Tuesday 11 December 2012

The Barroso has spoken - So What?

So that's it then.  The game is up, no need to bother with the referendum.   Might as well concede defeat now.  That seems to be the message from Unionists after the recent pronouncements of Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission.  In an interview with BBC radio he stated in response to a question about Scottish independence that, "For European Union purposes, from a legal point of view, it is certainly a new state.  If a country becomes independent it is a new state and has to negotiate with the EU."  The full transcript can be found here.  In passing it is interesting to note that he uses the verb negotiate, while at other times he uses the verb apply.  Seems to be a bit of confusion in Sr Barroso's mind.

As regards the substance of all this, it is not at all clear why anyone is making a fuss about his remarks.  After independence Scotland will become a new state!  Wow, I never knew that.  And this new state will have to negotiate with the EU.  Wow!  So many things I never knew before.  Let us all bless the great and supremely knowledgeable Sr Barroso for bringing us all this enlightenment.  Like all Unionist in this debate, Sr Barroso leaves out the key and salient fact that this negotiation will take place while Scotland is still part of the EU - ie from within the EU.  For after a Yes vote and until such time as the details of independence have been settled and signed, Scotland will remain part of the UK and thus part of the EU.

Further to this there is the crucial matter of how the UK government, about to become rUK, will react.  It is pretty much inconceivable that the rUK would not want to develop and maintain close and cordial relations with an independent Scotland, just as it does with the Republic of Ireland.  Which let us not forgot was also once upon a time a part of the UK.  So, following a Yes vote, it will be the rUK, led by David Cameron who will be contacting the Commission to inform them that the UK is changing and that Scotland will in, let us say, two years time become independent.  He will also have the pleasure of informing the Commission that this new state wants to maintain its membership of the EU and could the Commission kindly make the necessary arrangements.  What is the Commission going to say?  Sorry old bloke, we are very busy, so come back in five years time?  The reality is that it will be in the interest of the rUK for Scotland to become a full member of the EU and it will also be in the interests of the rUK for the negotiations to run smoothly.  Any demands on Scotland that would impact on rUK, such as compulsory membership of the Schengen agreement would be strenuously resisted by rUK.  Equally all talk about Scotland being forced to join the Euro is misplaced and betrays an ignorance of the EU treaties and procedures.  For details see this article.

There is also the rather important matter of EU citizenship to consider in relation to Scotland's continuing membership of the EU.  While in theory EU citizenship is additional to member state citizenship, it may be impossible to disentangle this in practice.  This is particularly pertinent in the case of the UK, which continues to recognise dual citizenship.  The relationship of the Republic of Ireland with the UK is a factor in this.  People in Northern Ireland for example can opt for either UK or Irish citizenship or both.  In the likely event that an independent Scotland allows for dual citizenship, we would have the situation in which a large number of people living in an independent Scotland continued to have a UK passport and thus UK and EU citizenship.  There is no precedent for the UK to take citizenship away from current passport holders.  So, if the EU were to deny an independent Scotland full membership of the EU, they would have to work out how to deal with the millions of Scots who retained their UK passport, either instead of or in addition to a Scottish one.  Even an arch Unionist like Eric Joyce, Labour MP regards all this talk about exclusion from the EU as nonsense.  His views can be read here.  For a more detailed look at the implications of dual citizenship see this submission from Professor Jo Shaw, Salvesen Chair of European Institutions, University of Edinburgh.

As a concluding point it is worth noting that when asked about the position of the rUK and if it would have to renegotiate its terms, his reply was, "No, no in principle no."  Interesting choice of words, for of course, no in principle usually means yes in practice.  For the rUK will in fact have plenty to negotiate about - the size of its rebate, the size of its contribution to the EU budget, not forgetting the size of its representation within the Parliament and the Council of Ministers.  

All in all it is clear that the rUK will do everything possible to ensure a smooth transition for Scotland to full membership of the EU - in its own interests.

Saturday 1 December 2012

The Olive Harvest in Palestine

This week I have the pleasure of presenting a guest post from Palestine.  Wedad Rami is a young student at An-Najah university in Nablus.  During our recent visit to Nablus we had the lovely pleasure of meetin Wedad, who in addition to her studies is a volunteer at the Hayat Centre for Civil Society Development-Palestine.  This is an article she wrote for the Dundee-Nablus Twinning Association.  In it she describes her recent experience of picking olives with some friends.  As she makes clear even this peaceful activity is fraught with danger from the illegal Israeli settlers.

Olive Harvest in Palestine
Palestinian farmers start picking their olive trees in the autumn months (September, October and November). The whole Palestinian family participates in this tiring, wonderful, and joyful harvest. In fact, many Palestinian families depend for their livelihood on the olive harvest because they can make from the olive tree many productive things, such as olive pickle, olive oil, olive soap, and also they can use olive wood in manufacturing furniture. 
My friend's family have land in Deeristia village – near Nablus - which is full of olive trees.  She asked me and other friends to help her family in picking the olives.  Actually, she asked us to do that because their land lies near a Jewish settlement and the Israeli soldiers gave them an exact time to finish their picking and If they don’t finish it in the exact time they will prevent them from continuing their picking. 
As I personally shared in this Harvest, I found it a very interesting, tiring and frightening one. It was a very wonderful experience because this was my first experience in picking olives, everyone is working, picking olives and talking at the same time. Then after we spent 7 hours in picking, my friend's mother prepared a very delicious lunch. In fact the ingredients are all from the land such as olive pickle, olive oil, yogurt, thyme, tomatoes, cucumber and tea. Also, it was very tiring because you have to wake up in the early morning at about 6:00 am in order to exploit time as much as you can and also to avoid the high temperature of the sun . Then we spent 13 hours in picking from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm.  Certainly it's a long time but we do not feel it because we love what we do. In addition, it was very frightening because this land lies near a Jewish settlement and during our picking we kept hearing the sound of shooting because the soldiers were training.  At first I felt a great deal of panic but my friend calmed me and I tried to forget what was happening. Then after we had picked almost 30 trees, we returned home very tired but holding memories I myself will never forget, as I murmured to myself  "it was the first time but not the last time I will go to pick olives and help these farmers." 
As you know Palestine is an occupied country and as a result of the Israeli Occupation this interesting harvest can be miserably turned into an unpleasant one, simply because of the difficulties that the farmers are exposed to from Israeli soldiers.  These range from preventing the farmers from harvesting their trees, expropriating land, to even uprooting their olive trees. Actually, after these abusive practices what do you expect from this poor farmer ??? Do you think he will leave his land ??? For sure No, he will insist to stay in his land, never giving up and willing to die for his irreplaceable and invaluable land – indeed as he called it his honor. Clearly, the reaction of Palestinian farmers towards zionist aggression reveals an important issue which is the strong relationship between the Palestinian farmer and the olive tree. Challengingly, Palestinian farmers stand in front of  Israeli zionists just as the olive tree does.  Although the Olive tree was exposed to harm from the zionist soldiers, it is still digging its roots deep in the earth and can regrow again and again.  Indeed, Palestinians are still staying here in Palestine like the olive tree.

Wedad Rami