Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Yet more Tory Euro-tosh

Oh dear, here we go again. Ill informed drivel coupled with wilful mischief making by politically reactionary forces in Scotland - a combination certain to get RRR irritated. I am referring to this report from "the Tories" which is headlined: "An independent Scotland would be forced to use the Euro if it wanted to join the European Union as a sovereign country, according to the Scottish Conservatives." The content is cited in the following terms:
“It is now clear that we (i.e. Scotland) would have no choice in the matter and that membership of the Euro would be an automatic consequence of independence. There is absolutely no guarantee that the special status enjoyed by the UK would automatically transfer to an independent Scotland. This would create a very damaging situation for Scottish businesses, where they would be operating with a different currency from their major markets in the rest of the UK. Alex Salmond needs to stop misleading the Scottish people and now come clean, admitting that as an independent Scotland, we would have no choice but to join the Euro.”

It is, in fact, the Scottish Tories who should stop misleading the Scottish people.

First: the facts. It is entirely true that all countries acceding to the EU since, and including, those who joined in 1995 have been obliged to sign up for eventual membership of the euro - the EU´s single currency - this being an integral part of the EU Treaties. The opt-out from the requirement to participate in the EU single currency which both the UK and Denmark secured in the run-up to the signing of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) back in 1992 has not been available to any country subsequently joining the EU. It was only agreed back then because of the particular circumstances of the day. It is highly unlikely (though not impossible - we are back in "successor state??" territory) that a comparable opt-out will ever again be available to a prospective EU member state (if that is the position in which an independent Scotland finds itself). However, even although obliged by the EU treaties to become a member of the euro-zone, a member state will only be permitted to adopt the euro if it meets the so-called convergence criteria as set out in the TEU, the most difficult of which traditionally has been reducing its budget deficit to below 3% of Gross Domestic Product. For the record, Slovenia became the 13th member of the euro-zone from January 1st this year, and Malta and Cyprus will take the number participating in the euro-zone to 15 from January 1st, 2008.

Second: the actual position for non-members of the euro-zone as we know it to be. The UK and Denmark retain the opt-out and so are under no legal obligation ever to join the euro-zone. Both countries currently hold to the position that whilst in no sense ruling it out, they will not join unless this is supported in a national referendum. For the rest, and this includes Sweden where just such a referendum held in September 2003 went against joining the euro-zone (despite the fact that Sweden met the convergence criteria), there is simply no question that any country can be - or ever will be - forced into joining the euro-zone. Any suggestion to the contrary (including that made by Scotland´s Tories) is arrant nonsense and reveals a truly worrying degree of economic, political and legal illiteracy. The question as to whether an independent Scotland should exercise its right to join the euro-zone (subject to meeting the convergence criteria) is, of course, quite a different matter and (for the record) one on which RRR remains agnostic, this being a matter requiring further research.

The apparent content of this report truly is bewildering and deeply troubling, and suggests that one or more of the following propositions must be true;

ONE; that the Scottish Tories collectively are sufficiently stupid and ill-informed to have been duped into believing that an independent Scotland would be dragooned into the euro-zone against the wishes of either or both the Scottish government and its electorate;

TWO; that the Scottish Tories´policy-ideas cupboard is so bereft of constructive policy proposals that might help Scotland that they are reduced to wilfully misleading the Scottish public of the true situation vis-a-vis the Euro;

THREE; that the Scottish Tories have just discovered that all new member states (and not only those joining since 2004 but also those who joined in 1995) have had to sign an accession treaty committing them to eventual membership of the euro-zone. (Hell, if the Tories think that the SNP Government could have saved some money by not publishing the White Paper on Scotland´s constitutional future, RRR could have saved them a few pounds in consultant´s fees if only they had phoned him on this matter.)

Fit to govern...?? Scotland needs an independent think tank on EU policy so that the type of rubbish coming out of this so-called "investigation" can be debunked as soon as it´s published!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jack Straw: what a waste of an expensive (legal) education

