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The Importance of Scotland’s Steel and Independence

By Rory Steel – Vice Convenor SNP Youth

The current crisis facing the Scottish steel industry and the contrasting reactions of the Scottish and British Governments epitomise the argument for independence.

In October this year, TATA Steel announced the mothballing of two of their plants in what was once the heart of the European steel industry, at Dalzell in Motherwell and Clydebridge in Cambuslang, resulting in 270 job losses.

Steelworks across the UK have suffered mass redundancies with thousands of jobs cut from Scunthorpe to Port Talbot. The reasons for the cuts is due to high energy prices the steel plants incur from producing steel which is an energy intensive process. China has also overproduced steel and are ‘dumping’ it on foreign markets at a much cheaper price due to cheaper labour and poorer quality steel.

Recently the Prime Minister met with Chinese President, Hu Jintao, to discuss relations, mainly trade relations, between the UK and China. The Tories’ ideological war to further open our market to foreign economic competitors places our workforce, particularly in the manufacturing sector, in a position where they cannot compete with cheaper labour and poorer worker rights; and places worker against worker in a race to the bottom. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would also open up Scotland’s workforce to further competition from cheaper competitors in the Americas.

These are some of the challenges that the Scottish and British steel industry faces. The steel industry has been warning the government about these dangers for years. Both matters, energy prices and economic policy, are both reserved powers in Westminster. But despite the sudden crisis, the Tory Government still fails to do anything to resolve it.

In some occasions, the Tory Government have even forgotten about the existence of plants in Scotland. In a speech to the House of Commons, Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, failed to mention the Scottish plants once.

During PMQs, the member for Scunthorpe requested that the PM meet with North Lincolnshire MPs to discuss steel jobs following their previous meeting in November. The Prime Minister agreed, but reflected no similar courtesy in his refusal to meet with Lanarkshire MPs after an invitation from Motherwell and Wishaw MP, Marion Fellows, to discuss the very same issues.

Scotland was further snubbed when Scottish Government Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, was rejected from attending EU crisis talks in Brussels. And the Prime Minister also failed to discuss steel in the European Council to prevent the dumping of Chinese steel in European markets. It is clear that the interests of steelworkers and Scotland are not high on the Tories’ list of priorities as they have persistently failed to safeguard their welfare.

Whereas the day after TATA Steel announced closures in their Scottish plants, the Scottish Government immediately formed a Scottish Steel Taskforce to support workers and trade unions at the plants and to find a new buyer who would invest in continuing to produce steel in Scotland’s ex-industrial heartland. Nicola Sturgeon vowed to leave “no stone unturned” in the SNP’s fight to save the steelworks.

The Taskforce, chaired by Fergus Ewing, is made up of SNP MPs and MSPs, including Marion Fellows MP (Motherwell and Wishaw) and Margaret Ferrier MP (Rutherglen and Hamilton West). Trade unions will also be present as well as MSPs from both Labour and the Conservatives, further stressing the SNPs commitment to finding a solution to what should not be a partisan issue.

Despite the SNPs consensus approach, during the Save Our Steel march on the 7th of November in Motherwell, organised by Labour, no non-Labour representatives were allowed to speak, despite the fact that Marion Fellows has been leading the fight to save the Dalzell works at Westminster – which is the only institution capable of resolving the long term energy and trade issues crippling the steel industry.

But the Tories refuse to intervene claiming that the EU prevents any sort of state interference in the failing steel industry. But there were no such restrictions on spending billions in bailing out the bankers who were responsible for their own downfall that culminated in the harshest austerity cuts since Thatcher.

Like Thatcher, Cameron is intent on continuing the ideological battle to roll back the state and cut public spending and taxes for the rich under the guise of a “long term economic plan” which will intervene to save the lavish lifestyles of their cronies in London; but not the lives of the steelworkers in Lanarkshire.

