The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands of Scotland (Unsplash/Manu Bravo)

Scotland’s ruling National Party (SNP) has staked a second independence referendum on the outcome of Thursday’s election. If separatists defend their majority in the Scottish Parliament — in addition to the SNP, the Greens favor independence — they propose to hold another vote even over the objections of London.

Scots voted 55 to 45 percent against dissolving the United Kingdom in 2014. Nationalists argue Brexit has changed the calculation. 62 percent of Scots voted to remain in the EU in 2016. They were overruled by majorities in England and Wales. Polls found majorities in Scotland for leaving the UK and rejoining the EU through 2020 and early 2021. Unionists have recently closed the gap. But the SNP is still faraway in first place in election polls with up to 50 percent support.

There are many arguments for and against independence, and each one could be debated at length. I’ll summarize what I find to be the most persuasive ones. Read more “The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence”

Trumpification of the Spanish Right in Madrid

Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso in Madrid, February 23 (Comunidad de Madrid)

Spanish conservatives hope the third time will be the charm.

In 2018, spooked by the return of the far right, they chose the reactionary Pablo Casado as their leader over the center-right Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. Casado pulled the People’s Party to the right, arguing for a clampdown on Catalan nationalism, lower immigration and tighter abortion laws. Voters didn’t approve. The party fell from 33 to 17 percent support in the election and lost over half its seats in Congress.

In the next election, seven months later, Casado doubled down. He refused to attack far-right leader Santiago Abascal and proposed to criminalize Catalan separatism. The conservatives did better, going up to 21 percent, but they still failed to defeat the Socialists. Abascal’s Vox also increased its vote share, to 15 percent.

The lesson from other European countries is that center-right parties can never outbid the far right, which is always willing to go a step further. Moving to the right in order to shrink the distance between mainstream and far right isn’t a winning strategy either. It makes it easier for conservative voters to switch.

In Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso is nevertheless attempting the same strategy — and she might win. Read more “Trumpification of the Spanish Right in Madrid”

Is Macron’s Law and Order Offensive Justified?

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Renaud Muselier, president of the Regions of France, in Paris, November 15, 2019 (Elysée/Kadidia Nimaga)

French president Emmanuel Macron has proposed to hire an additional 10,000 cops before his term expires in a year, tighten laws against online hate speech and revise laws on criminal responsibility that allowed the killer of an elderly Jewish woman to go free.

In an interview with the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, the liberal head of state warns that “everyday violence” is on the rise and vows to “push back delinquency everywhere.”

The law-and-order offensive has inevitably been framed abroad as Macron’s attempt to take the wind out of Marine Le Pen’s sails. This isn’t wrong per se; he is likely to face the far-right leader in next year’s presidential election. But it substitutes for an analysis of whether the measures are justified. Read more “Is Macron’s Law and Order Offensive Justified?”

Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte enters a meeting with other European leaders in Brussels, July 21, 2020 (European Council)

Revelations that his outgoing government deliberately withheld information from parliament have made it even harder for Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in power since 2010, to form a new government in the Netherlands.

Cabinet minutes, normally kept secret for 25 years but released after they had leaked to RTL Nieuws, reveal that ministers agreed not to share all relevant files in the so-called child benefits scandal, which caused Rutte’s four-party government to resign in January.

Between 2013 and 2019, some 26,000 parents were wrongly accused of benefit fraud. Many were financially ruined by demands to pay back tens of thousands of euros in child support.

Pieter Omtzigt, at the time a backbencher for the ruling Christian Democrats, had requested internal documents from the tax agency that would disclose when civil servants had first advised ministers of the mistakes.

Withholding information from parliament is a capital offensive in Dutch politics, but Omtzigt’s request was unusual. Ministers are politically responsible for their departments. Parliamentarians have long accepted that civil servants need to be able to make their recommendations in confidence.

Omtzigt argued for an exception. The minutes reveal Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, the Christian Democratic party leader, tried to “talk sense” into Omtzigt, who would not relent.

