Thursday, 30 October 2014

Daily Fail

Understandably the Daily Mail has its main story the sad death of Michael Payne, father of of Sarah Payne who was murdered in 2000. Given his death is attributed to alcohol abuse it's more than a little insensitive to run with this story directly underneath:

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Total Recall

One possible positive that may be garnered out of the debate yesterday on the Recall of MPs Bill is the fact that the debate is even happening at all is tacit acknowledgment within the Westminster that something has gone wrong with the system.

But it was of no surprise that Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith's proposals, which would have excluded Parliament's standards committee from any role in determining whether errant MPs should face re-election, was defeated - it is entirely within character that MPs would be somewhat reluctant to support reducing their powers with enthusiasm. It therefore was of some amusement the naive astonishment shown in some quarters on social media at MPs unwilling to give up powers.

All of this though misses the point. The debate regarding the recall of MPs is Westminster talking to itself - the proposal nothing more than a tinkering around the edges while in effect maintaining the status quo. Very much a politician's solution then...

Unwittingly Zac Goldsmith betrays this view in his arguments in favour of his proposals by trying to persuade MPs and Ministers that they have nothing to fear from recall decided by the people because it would very rarely be used:
The third concern relates to the fear that Members would face endless recall attempts, amounting almost to a form of harassment, an issue raised several times in last week’s debate. I see no need for a limit, as the experience of recall around the world shows that its use is extremely rare and that it is used only in extreme circumstances. In 100 years of recall in the United States, where there are virtually no financial controls or controls on broadcasters and so on, it has happened only 20 times. There have been 40 recall referendums...
This argument has the backing of Douglas Carswell:
Far from leading to a flood of vexatious attempts to remove sitting MPs, this second stage makes it almost impossible to oust a sitting MP on partisan grounds. Note how few recall attempts have ever been successful in California. 
In other words, vote for this measure because it won't make any difference at all. It's a ... er ... curious argument to make for a democratic device to say the least.

It's safe to assume that the great expenses scandal of 2009/10 is a cloud hanging over the recall debate, with examples such as Labour MP Margaret Moran going into hiding leaving her constituents unrepresented and they having no means to force a by-election.

Yet it is with some irony that the expenses scandal actually show up the ineffectiveness recall would have. While there was a lot of public anger, further provoked by MPs’ attempts to prevent disclosure under Freedom of Information, voters did not punish them electorally in 2010.

Many MPs (and over 50% sought re-election) who were embroiled in the financial scandal were still re-elected in the 2010 election. Take Alistair Darling for example, who abused taxpayer's money by 'flipping' his two houses four times was re-elected in 2010 with an increased majority.

As this report from 2011 finds, titled "Electoral Accountability and the UK Parliamentary Expenses Scandal: Did Voters Punish Corrupt MPs?" the expenses scandal came low down voters' priorities. This chimes with my own experience as a PPC in 2010 when the subject was never raised once on the doorstep nor in hustings.

The report finds instead that there was only a modest 1.5% voting impact on MPs implicated:
We find that implicated MPs received a vote share about 1.5 percentage points lower than non-implicated MPs (after controlling for incumbency, region, and previous constituency results). Intriguingly, we do not nd an association between vote share and either the amount the MP claimed in expenses or the amount an MP was required to repay...
The findings may not be so surprising when we consider that the representative ballot is a blunt instrument to deal with the complexities of voters' concerns such as the economy, immigration and of course partisan competition. Thus the report comes to an interesting conclusion:
The degree to which voters punished individual MPs for expenses abuses (a drop in vote share of about 1.5% on average) is modest in comparison to voters' responses to corruption in the US and other settings, but the lower magnitude seems reasonable given the fact that most British MPs have few individual powers and British voters have no other opportunity to express a party preference at the national level.
The findings thus illustrate the fact that the degree to which electoral accountability can constrain individual politicians depends on political institutions including the electoral system, separation of powers, and legislative organization.
A better example of why recall won't work would be hard to find and further demonstration that something far more radical is need to grap MPs by their goolies - The Harrogate Agenda.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Brexit And Telephones (2)

Following on from our previous post on Telecoms, we intend to address more fully the complexities of European and international political and regulatory networks of telecommunications which present significant challenges when considering Brexit. We begin here though as background with the impact of the rise of the mobile phone before we move in further pieces which look at national, EU and international regulation in detail.