A strong manufacturing sector is essential for any economy. Germany is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers and has one of the most robust economies in the world. Diversifying Scotland’s economy so that it is not reliant on the housing and banking sectors like the UK’s economy will also limit boom and bust periods and provide workers with different skillsets from entering into work that suits them.

For any country, steel is an essential strategic economic resource to be able to produce. But for Scotland, it is even more important if we want to continue to meet our renewable energy targets and invest in the renewables industry which would contribute jobs and also to Scotland’s large research and development sector.

One option that has been considered is the nationalisation of the steel industry. This would provide Scotland with direct control over a fundamental resource that can be used to build houses to end the social housing shortage; or to expand our renewable sector and increase the number of wind turbines providing clean energy to homes and businesses across Scotland.

However, to be viable in the long term the issues of energy prices and Chinese steel must be addressed as in its current state, the steel industry would not be a viable industry to nationalise. Even if it was, the Scottish Government does not have the powers to fund the nationalisation of steel.

It is vital that the steel sector in Scotland is not only saved from closure, but that the long term problems facing steel in Scotland are also addressed, including energy prices and cheaper, foreign competitors. Only when these issues are addressed and Scotland has the powers that it needs to properly manage its domestic economy will Scotland be able to take control of steel – a fundamental, strategic resource that is essential for Scotland’s economic and social aims: to grow our renewable industry and end the unacceptable plight of homelessness in our nation.

English Votes for English Laws (EVEL)

An Introduction to EVEL
English votes for English laws (EVEL) was controversially passed in the House of Commons on the 22nd October, with a 312 to 270 majority. The act gives English MP’s the power to have a veto on ‘English only’ matters, meaning that they reserve the right to vote on issues which are deemed to only affect England and Wales. This is a very radical addition to the UK constitution and a direct attempt to tackle the ‘West Lothian Question,’ which questioned why Scottish MP’s could vote in English only affairs, when English MP’s cannot vote on issues devolved to Scotland. However the process itself is not only extremely complex but it has resulted in an imbalance of power within Westminster. All democratically elected MP’s are supposed to be equal within Westminster however this new law has created boundaries between MP’s based on nationality.

How will it work?
When a bill is introduced in the Commons it will be the Speaker’s task to certify whether or not the new bill should be subject to the new process. The speaker will announce whether the legislation relates exclusively to England or England and Wales and also whether the legislation relates to matters which have been devolved elsewhere. If deemed a truly ‘English only matter’ the bill will then go through the normal parliamentary process with the addition of an extra committee stage and the creation of a legislative Grand Committee. It is at this stage where English MP’s or English and Welsh MP’s only will be able to debate the issues and either consent or veto these clauses – regardless of what effects it could have on Scotland. After this, at each stage of the process although all members of parliament can participate in the proceedings, the final vote lies with English or English and Welsh MP’s.
What is especially striking, is the power that has been given to the Lords within this process. Although the legislative process remains unchanged, if any amendments are put forward by the House of Lords, two votes need to take place and both have to be in favour of the bill. One of these votes would consist of only English or English and Welsh MP’s while the other would be inclusive of all MP’s. This essentially means that the unelected chamber of Lords has more power to change certain acts of legislation, than democratically elected Scottish MP’s. This is not only unacceptable but completely undemocratic.

What can be defined as an English only matter?
One of the difficulties associated with EVEL lies in the fact that it is extremely hard to define what a truly ‘English only’ matter is.
Scotland’s budget is calculated through the Barnett formula and is wholly dependant on Westminster spending decisions. For example, legislation affecting public spending in relation to England only, could have an effect on Scotland’s budget through the Barnett formula. Therefore, if through EVEL, spending on education or healthcare in England was cut, this would have a direct effect on Scotland, as our budget in these areas would also have to reduce. It is therefore hard to say what specific matters debated by only English MP’s, wouldn’t have financial implications for Scotland.

