Scots to vote on independence in 2014 as Salmond and Cameron seal referendum pact

They’ve certainly screwed their courage to the sticking place now.

UK prime minister David Cameron has agreed with Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond on the terms of a referendum, to be held in Scotland in autumn 2014, as to whether Scotland should seek independence or remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

With a newly elected sovereigntist government in the French-speaking province of Québec in Canada, and with the separatist-minded Basque Country set for regional elections this Sunday and the even more separatist-minded Catalunya going to regional polls next month, regional autonomy seems to be mounting somewhat of a comeback on both sides of the Atlantic.

Under today’s ‘Edinburgh agreement’ between Salmond and Cameron, Scottish voters will have the opportunity to vote for independence, ending 305 years as a single nation united with England after the 1707 Act of Union.

The agreement marks a tactical victory for both Salmond and Cameron.  Salmond, who had hoped to put off the referendum indefinitely and perhaps beyond the next scheduled general election in 2015, will nonetheless get a delay for nearly two years to make his case for independence, and 16- and 17-year olds will be permitted to vote as well (so 14-year-old Scots, start following Suffragio now).

For his part, Cameron will have succeeded in getting a straight up-and-down vote on the independence question, not a multiple-question referendum on greater autonomy for Scotland, which polls show would be much more likely to succeed than full independence.

Salmond, who is Scotland’s ‘first minister’ — the leader of the regional Scottish government — and whose Scottish National Party in 2011 secured the largest mandate of any regional Scottish election since the 1998 devolution established the Scottish parliament, will lead the campaign for the ‘yes’ vote.

Cameron, the Tory prime minister who won just one seat and a grand total of 16.7% in the 2010 general election in Scotland (finishing last among the four major parties), will lead the campaign for the ‘no’ vote, but he will certainly be joined by Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democratic leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, whose party serves in the United Kingdom’s governing coalition with the Tories. Since the days of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who tried to use Scotland in 1989 as a testing ground for the much-derided ‘poll tax’ that was set to apply nationwide in 1990, Scotland has greeted the Tories with antipathy.  So it’s not without some legitimacy that Miliband has argued that only Labour can keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

As Alex Massie writes for The Spectator, in calling the entire ‘phony war’ leading up to today’s event  a queer process (and quite rightly), he notes that Cameron himself, quite a fish out of water in Scotland, may lose the general election currently scheduled for May 2015:

David Cameron slinks in to Scotland almost as though he were the leader of a foreign country already. You would not think he’s merely visiting territory for which he presently holds some responsibility. The optics – as the media handlers say – will favour Mr Salmond today. Why, there will even be signing and swapping of papers further bolstering the impression this is a meeting of equals….

The difficulty is that it is not yet clear what a No vote actually means. It will not necessarily settle the matter, not least since the Prime Minister is on record as being open to “more powers” for Holyrood after the referendum.

That, however, is a discussion upon which he may have little influence. The next Westminster election must be held just six months or so after Scotland’s referendum. David Cameron may – just may – not win that election. Which means that at some point we will need to know what Ed Miliband thinks about Scotland too. What a happy thought that is!

On the surface, then, Salmond seems well placed in the next 24 months to turn around polling data that shows, on a straight ‘union vs. independence’ referendum, Scots support union (as of an Oct. 8 TNS-MRNB poll) by a 53% margin, to just 28% in favor of breaking from the United Kingdom.

Scotland, under Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s devolution policy for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, achieved its own parliament after a successful 1997 referendum, and the Scottish parliament came into being in 1998.  The parliament, informally known as Holyrood, the name of the Edinburgh neighborhood in which it is located, is a 129-member unicameral legislature, essentially shares legislation power with the UK parliament in Westminster.

Cameron’s victory in the ‘Edinburgh agreement’ was to limit the options to strictly independence or remaining in the union, rather than allowing for a ‘devomax’ option — maximum devolution that would provide the Scottish parliament even more powers currently reserved for Westminster.  Indeed, Cameron seemed to dangle the possibility of further devolution earlier Tuesday in his remarks on the agreement:

Mr Cameron said: “All those who want to see not only the status quo but further devolution from the United Kingdom to Scotland must vote to stay within the United Kingdom.  Then it’ll be for all the parties to decide what proposals to put forward, but I’ve always taken the view we have to answer this prior question first. We have to answer the question: does Scotland want to stay in the United Kingdom? If the answer is Yes we do want to stay in the United Kingdom, then obviously further devolution is possible.”

In some senses, though, the limitation to a simple yes-or-no vote raises the stakes — Scots will be bloody well certain to demand guarantees from the parties supporting the ‘No’ vote that additional devolution will result from a successful ‘No’ vote in 2014.   Continue reading Scots to vote on independence in 2014 as Salmond and Cameron seal referendum pact

First Past the Post: October 15

Mexico’s president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto met with Spanish king Juan Carlos I (pictured above) and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy.

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is stepping down as leader of the provincial Liberal party and as premier.

Alex Tabarrok provides some background on this year’s Nobel economics laureates, Al Roth and Lloyd Shapley.

Could Panamá adopt the euro as well as the dollar as its official currency?

Daniel Altman in Foreign Policy argues that Argentina is heading for a crisis.

EU expert Michael Geary expounds on why the European Union deserves its Nobel Peace Prize.

The Pakistan People’s Party may enter into a formal electoral alliance with the party that was once the primary vehicle boosting Pervez Musharraf.