As would be expected due to its inherent nature regarding communication, telecoms is a truly globalised industry which is reflected by the fact that many of its well known companies are multi-national businesses. For example the biggest and most valuable telecoms giant is US-based AT&T which provides mobile and fixed-line telephone service and broadband cable whose overall revenues grew to more than $127 billion in 2012. UK based Vodafone is the world’s second largest mobile phone operator on revenue and subscribers, behind only China Mobile.

Yet the rapid advancements in the last 30 years in technology have not only been reflected in the diversity of services provided by telecoms companies but also that the market is now populated extensively by what are traditionally non-telecoms specific enterprises.

We can appreciate the rapid advancements most acutely when we consider that in the time it took fixed lines, since the invention of the phone some 140 years ago, to progress from analogue, to digital circuit switching and then to packet switching technology courtesy of VoIP, it has only taken mobile phones around 30 years to achieve the same progression path.

When the traditional telephone was first challenged properly by the mobile phone in the early 1980’s operating on a cellular network– it was essentially by a two way radio which operated on two different analogue frequencies in order to receive and transmit conversations at the same time. It was an advancement on Push-to-Talk technology.

The rapid rise of early mobile phone efforts and vigorous competition though meant incompatibility of technology between carriers and also capacity problems. Other problems were that some services in the UK services such as Rabbit, Phonepoint and Mercury Callpoint could only make outgoing calls near a designated base station.

Even in the United States by the mid 1990s, there existed competing and incompatible second-generation digital wireless — channel access technologies such as CDMA (code division multiple access), TDMA (Time division multiple access) and iDEN, ensuring that phones would not work from one system to another.

The situation in Europe in the early 1980s was initially even worse. The first European mobile cellular systems were introduced in Scandinavian countries in 1981 and 1982. Following on shortly were the likes of Spain, Austria, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and France. These systems were all analogue, now known in hindsight with the technological advancements as first generation (1G), however the problem was that there were eight of them which were all different and incompatible. Thus mobile communication was generally restricted to one country only.

This led to the intervention by the Telecommunications Commission of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunication Administrations (CEPT), a voluntary association of European countries where policy makers and regulators from 48 countries across Europe collaborate to harmonise telecommunication, radio spectrum, and postal regulations. The CEPT established a study group called the Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM) to develop the specifications for a European-wide second-generation digital cellular system in the 900 MHz band.

The requirements were that it was to be fully digital, incorporating the best technology of the time. There would be no backward compatibility with existing systems and they desired that their new wireless standard would be similar to landline requirements for ISDN, hoping to make a wireless counterpart to it.

Here conflicts emerged between the national self interest of countries, of mobile phone companies and the need for standardisation.

The GSM group wanted to select the most appropriate technology by assessing a number of demonstration systems by interested parties. Eight systems were submitted which were between broadly TDMA technology and those incorporating CDMA technology. TDMA and CDMA were split along Scandinavian countries (Nokia, Ericsson and Elab) and the Germany/France axis respectively - whose systems were heavily subsidised by the French and German governments. The split reflected differing demographic characteristics between the countries.

TDMA with its fewer time slots thus its relatively moderate traffic capacity was less cost intensive and meaning it was easier and quicker to rollout across rural communities. Conversely the systems of Franco/German origin were generally designed with high traffic capacities in mind. This was a cost effective solution in more urban and dense areas with high traffic-density requirements but is more expensive for rural areas where many time slots are not needed.

