Geopolitics

UK's Risk Of Double-Dip Secession

It's not recession, but secession that's worrying many: Scotland will vote on independence from the UK, while Britain's own potential exit from the EU could stunt an economic rebound.

Some 5 million Scots will be called to the polls Sep. 18.
Some 5 million Scots will be called to the polls Sep. 18.
Nicolas Madelaine

LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron’s New Year’s message was an occasion to congratulate himself; and in doing so, his criticism of European partners — France in particular — was hardly veiled: “If you doubt how disastrous a return to Labour-style economics would be, just look at countries currently following that approach,” he said. “They face increasing unemployment, industrial stagnation and enterprise in free fall.”

And yet if the new year indeed seems promising for Britain’s economy, it could also be among the trickiest ever for the United Kingdom otherwise. The country seems increasingly tempted to part ways with the European Union, and the independence movement in Scotland is simultaneously on the rise. The more international-minded British — especially those in the world of finance — have already coined a name for their country, should Scotland exit the great nation: “Little Britain.”

There’s a risk these burning issues could very soon outshine the benefits of economic growth and of the austerity policies the government has been implementing.

The most important date for the UK in 2014 will undoubtedly be Sept. 18. On that day, the Scots could choose by referendum to end a 300-year-old alliance, which gives the rest of the kingdom a territory that is bigger by one third, and adds not just five million inhabitants to its population but also oil reserves.

Though most polls show a significant lead for the status quo, a secession would raise a number of breathtakingly difficult questions. Could an independent Scotland enter a monetary union with the UK to keep the British pound? Could it directly join the European Union? Could it, on its own, take on the debts of the Royal Bank of Scotland? How would it manage to preserve a social model that is more generous than in the rest of the UK with the decline of its oil reserves in the North Sea?

Faced with these challenges, Scottish businessmen, many of whom have criticized the prime minister and independence movement leader Alex Salmond, feel helpless.

Despite what the polls say — and the obstacles that many consider insurmountable — the Unionists aren’t claiming victory yet. The man who is leading the campaign to maintain the alliance has been accused of leading a weak campaign, too technical and negative, against independence. His name is Alistair Darling, who was Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer — this British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters — between 2007 and 2010.

Darling’s feeble campaign stands in stark contrast to his independence counterpart, the charismatic Alex Salmond, who has managed to arouse a certain enthusiasm. What’s more, the policy of austerity, which Cameron’s government recently reaffirmed, plays for the independence movement, which promises that it will protect its people from the damaging effects of budget cuts.

The Times reported not long ago that Lynton Crosby, an election adviser to Cameron who has been dubbed “master of the dark political arts,” thought the polls showing a huge margin of support for unionists were wrong. In other words, a political earthquake is still possible.

Britain’s EU future?

The other big topic for the coming months, Britain’s possible exit from the European Union — which the leaders of the three main political parties there all oppose — won’t be decided this year. But 2014 could accelerate what some denounce as the country's “sleepwalk” out of the EU.

The European elections in May could suddenly make the leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, head of the country’s largest political party. A recent poll showed that 37% of those who had voted for David Cameron’s Conservative Party in 2010 no longer support the prime minister, and that half of them would vote with the Independence Party.


The anti-EU sentiment on display in London (Ben Cawthra/Lnp/London News/ZUMA)

The election will be crucial for several reasons. It could be a first step towards a split in the Conservative Party. It could also determine the position of the Labour Party, which might be forced to promise voters to hold a referendum on EU membership if they win the 2015 general election. Just over a year ago, David Cameron pledged to submit for a 2017 referendum a new membership pact that he intends to negotiate with his partners in Brussels. On that occasion, if the prime minister is reelected, Britons will be able to vote to remain in the EU under the new terms, or not.

Growth in the UK will likely begin to slow a little this year compared to the last few months, Goldman Sachs predicts. But it will nevertheless continue, thanks in large measure to the strengthening of the banking sector. This newfound dynamism has, however, started a tricky debate about the benefits of growth.

Chancellor George Osborne, the UK finance chief, chose to redouble austerity measures to reinforce the already established, and politically efficient, perception that his party is serious about the economy. But his promise to balance the books by 2018 — after promising to do it by 2015 when the Conservatives entered office — by cutting an extra 12 billion pounds in the welfare budget opened the door to two major criticisms. Keynesians are wondering where the rush is since markets seem to be reassured, and the most “innocent” Tories are worried that their party looks even more like that of the rich.

The irony of it all is that the Conservatives could still be assured this year of their future majority in Westminster: Should Scotland choose independence in September, the Labour Party would lose all of its many Scottish voters, while the Conservatives have no support there.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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