To Scotland, One Union Must Matter

Two years ago, Scotland spent months debating the merits of independence. In September 2014, they voted overwhelmingly to remain in the United Kingdom – by a margin of over 10% and 500,000 votes. One would not believe that such a debate had taken place with today’s rhetoric.

The clamour to remain in the European Union at all costs in other high Remain areas of the United Kingdom have been much more muted. Gibraltar, with a Remain vote of 94%, has committed to staying within the United Kingdom – their Chief Minister told a UN gathering: ‘There is absolutely no chance that Gibraltar is going to be bartering its British sovereignty, in exchange for…any one of the…advantages we enjoy as members of the European Union’. Northern Ireland’s First Minister has been equally assertive, committing Northern Ireland to ‘looking towards the opportunities of Brexit’. Nor has there been any notable independence movement emerge in London.

So what has changed in Scotland since 2014? Not a lot it would seem since Alex Salmond called upon ‘all Scots to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland’ – alas it would seem his successor as First Minister did not hear that particular speech.

EU membership was a key topic of the Independence Referendum. Scottish voters were convinced that a vote to Leave the United Kingdom would bring with it the loss of EU membership – that still holds true. If Scotland were to go independent, so the rhetoric goes, they would be able to remain in the European Union as a continuing state. While Nicola Sturgeon would have us believe this, the credibility of the claim is unfounded. Unfortunately for Scotland, EU member states have vetoes on new members – some SNP supporters have claimed no state would block their accession, but unfortunately they would.

Spain would veto because of Catalonia’s separatist ambitions; if they didn’t then Belgium would because of Flanders’; if they didn’t then Germany would because of Bavaria’s; if they didn’t then Italy would because of their various separatists; one could go on – the shortest way to say this is: someone would veto Scotland’s accession to the EU.

When the referendum on Scottish membership of the United Kingdom was won, a clear mandate was given that Scotland was to remain a part of the United Kingdom, come what may. Not a part of the United Kingdom where it wanted to be, but a part of the UK with the good and the bad. As Angus Robertson, SNP leader in the UK Parliament, said on the 14th October 2016, ‘Remain means Remain’.

The SNP would argue that they have a mandate for ‘IndyRef II: The IndyRef Strikes Back’ because their 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election victory was based on a manifesto including a commitment to hold another referendum if there was either a) evidence that independence was the preferred option of the Scottish people, or b) a significant and material change in circumstances. With Scottish independence polling at just 43.2% in an average of polls taken since the 23rd June – 1.5% lower than the Yes vote in 2014 and still trailing those opposed to it – one cannot see any logic in the former justification for reopening the debate. Likewise, as the United Kingdom has not yet left the European Union, there is no current justification for the latter case – we do not yet even know what Brexit will look like, and thus no significant and material change can possibly have occurred.

There is no case for Scotland to go independent, simply because of the EU referendum producing a result to Leave. Without clear evidence that the Scottish people desire independence, and without clear evidence that Brexit will harm Scotland (let us not forget that 1 million Scottish people voted to Leave the European Union), it is simply premature for the SNP to propose a second referendum now – it looks a lot more like political opportunism, then responding to the will of the people.

The case for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom is strong. We share a common language, a common history and a common island – we even have the same complaints about the weather. Scotland in the United Kingdom gets far more autonomy and far more powers than nearly any other non-independent entity in the world, without any of the costs. They get to elect representatives to their own parliament, to make their own laws; while sending representatives to Westminster to influence national laws (even in areas where Scotland would not be affected). Better still, for every 1 MP an English voter has, a Scottish voter gets 1.05.

Our nations are far more prosperous together. 64% of Scotland’s exports go to rUK, which would be heavily hit by independence. Of course, economics should not be the main reason for Scotland to stay in the UK – that reason is that there are no benefits to leaving.

Claims that Scotland must throw off Westminster for Brussels seem absurd. Claims that they should have open borders with the European Union, even if that necessitates a border between themselves and rUK, equally so. Of course, both of those conditions are based on the vaguest of assertions that Scotland would negotiate their way around the countries worried about separatism and those worried about another net beneficiary from the EU budget signing up to join the European Union.