Yet at least if not more as important as technology were; political issues, property rights issues and vested interests. Obviously the stakes were enormous for suppliers and states. One of the two shortlisted by SEL/Alcatel was considered to be “too proprietary” and held the patents on its CDMA-based proposal. There was reluctance by some countries to approve the other shortlisted option (TDMA) submitted by Ericsson due to it being based in a country that at the time was not a member of EEC. Other disputes included the use of encryption in GSM (A5/1), with eventual agreement that it should be optional – countries such as France do not allow it to be activated.

Interestingly, although the EEC privately supported narrowband TDMA solution, it wasn't in a position to act to facilitate a breakthrough, as 84/549/EEC: Council Recommendation of 12 November 1984 confirms the EU only had the power to recommend:
that the Governments of the Member States ensure that:
- the telecommunications administrations:
1. consult each other, preferably in the framework of CEPT, before they introduce any new service, notably between Member States, with a view to establishing common guidelines so that the necessary innovation takes place under conditions compatible with harmonization;
It was not until the Treaty of Maastricht (Article 129 D) that, for the first time, the EU was given a competence in the field of telecommunications. Instead it was diplomatic efforts by individual countries, notably by the UK, that lead to a breakthrough which came via the Bonn Declaration in 1987. This confirmed that a decision had been reached to use TDMA technology:
Europe must have a single standard supported throughout the CEPT- This should be based on the narrowband TDMA concept defined by CEPT at its Madeira meeting in Feb 1987.
The ministers also called for the agreement between network operators to be formalised by a Memorandum of Understanding (called the GSM MoU) which they did, not long after:
The signatories shall support the open (non proprietary) definition of at least the following interfaces in the form of CEPT recommendations:
Mobile/BaseStation (air interface) based on the narrowband TDMA concept defined by CEPT at its Madeira meeting in Feb 1987 enhanced in the areas of modulation and coding to provide the greatest flexibility in receiving equipment implementation as agreed by CEPT GSM at its Brussels meeting 9-12 June 1987

Base Station/MobiIe services Switching Centre

Mobile services Switching Centre,/Mobile services Switching Centre/Location Register
In 1987 the then EEC adopted, via Council Directive 87/372/EEC, frequency allocations proposed by the CEPT covering the 25 MHz bands of 89MHz for uplink - mobile to base station, and 935–960 MHz for downlink - base station to mobile to apply to the Single Market.

(Interestingly the rights to the GSM trademark and logo were held by France Telecom)
The first GSM systems were up and running by 1991 with Vodafone launching the UK's first GSM commercial service in the same year. Having been deployed throughout Europe, GSM allowed smooth roaming from country to country.

GSM has since become the most popular worldwide technology regarding the standardisation of mobile phone calls:
More than 6 billion people worldwide use the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) family of technologies. GSM is the most widely used wireless technology in the world, available in more than 219 countries and territories worldwide, with a market share of more than 90 percent.
What made GSM so successful, was not that it was a far superior technology - indeed the first GSM handsets in 1992 were not much better than the old analogue ones - but instead that it established a complete telecommunications network in one package. Other worldwide standards bodies only produced a specification for the radio piece of the mobile network. Automatic roaming and handover of calls between base stations required dedicated exchanges for numbering and switching management and this is what GSM provided. It turned out to be a very successful illustration of European co-operation, ironically, with little involvement of the EEC/EU.

Born out of the 'GSM MoU' in 1987, and powered by the success of GSM, was the emergence of the GSM Association (GSMA) which represents the interests of mobile operators. Thus GSMA has "evolved to become one of the most powerful trade associations in the world, lobbying governments on everything from tax policy to pricing strategy":
Spanning more than 220 countries, the GSMA unites nearly 800 of the world’s mobile operators with 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in industry sectors such as financial services, healthcare, media, transport and utilities.
In 1988, created by CEPT the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) was established. ETSI is an independent, not-for-profit, standardisation organisation in the telecommunications industry and, although not an EU organisation, it is officially recognised by the EU. Crucially ETSI allows direct participation in its technical committees from non-EU companies that have commercial interests in Europe which means it has a global outlook and influence - for example it was a founding member of the Global Standards Collaboration.