Quartz (A new business publication from The Atlantic) looks at the push to create an economic opportunity zone in Honduras.

Catalunya president Artur Mas doubles down on Catalan independence.

In Israel, the Knesset has been dissolved and elections are expected on January 22, 2013.

Montenegro election results (that other Sunday election)

It’s far away from the Baltic States, but another peripheral European country — this one in the Balkans — also held parliamentary elections on Sunday.

Milo Đukanović, the leader of the ‘Coalition for a European Montenegro’ (Koalicija za Evropsku Crnu Goru) looks likely to extend his coalition’s 23-year rule over the country, extending from before the time that Montenegro voted in a referendum in 2006 for full independence from a political union with Serbia.  Broadly speaking, the election will not be a significant turning point for the development of more mature democratic or governance institutions in Montenegro, but will nonetheless guarantee the country’s slow move toward fuller integration into the European Union.

The ‘European Montenegro’ coalition won around 45.4% of the vote, bringing it 39 seats in the 81-seat Skupština Crne Gore, Montenegro’s unicameral parliament.  A conservative opposition ‘Democratic Front’ coalition, under the leadership of Miodrag Lekić, a former ambassador to Italy, won just 23.9% (20 seats).  Although the governing coalition will be stripped of an absolute majority, it is expected to continue to govern with the support of regional legislators.

Đukanović himself is the leader of the largest party in the ‘European Montenegro’ coalition, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS, Demokratska Partija Socijalista Crne Gore), the successor what used to be the Montenegrin branch of the Yugoslav Communist Party.  Đukanović has served as prime minister of Montenegro from 1991 to 1998, and again from 2003 to 2006 and 2008 to 2010.  He served as Montenegro’s president from 1998 to 2002.

In that time, Đukanović has gone from a one-time ally of former Serbian president Slobodan Milošević to a full proponent of EU membership for Montenegro.  Đukanović broke with Milošević in 1996, amid the aftermath of gruesome ethnic-based in the Balkans in the early 1990s and began to pursue independence for Montenegro, a small country of just 625,000 people that’s nudged on the Adriatic and borders Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.

Montenegro seems very likely to follow Croatia into the European Union (Croatia is set to acceed on July 1, 2013), and it is significantly further along in its own accession process than either Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Đukanović stepped down in December 2010 when the EU granted Montenegro official candidate status, and a new government headed by former finance minister Igor Lukšić was appointed.

Đukanović may well try to form a new government as prime minister again following Sunday’s result or he may try to run for president in 2013.  In either even, he remains the leader of the DPS and, with or without government office, the key figure in Montenegrin politics. Continue reading Montenegro election results (that other Sunday election)

Lithuania election results

We have the first-round preliminary election results from Lithuania, and it confirms what was previously reported, and roughly what polls had shown in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections: the two major leftist/populist opposition parties have won the most seats, likely ending the four-year government of center-right prime minister Andrius Kubilius, who ushered in an era of budget austerity following the financial crisis of 2008-09 that saw Lithuania’s GDP plummet by 15%.

The populist Darbo Partija (DP, Labour Party), led by Russian-born Viktor Uspaskich, won 19.96% of the vote yesterday, and the more traditionally center-left Lietuvos socialdemokratų partija (LSDP, Social Democratic Party of Lithuania) won 18.45%.

Kubilius’s own party, the Tėvynės sąjunga – Lietuvos krikščionys demokratai (TS-LKD, Homeland Union — Lithuanian Christian Democrats) won 14.93%, a bit higher than polls had predicted in advance of the vote.

Sunday’s vote was the first of a two-round process: 70 seats in Lithuania’s unicameral parliament, the Seimas, were alloted by proportional representation.  An addition 71 seats will be determined by single-member individual districts, many of which will be determined in a runoff vote, to be held October 28.  On the basis of Sunday’s vote, Labour will have won 17 seats, the Social Democrats 16 seats and Homeland Union 12 seats.

The Social Democrats and Labour are expected to win sufficient seats between yesterday and the individual district runoffs to form a government with another smaller party, Tvarka ir teisingumas (TT, Order and Justice).  In the 2004 and 2008 elections, the Social Democrats have typically done as well or better in the individual districts than in the proportional vote; Labour, however, has typically done either as well or worse.  So it’s still quite possible that the Social Democrats will emerge with a greater number of seats than Labour, notwithstanding Labour’s narrow victory on Sunday.

Regardless of whether Labour or the Social Democrats technically win more seats, it is expected that the leader of the Social Democrats, Algirdas Butkevičius, a former finance minister, will serve as the new prime minister.  In 2004, when Labour emerged as the largest party in the Seimas (then also under Uspaskich’s leadership), it allowed a Social Democrat to be prime minister.  Since then, Uspaskich has been embroiled in a corruption scandal over his party’s finances, and Uspaskich himself spent parts of 2006 and 2007 apparently in hiding in Russia.

So it’s a safe bet that the international community (especially the United States, the rest of the European Union and the bondholders who are pricing Lithuanian debt) would prefer a Butkevičius-led government, not a Uspaskich-led one — and Lithuania’s new governing coalition seems sure to recognize that.  The success of Uspaskich’s party alone, and his influence on the next Lithuanian government, will itself be enough to delay a potential Lithuanian accession into the eurozone as well as cause some alarm with regard to a potentially more pro-Russia foreign policy from the Lithuanian government.  A government led by Uspaskich could potentially bring Lithuania back into economic crisis and put it at odds with the rest of Europe. Continue reading Lithuania election results