The matters that English MP’s should solely vote on under EVEL are classed as ‘legislation (that) relates exclusively to England…and concerns matters which are devolved.’ It is believed that because certain powers are devolved to the Scottish Government and cannot be voted on by English MP’s in Westminster, there should be a similar system for these issues in England. However, Westminster is the democratically elected parliament of the U.K as a whole, not specific countries or regions and it is certainly not a devolved English government. It’s purpose is to represent all areas of the U.K and all MP’s should have equal status within this institution. If English MP’s really did wish to vote solely on these matters, perhaps they should have explored the idea of devolution within England: a separate English Parliament. This further devolution would allow English matters to be debated in an appropriate setting and could lead to what many feel would be a more viable way of government within the U.K, a federal system of governance – a decentralisation of power and more responsibilities handed over to local authorities.

What effect will EVEL have?
Out of the 5000 votes since 1997, one study shows that just 21 would have had a different outcome, should Scottish MP’s been excluded from voting and even that is an estimate as other MP’s may have voted differently under different circumstances.
The first bill associated with EVEL which is seen to apply exclusively to England and Wales was the Housing Bill, which was debated on the 2nd November 2015, just 11 days after parliament voted in favour of EVEL. The Housing Bill looks to extend the right to buy and give councils more power to deal with landlords. However already there are questions whether this is a truly English matter as SNP MP’s have drawn attention to the potential cross-border implications in housing associations. To make matters worse, the Speaker refused to comment on his decision leaving our MP’s feeling rather bewildered. The Housing Bill is still in its early stages however will be taken to Committee level in the next few weeks which is.where we will start to see EVEL at work.

Considering how long it has taken to have other legislation and bills pushed through, it is striking how fast Tory MP’s fought to put EVEL into practice. The reluctance by Tory MP’s for Scotland to vote on English only matters is also striking considering their interest and input in the Scotland Bill. The introduction of EVEL prompts the question of whether or not a Scottish, Irish or Welsh MP could ever be Prime Minister again as their authority would be questioned if they had to sit out of certain votes. EVEL is certainly not going to do any favours for the crisis of the union and Scottish MP’s ‘second class status’ in Westminster is only building frustrations and sending the wrong message to people in Scotland. This attempt at devolution is completely unrealistic and shows just how out of touch Westminster really is.

For more information please see the following links and resources:

SNP – English Votes for English Laws: What does it mean and how will it work? http://www.snp.org/

English Votes for English Laws: An explanatory guide to proposals – http://www.gov.uk

Trident

There has been a lot of press coverage regarding the debate over Trident in recent weeks, owing especially to the failure of the Labour Party to debate it at their national Conference. The continued possession of and the renewal of Trident is a contentious issue and the SNP are fully against the renewal of these nuclear weapons. It seems important that we fully understand the negative impact of Trident and the consequences of nuclear warfare.

The U.K’s nuclear arsenal consists of four Vanguard class nuclear powered submarines based at Faslane. These are equipped to carry up to sixteen missiles which are capable of reaching targets up to 7,500 miles away. This generation of submarines are due to be phased out by 2032 however construction of a new fleet, essentially  a renewal of them is due to begin in 2016.

Economic cost
The economic cost of Trident is huge and it is clear that the money spent on maintaining and renewing them could be used in much more valuable places. The renewal of Trident alone will cost the UK between £17.5 billion and £23.5 billion pounds however added to the cost of maintenance and upkeep these figures will rise to over £100 billion over the next forty years. This is completely unacceptable. The current UK government has made cuts in a multitude of key areas; the NHS, social care, welfare and police forces to name just a few. Austerity is on the rise and funds devoted to Trident could help to alleviate this pressure. Food banks in the U.K are on the rise with the number of people using food banks in the year 2013-14 almost tripling from the previous year, at a total of 913,138 according to the Trussell Trust. How can we realistically propose spending all this money on our defence budget when there are a growing number of people starving? It is for these reasons that economically, SNP are fully against the renewal of Trident.