More than the negative reasons why Scotland shouldn’t stay, are the positive reasons they should stay. Scotland and rUK have more in common than that which divides us. Weather, football, queuing – we despair over the same things. Putting aside division and working together to create a global, outward-looking Britain is what is needed. Nicola Sturgeon’s opportunistic attempts to divide us should not succeed – Scotland, we are, by far, Better Together.

Drugs? ‘Weed’ be better off legalising

The purpose of criminalising drug use is supposedly to reduce such usage and the resultant negative effects thereof – which seems like a perfectly acceptable aim. However, if we accept that reducing ill effects is an acceptable aim for a state to have, then the questions around any policy with such an aim have to be: is the policy compatible with the purpose of the state, and does the policy work? These are the two questions around which the case for legalisation coupled with regulation of drugs should be made.

There are two broadly conflicting ideals in the mainstream of the legalisation vs criminalisation argument: that criminalisation infringes upon people’s liberty to do what they wish with their body provided it does not adversely affect others; and the notion that the state has a duty of care to its citizenry to criminalise substances that would have adverse effects on the people who took them, which counteracts the aforementioned liberty. On the face of it, both arguments are broadly defensible – which is in part why the debate has been raging for so long with so little progress – but is there a way to move beyond these two arguments and implement a policy which combines the main factors from both? That is to say (to use a much overused political phrase), is there a third way?

If we accept both that people have the right to do as they please with their body, and that the state has a duty of care over them, then is the simplest of middle grounds not to legalise and regulate as far as is humanly possible to ensure safety? Research and regulations to ensure the highest quality substances are the only ones legally allowed to be sold would make drug-taking much safer, and thus not infringe upon civil liberties in the slightest – the state imposing regulation to ensure safe products (as has been done with alcohol and tobacco to an extent) seems to fulfil the state’s duty of care while allowing personal liberty to go unchecked.

That said, this is in no way a blanket ‘let’s legalise all drugs’ argument by any stretch. There are some harder substances which should not be legalised, because the only form of regulation to make these drugs safe under a realistic duty of care is criminalisation. The more dangerous the drug, the more serious and deep the regulation must be – legalisation up until the point at which a substance no longer fills this criteria. Yes, those drugs that are criminalised will violate some aspects of one’s liberty, but reasonably if there is no fundamental way for a substance to be made safe, then the state’s duty of care must be to criminalise it.

Additionally, legalisation of drugs provides an advantage that goes beyond a mere regulatory framework (and no, not taxation, which will be discussed further down). A substance which is legal and heavily regulated can be discussed more readily in educational environments, enabling a long-run advantage in that young people will be – by the very nature of the regulation surrounding the product and the educational advantages – more aware of the potential health effects of misusing substances and of taking black-market varieties.

As for the latter question: whether or not the policy works should certainly be the metric by which we judge drug policy. In the status quo, we have criminalised drugs and yet not stopped the consumption of them – a simple poll on any university campus can point you to the proliferation of recreational drug use or experimentation in our society – so in short, the current policy does nothing to achieve the cardinal aim of reducing drug usage. Even worse, because we cannot regulate and legislate for the quality of a substance that is illegal, it is likely that the harmful side effects of drug use will be even greater in a criminalised system.

Allowing people to freely use a product would, at first glance, seem an unlikely means of reducing drug use. However, many drug users may view the act of breaking the law by taking a fairly harmless substance as a safe way to send an anti-establishment message and look cool in front of their friends. If we decriminalise, we remove drugs from anti-establishment culture and make them less of a rebellious act – if taking a drug is no longer flaunting the law, then perhaps rebellious teenagers in particular will be less likely to use drugs, and thus fewer people will experience potential long term side effects of drug use. This point is perhaps particularly strong when one takes into account the ability to increase awareness of health side effects of drug use through education and advertising that would be opened up through legalisation.

While some may argue with the line of analogy raised in the previous paragraph, there is perhaps some merit to it given empirical evidence taken from Portugal. When Portugal decriminalised all drugs, drug usage didn’t go up and in many cases actually decreased – perhaps more importantly the harmful health side effects from drug use decreased notably. There would, it seems then, be some merit to achieving our pre-stated aim of reducing both drug use and negative effects from drug use through a policy of decriminalisation and legislation.