In the election in March, Omtzigt won a third of all votes for the Christian Democrats. His persistence in bringing the child benefits scandal to light has made him one of the most popular politicians in the country — but not necessarily in The Hague, where even some in his own party consider him a loose cannon. Read more “Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder”

Why Germany’s Greens Are on the Rise

Angela Merkel Annalena Baerbock
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with Green party leader Annalena Baerbock in parliament in Berlin, January 16, 2020 (DPA)

Germany’s Greens have for the first time in two years overtaken the ruling Christian Democrats in the polls. Two surveys in the last week gave them 28 percent support for the election in September against 21 to 27 percent for the center-right.

Those polls are still outliers, but the gap between the parties has been narrowing across surveys for months.

I suspect two factors are at play: leadership and a desire for change. I’ll take those in turn before laying out the different ways in which the Greens could take power. Read more “Why Germany’s Greens Are on the Rise”

Conservatives Win Battle for Spanish Courts

Supreme Court Madrid Spain
Seat of the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid, November 27, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’ left-wing government has withdrawn reforms of the body that appoints Spain’s judges, including those of the Supreme Court.

The climbdown is a victory for conservatives, who have for years blocked the appointment and elevation of more progressive judges through their control of the General Council of the Judiciary.

The council’s five-year term expired in December 2018, six months after Sánchez took power from the conservative People’s Party, but it has continued to name judges to Spain’s highest courts.

Supermajorities of three out of five lawmakers are required in both the Congress of Deputies and the Senate to install a new council, giving the center-right People’s Party and far-right Vox (Voice) — which together hold 40 percent of the seats — a veto. Read more “Conservatives Win Battle for Spanish Courts”

Draghi Has the Right Plans for Italy

Mario Draghi
Italian prime minister Mario Draghi enters a news conference in Rome, March 19 (Governo Italiano)

Two months ago, I argued Mario Draghi understands what Italy needs. Here it is.

The former European central bank chief, prime minister since February, has unveiled €221 billion in proposed investments, spread over six years. €191 billion would come from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund.

The proposals look good on paper. Read more “Draghi Has the Right Plans for Italy”

German Right Picks Unpopular Laschet to Succeed Merkel

Armin Laschet
Armin Laschet, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, attends an event in Hamm, Germany, September 19, 2020 (Dirk Vorderstraße)

Armin Laschet will lead Germany’s Christian Democrats into the September election. His rival, Markus Söder, bowed out after the executive committee of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the larger of the two “Union” parties, threw its weight behind Laschet in a late-night vote.

Following seven hours of debate about whether and how to vote, 31 of the committee’s 46 members backed Laschet in the early hours of Tuesday.

The alliance of the CDU, which competes in fifteen of Germany’s sixteen states, and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) does not have a formal procedure for electing its joint chancellor candidate. Read more “German Right Picks Unpopular Laschet to Succeed Merkel”

Waiting for a Deal in Catalonia

Barcelona Spain
Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor on Mount Tibidabo in Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Jorien van der Sluis)

Two months after they expanded their majority in the regional parliament, Catalonia’s pro-independence parties have yet to form a new government.

The separatists for the first time won more than 50 percent of the votes in the election in February. The formerly center-right Together for Catalonia (Junts), which now presents itself as a big tent, lost two seats. But the Republican Left and far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) gained six, giving the three parties, which have governed Catalonia since 2015, a comfortable majority of 74 out of 135 seats.

The Republican Left and CUP quickly did a deal, which would pull the anticapitalists into government for the first time. (They previously supported minority governments of Junts and the Republican Left.)

An agreement with Junts has proved elusive. Read more “Waiting for a Deal in Catalonia”

Don’t Panic About Macron’s Reelection (Yet)

Lars Løkke Rasmussen Emmanuel Macron
Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is greeted by French president Emmanuel Macron outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, June 9, 2017 (Facebook)

One constant of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency has been Anglo-American handwringing about his popularity.

This started almost immediately after he defeated Marine Le Pen in 2017, when Macron’s support fell from 66 percent in the election to just over 50 percent in the opinion polls.

The Guardian called it a “precipitous decline in approval ratings.”

It was about to get worse. Read more “Don’t Panic About Macron’s Reelection (Yet)”