D'ya know what? When Jack Straw was away from the Home Office and the administration of justice which he now taints, I actually missed him. No, seriously. Somehow my vision was tainted by the successive horrors of David Blunkett, Charles Clarke and John Reid, and I really missed Jack Straw's apparently reasonable approach to things. Not any more, not after today. I am pleased to see that Straw's Wikipedia entry refers to my favourite snippet about him - namely that the Students' Union in Leeds, of which he was once a sabbatical officer before becoming President of the NUS, banned him from the student union building after taking exception to his illiberal policies. I remember seeing the lovely plaque outside the main entrance to the building. I am sorry to see that the policy has now apparently lapsed. However, the historical record appears to state that Straw took a law degree at Leeds University - my former employer... I am sure it was a very good law degree - all Leeds law degrees are. But it clearly appears to have gone to waste, because it was apparently his "expectation" that Chindamo could be duly deported from the UK once he had completed his prison sentence. So now I mourn the passing of Charlie Falconer, who - as Lord Chancellor - would never have said anything so legally idiotic. Now, funnily enough, Jack Straw was Foreign Secretary at the time when the Citizens' Rights Directive was passed by the EU legislature, and as such he was effectively the UK's leader on all EU policy-making through his membership of the General Affairs Council. It is so blindingly obvious, I'm afraid, that the UK could never have an expectation of deporting Chindamo on release under EU law, and at most a hope that such an objective could be achieved, that one has to ask oneself the question whether (a) Straw has any understanding of the measures the UK is bound by, by virtue of EU law, and (b) whether his legal skills have so wasted away that he is no longer able to appreciate the clear effects of the provision of the Citizens' Rights directive which I cited in my last post on this matter. Anyway, it leads me to conclude that it was certainly a waste of an expensive (legal) education to send Jack Straw to Leeds University.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Leftist Pinko Liberal

I've been involved in a bit of a debate with BondBloke over the last few days about which of us is more liberal. I think there is no contest, and now I intend to prove it, by blogging on a legal development which apparently receives universal condemnation by "right-thinking" members of society. This is the ruling by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal that Learco Chindamo, who convicted of the murder of the Headteacher Philip Lawrence in 1996, a murder he committed when he was 15, should not be deported when he is released from prison (apparently this is expected some time in 2008). Reports state that this has been done on "human rights grounds", but in reality, I suspect that it is more a matter of applying EU law. As an EU citizen who had resided in the UK for more than ten years before his conviction, and the lawfulness of whose residence does not appear to be called into question, Chindamo benefits from the protection of Article 28 of the Citizens' Rights Directive.

This provides:
1. Before taking an expulsion decision on grounds of public policy or public security, the host Member State shall take account of considerations such as how long the individual concerned has resided on its territory, his/her age, state of health, family and economic situation, social and cultural integration into the host Member State and the extent of his/her links with the country of origin.
2. The host Member State may not take an expulsion decision against Union citizens or their family members, irrespective of nationality, who have the right of permanent residence
on its territory, except on serious grounds of public policy or public security.
3. An expulsion decision may not be taken against Union citizens, except if the decision is based on imperative grounds of public security, as defined by Member States, if they:
(a) have resided in the host Member State for the previous 10 years;...

Of course the text of this measure, which the UK has accepted as an incident of its EU membership, may be grist to the mill of those calling for withdrawal from the EU, on the grounds it contaminates "our" sovereignty. On the other hand, people should recall that these things work both ways: there may be people in the prisons of other Member States who are not deported back to the UK when released, on exactly the same grounds that Chindamo is arguing he should stay in the UK. Namely that his "family and life were in the UK".

Unless one denies entirely the possiblity of rehabilitation, it also strikes me that such policies on expulsion are entirely rational. It can never be guaranteed, as I hinted above, that reform is "complete". But if one thing is likely to ensure than any rehabilitative effect of a prison sentence and any educational measures that have accompanied it is **not** successful, it is deportation to a country where a person has not resided since they were a very small child, the language which they may not speak, and where they lack family, other support mechanisms, and - crucially - employment opportunities which will reintegrate them socially and help to ensure that they do not reoffend. David Davis describes Italy as "his [i.e. Chindamo's] own country". But on what grounds is this so other than on the basis of holding a passport - which is something, effectively, he has been bequeathed by his parents (Chindamo was a minor at the time he was convicted and could not, therefore, have previously changed his nationality through his own actions)?