Another important social point to raise while dealing with the latter question is that of the black market. The black market for drugs would obviously not be destroyed entirely by such a policy – as was accepted earlier, a state’s duty of care remains such that some drugs would still be illegal, and therefore there would exist a black market in those drugs. However pushing many softer drugs into a legal and regulated position makes it unlikely that any black market dealers would be able to compete with higher quality, more easily available substances produced legally – thus vastly reducing the revenue available to black market dealers, which is often used to fund gangs and other unsavoury activities.

Finally, and a point intrinsically linked to the themes that have run throughout this argument, the issue of taxation is an important one. While the tax benefits often lauded by the legalisation campaigns are surely not the best reason to pursue a policy of legalisation, they are certainly important. If we can receive income from legalising drug use, then we can use that income to fund a variety of projects – not least further research into how to make drugs even safer, further education on the negative effects of drug use, and further efforts to crack down on the aforementioned black market dealers.

The debate around drugs is often an ideological one: individual liberty vs duty of care. It need not be so. If we pursue a rigorous, empirical process of legalisation and regulation to ensure safe and legal drug use, compatible with the state’s duty of care, then we can fuse the two ideological positions into a pragmatic and sensible drugs policy. Is such a policy compatible with the purpose and role of the state? Yes. Would such a policy be successful in reducing drug use and the harmful effects associated with it? Yes.

It is time for a fresh approach to drug policy. The approach outlined here works on both of the important counts.

Theresa May is Not Unelected

There are many conflicts inherent within modern politics: the fact that we bemoan the lack of young people in politics and yet berate young politicians as both inexperienced and careerist; our desire for more ‘normal’ people in politics but our aversion to paying a wage that would enable less affluent people to afford to enter politics; the list could go on and on. The biggest problem in the modern era, however, is that politics has become about the leaders rather than the policies, the parties, and the candidates.

Policies and representatives have become somewhat of an afterthought when deciding which party to vote for – instead, as the rise of the debates between party leaders during election campaigns attest to, we have descended into a situation where many voters are voting based on whom they want to be Prime Minister, as opposed to which MP they want to represent them and which party they want to be in government. This is, fundamentally, why people mistakenly refer to Theresa May as being ‘unelected’.

The truth is that no Prime Minister is actually elected by the public (or at least not by all of the public). David Cameron was not made Prime Minister by virtue of a ballot of the whole country, but more he was elected as an MP by the people of Witney and made PM by the fact that a majority of constituencies elected MPs of his party to Parliament. The principle of primus inter pares forms the basis of British politics – that is, that our leaders are elected by the representatives that we send to Westminster.

Theresa May was elected by a majority of her party colleagues and is therefore not an ‘unelected Prime Minister’. The only reason she may be considered unelected is if people voted for the person leading a party at the ballot box, rather than the person representing them – after all, only 58,482 people had David Cameron’s name on their ballot paper.

This cult of personality that has developed around our leaders raises interesting questions – after all, if we view electing our local representatives as a means of electing a national leader, won’t that mean that woeful MPs will not be held to account? If we prefer electing a PM to a local representative, should we introduce some sort of list based system of election? Or perhaps separate the executive from the legislature?

Either of those options wouldn’t seem to be a basis for ensuring efficient policy-making – in the former case, it makes it difficult to ensure that our representatives deliver on their promises; in the latter we could end up with the sort of deadlock we see in the American system.

Yet, do we have a problem? Aside from the rhetoric thrown out by opposition parties indicating that a Prime Minister who takes over without a General Election is unelected, the culture of modern politics could be beginning to move away from being leader-dominated. Labour voters may be forced to choose between their policies and local representatives, and their leader – the winner of that particular battle could shape how much the leader dominates the future of British politics.

As with the coalition, when cries of, ‘They have no mandate!’ filled the media, assertions that Theresa May has no mandate are in essence a misunderstanding of representative democracy. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, when one elects their MP, they then represent them using their industry and their judgement – thus it doesn’t matter who the leadership is, if you have an MP able to stand up for your interests.

In a representative democracy like Britain, Theresa May and the Parliament we elected in 2015 have a mandate to pass the laws and regulations they see fit, just as we have the right to lobby them to act in a certain way. Mrs May is not unelected, she is simply the new first among equals – a principle that always guides the steady hand of British democracy through restive waters.