GSM thus was a big success, and probably due to this success 'Europe' began to become complacent - an unwise position to take as technology marches on relentlessly. While GSM second generation (2G) cellular systems were used principally for the purpose of transmitting voice calls - there was a growing use for the transmission of data. GSM acknowledged this with the flexibility of using Signalling System No. 7 which was essential to support new data services and SMS (text messages). Within a decade one billion text messages were being sent in a month. The development of third generation (3G) meant that term 'mobile broadband' reflected the growing demand for phones to emulate domestic PC broadband speeds.

While GSM was ultimately a triumph of European co-operation without the intervention of the then EEC, it was inevitable that the EU would use telecommunications as another excuse for further political integration which it retrospectively added to the Maastricht Treaty. Not unsurprisingly since becoming an EU competence the progression of telecoms innovation and co-operation within Europe has not been much short of stagnation.

We can see this acutely with the emergence of LTE (Long-Term Evolution) commonly known as 4G. Whereas European countries took the initiative in the '80s with GSM now other non-EU countries are doing so with 4G. Rather ironically the GSMA writes in its assessment - Mobile Wireless Performance in the EU & the US:
There is broad agreement that the EU mobile wireless market is underperforming relative to other advanced economies, including the U.S. We find that the EU is lagging well behind the U.S. in deployment of next generation wireless infrastructures and the advanced services they make possible, and that EU consumers are worse off as a result.

EU regulatory policies have resulted in a fragmented market structure which prevents carriers from capturing beneficial economies of scale and scope and retards the growth of the mobile wireless ecosystem. We recommend reforming and harmonizing spectrum policies, permitting efficient levels of consolidation, and promoting innovation by fostering dynamic competition.
It then notes that:
Growth in investment in the U.S. is translating into faster data connection speeds: U.S. speeds are now 75 percent faster than the EU average, and the gap is expected to grow.

The U.S. is deploying ITE at a much faster pace than the EU; by YE 2013, 19 percent of U.S. connections will be on lTE networks compared to less than two percent in the EU.

LTE 4G data networks will have the potential to make different streams needed for mobile voice and data services obsolete. Traditional cellular networks require a separate stream to carry voice traffic and data network. With LTE, rather like VoIP on landlines, voice traffic can be carried by IP technology, known as Voice over LTE (VoLTE). The final convergence for mobile phones is following the path trod before it by traditional land lines where the technology of VoIP has begun to establish itself.

Thus with the potential abolition of circuit switching technology within mobile phones this process to just being a mini computer will be complete. What for some time was effectively a phone with just some relatively simple software during the ‘90s where phones could text and allow users to play simple games like snakes as epitomised by the utter domination of Nokia, has become instead, with the development of smartphones, a small computer with telephony attached almost as an optional extra.

This convergence regarding mobile phones means we see telecommunications becoming an important component of the broader IT industry as companies such as Google with Samsung and Microsoft with Nokia enter the telecoms market.

In many ways the complexity of telecoms and indeed international regulation is demonstrated most clearly by the smartphone – the complexities of modern international regulation laid bare by a device small enough to fit in a pocket.  A modern smartphone contains many technologies which are regulated in different ways, by way of an example modern phones tend to have the following features for example:
Bluetooth: Regulated by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE): "Before launching a Bluetooth classified product it must be ensured that the product is in compliance with the international RF, EMC, Safety and Health standards set by the regulatory authorities of the various regions."
WiFi: Products are certified by the WiFi Alliance, which is a global non-profit industry association stating "The members of our collaboration forum come from across the Wi-Fi ecosystem and share a vision of seamless connectivity. Since 2000, the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ seal of approval designates products with proven interoperability, industry-standard security protections, and the latest technology.
GPS: Civil signal designs are owned by the US as confirmed by this statement in 2013 "The governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America today announced that they had reached a common understanding of intellectual property rights related to the Global Positioning System (GPS) and will work together to address broader global navigation satellite systems’ intellectual property issues.
Radio: FM radio is available on modern phones via plugging in a headset and receiving analogue signals, frequencies agreed under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
NFC/RFID: Near Field Communication - technology in smartphones which allows contactless electronic payments. It is based on the international ISO/IEC 18092 standard.
Camera: Photographs made with a camera phone can fall outside the jurisdiction of the EU: "A photographer who requested Wikimedia to remove one of his images used online without his permission has had his wishes dismissed, with the US organisation behind Wikipedia claiming that because a monkey pressed the shutter button it should own the copyright".
Ringtones: Companies who offer ringtone services to sell to the UK public pay royalties to PRS for performance rights.
Music: Related to the above the issue of copyright and competing international trademark rights became an issue as illustrated by the Beatles (Apple Corp) verses Apple computer case.
What this illustrates neatly is that the telecommunications field is so vast, and changing so rapidly, it is difficult to cover all aspects of it. But its globalised complexity requires global involvement.

