

Soon the Houses of Parliament will shut for years for an eye-wateringly expensive refurbishment. Despite what security staff and others might tell you, there is nothing to stop PMQs and most of parliament taking place outside London. I don’t care if Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn clash about social care spending in a community center in Solihull. It would do them both good and taking MPs out of their usual tribal environment might help the quality of the exchanges.

5. Proper sanctions for badly behaved MPs

I understand that people get passionate, and I don’t want to turn PMQs into a dry policy debate. But some of the barracking, name-calling and general silliness demeans the entire event. Interestingly, this rowdiness – along with PMQs itself – is a relatively modern phenomenon. This would improve if MPs were named by the speaker and given a yellow card warning before being excluded from the following week’s session. Constituency parties might also be encouraged to have a word with representatives who regularly cross the line.

6. Separate Sessions for UK Nations

The current PM is a firm believer in the Union, but non-English parties get sidelined at PMQs, despite the SNP being allowed to ask two questions. What about getting the PM to return to the house for a second session exclusively for Plaid, SNP, Ulster Unionists? Or, even better,  once a term, get the Prime Minister to travel to national assemblies to take questions from representatives.

A version of this blog post also appeared in The Birmingham Press