Show power?
Only nine countries own nuclear weapons; the U.S, Russia, the U.K, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Five countries also host nuclear weapons through international alliances and treaties however without the threat of nuclear warfare might not feel the need to do so. It is clear then that owning nuclear weapons is not a top priority for a number of countries throughout the world. Perhaps the ownership of nuclear weapons has an underlying purpose then, to portray and emphasise an image of power. These countries which have nuclear weapons may see themselves as an international nuclear superpower and essentially, a world leader. Is this an acceptable reason for possession of them? Here at SNP we would rather our country be known for being at the forefront of nuclear disarmament, a much safer and morally-just stance.

A question of morality?
It is unclear whether any country will actually use their missiles and this is perhaps due to the deep moral reasoning that would have to take place before such a decision was made. Just recently we have had Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn admit that he would not authorise the use of nuclear weapons if he was in power and had to make the choice, in spite of  the party’s support of the renewal of Trident. Prime Minister, David Cameron on the other hand, has declared that he would be willing to do this if he had to however it is unclear whether this is true or simply a show of power as referred to above. What is clear, is that deep moral considerations would have to be made before this decision was taken. To ‘push the button’ could be the declaration of the next world war and it is unclear in a moral sense, whether any country would be willing to unleash this devastation in this day and age. The effects that a nuclear weapon can have on human life and the environment are devastating. The devastation that atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII is still visible today and we have to remember that modern nuclear weapons are much more powerful than those used on Japan. As well as immediate blast effects, an atomic bomb can have lingering effects on a populace resulting from radioactive exposure such as; an increased likelihood of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects and death. Is it really possible to argue that unleashing this on any society is morally justifiable?
The damage to the environment can also be irreversible.The Red Cross has conducted research into the outcome and effects of a ‘limited nuclear war’ involving 100 Hiroshima sized bombs, which would have the power of less than 0.5% of the worlds current nuclear weapons. Their research showed that debris blasted into our upper atmosphere would cause global temperatures to fall severely for a number of years.

Deterrent or target?

Through these arguments some believe that although nuclear weapons should not be used, they should still be held. This stems from an idea that they will act as a deterrent, stopping other nations from attacking us. Not only is this a huge waste of money but it is also slightly deluded. The threats we are dealing with in this day and age are evidently not deterred by nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons would be useless for dealing with them – they did not help prevent 9/11, the London bombings and many other terrorist attacks.

Instead of this idea that nuclear weapons act as a ‘deterrent’ we should seriously consider whether, they could have the opposite effect, acting instead as a potential target. Those countries with nuclear weapons would be recognised as the the biggest threat to any hostile nation or group and so these would surely be targeted first?

Jobs
Many argue about the loss of jobs that losing Trident would result in. In 2012 the Ministry of Defence reported that 520 civilian jobs were directly dependant on Trident. Although no loss of jobs is acceptable, this is a much smaller number than the 11,000 which the Labour party and Conservatives originally claimed would be lost. Moreover, the money that would be saved by getting rid of Trident could be diverted to other areas in Scotland such as infrastructure thereby creating more jobs and opening up a vast range of employment opportunities. As well as this, the abolition of Trident would not result in the end of military defense and spending completely and those with jobs directly linked to Trident could be utilised more effectively in other areas.

Overall, it is clear that nuclear weapons pose a huge threat to humanity and society. That is why we at SNP Youth fully support and promote SNP policy against the renewal of Trident.

Natalie Don SNP Youth Political Education Officer

There are plenty of ways to get involved in the campaign against the renewal of Trident and indeed, nuclear weapons on an international scale. The CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) lead the way in this and the SNP-CND join them at the forefront of this campaign.

For more information, further research or to get involved, follow these useful links.

http://snp.org/

http://www.snpcnd.org/weapons.php

http://www.cnduk.org/

http://www.icanw.org/