Moreover, it strikes me that there is a more general moral argument to be made about foreign prisoners. Frances Lawrence has always struck me as an interesting woman, motivated amongst other things by her faith and her underlying liberal principles. Yet in the BBC report I linked to above, she is quoted as saying that she is "unutterably depressed", "depressed" and "devastated" by the ruling. These seem understandable personal reactions on the part of a victim, yet in the Guardian article I linked to, she is shown struggling with the contradictions between her personal feelings and her underlying liberal beliefs. It is hard, and wrong, to generalise about foreign prisoners and deportation, but I think one point should be made - not least because it is probably an unpopular opinion drowned out by the cacophony of hardline views especially on the internet. This is the point that each individual foreign prisoner deserves to have individual consideration of his or her circumstances, in order to ensure that deportation does not become an arbitrary extra punishment imposed specifically upon them (and not upon nationals) not by the decision of a jury to convict and the decision of a judge to impose a particular sentence, but by an executive which claims the right to determine which persons who do not hold the magical badge of nationality are permitted to remain within the jurisdiction and which are not. Such an assessment is not a "human rights" issue as such, but rather a means-end calculation done on an individual basis. Interestingly enough, this is precisely what EU law mandates. Decisions on deportation must be based precisely on the risk which an individual poses to the host society, and not based on general precepts, and the decision must take into account issues about integration - not for human rights reasons, but for the perfectly good utilitarian reasons about propensity to reoffend if individuals are thrown into unfamiliar and hostile surroundings and are denied any meaningful support of family and friends. The UK and its residents no more wishes to see the mirror image of a UK passport holder in Chindamo's situation thrust upon it, than Italian residents would wish to see Chindamo sent there, despite his lack of a connection with the place other than the magical badge of the passport.

I strongly suspect that this leftist pinko liberal sentiment will show BondBloke in his true colours. I await his reaction...

Update: First, I have to report that entirely unsolicited BondBloke expressed a similar view to mine when he first heard this story on the Today programme this morning. So, I'll have to try harder. **This** isn't evidence of my being more liberal than him, but rest assured I will find evidence. Second, I am glad to see that I am not alone as a pinko liberal (armchair variety only) - see here. Perhaps predictably Jailhouse Lawyer takes a similar view. And a utilitarian view on the "sharing" of those with criminal backgrounds is put forward here.

Further update: a few more voices raised. They'll be shouted down by the "moral" majority.

Final update: A good fisking, by Chris Paul, of a typically rubbish post on the issue by Iain Dale, definitely appealing to the "moral" majority, which I won't link to. In fact, a surprising number of dissenters amongst the commentators on Dale's blog, suggesting that some sensible people still do read it (I would have deleted him ages ago from the sidebar here, except that the blog settings have malfunctioned and I can no longer change the template, sidebar, etc.).

Enough is enough.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Red's Rage

Seems to me that an occupational hazard in all of this blogging is that one easily can begin to obsess about particular issues and/or individuals. In RRR case, this risk is particularly acute in the case of ‘Red’ Midwinter and his regular interventions on the topic of Scotland’s budgetary position and prospects. Yesterday’s performance, as reported here, reads like vintage Red. The trademark authority, the political side-swiping, the “we’re doomed I tell ye” predictions. Let’s face it – an optimist he is not. But particularly worrying is that he is quoted by the ever-fawning Hack MacMahon as repeating a comment he first made after the FM announced his Council of Economic Advisers – this being that the Executive has "no responsibility for managing the Scottish economy… and only has microeconomic powers". Of all the assertions he has made recently, this has to be one of the more revealing. As any first year student of economics (hopefully) will tell you, economic growth is defined not as year to year changes in GDP (which records the growth of aggregate demand and is heavily influenced by macroeconomic – fiscal and monetary – policy changes over which the Scottish government presently has virtually no control), but is defined as the (long term) growth of potential output of the economy. And the growth of potential output is substantially influenced by (supply side) microeconomic policy decisions over which the Scottish Government commands considerable policy authority. It is therefore incorrect, and indeed economically illiterate, to argue that Scotland's government has no responsibility for managing the economy because it only has control over microeconomic policy levers. These are the principal levers required to manage the economy in any meaningful sense.

Such ignorance of an elementary proposition in economic theory might be forgivable if coming from a journalist, but is deeply worrying when made by Scotland's "leading" expert in public finance. And this isn’t entirely a matter of point-scoring vis-à-vis Red, fun though that is. It is also a reflection that in some of his pronouncements, as here, Red is simply confused and wrong (i.e. he doesn't know what he's talking about). Which itself suggests that the multiple “papers” of which he is an author (and which are devlishly hard to find in the public domain) have not been adequately reviewed by Red’s academic peers – peer reviewing being an entirely “normal” practice within the industry. As elementary an error as this one would certainly have been picked up in a proper peer review exercise. It is indicative of an approach to public policy commentary that is at best cavalier and at worst intellectually dishonourable.