In the next few blog pieces we will concentrate on national, European and international telecommunication regulation in turn.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Flexcit: How To Leave The EU

From Richard North, an edited version of his speech at Dawlish which addresses the issues of how we can leave the EU and negate the inevitable FUD in a referendum:


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

EU Referendum: How We Can Win

My previous piece reflected on the free bet that is the offer of a referendum in 2017. It maybe that Cameron doesn’t deliver, and that is of course a risk, but it’s the only offer currently on the table. We should remember that extracting this promise from Cameron has long been UKIP policy. For example in 2011 (2 years after “cast iron”) Farage had this to say:
…Ukip could form an electoral pact with the Conservatives at the next election if David Cameron were to promise a referendum on membership of the European Union. There was "every chance of forcing David Cameron into giving us a referendum", he said. Whether or not to propose an electoral pact with the Conservatives in 2015 would be a "huge decision" for the party, he said. But he had offered the Tories a pact before the 2010 election, he said.
Given Cameron’s track record it’s reasonable not to trust him, though that would imply that other politicians can be trusted. However in my view the question of trust doesn’t come into it. If Cameron wins in 2015, albeit with a small majority, he won’t have any choice but to deliver lest the party give him an offer he can’t refuse. Less a case of trust, more a case of pure political calculation.

If there is to be a referendum in 2017 then another obvious concern is that it will be loaded in favour of staying in. It’s worth noting at this point that exit is very unlikely to ever occur without a referendum being offered and won. The precedent for constitutional change has now been set with the referendum in 1975, Scottish & Welsh devolution, the AV vote and the Scottish independence vote. Nor indeed can we expect ‘perfect conditions’ for one being held.

It’s certainly going to be a challenge to overturn the message of the establishment, media and FUD all of which will be heavily funded. An example of this was during our entry into the then EEC where pro market lobby groups were co-ordinated under the umbrella of the European Movement part funded by the EU Commission to act as an integral part of the government campaign. Efforts were made to bring the media on board particularly the BBC where eurosceptic presenters were dismissed in favour of more sympathetic ones.

However this is not 1975, the world has moved on in 40 years and as a consequence we do have a number of potential advantages over that campaign which can help nullify if not overcome the challenges.

The EU: 
The first advantage is that the EU is no longer just the EEC or a ‘Common Market’. In some 40 years since UK membership the EU has taken ever larger strides towards political union such that its ultimate goal has become much more obvious.

Now it is a ‘European Union’ rather than a ‘Market’. By calling it a “Common Market” meant the 1975 referendum was defined by the terms pro-marketeers and anti-marketeers – membership argued in simple economic terms. Thus in this context Wilson was able to get away with his sham negotiations by reducing it down to the level of import quotas on New Zealand butter and cheese.

40 years on, Cameron could not get away with anything so lightweight. It’s no longer a Market but a Union. Thus there would be demands for a far more substantial return of powers - none of which can be achieved without Treaty change. And that leads us neatly onto the next advantage...

David Cameron:
As has been well documented Cameron did not want a referendum nor does he want to leave the EU. That he has offered a referendum against his wishes is a reflection of his political weakness not his view that he thinks he can win it. We know this because he has made a political mistake. His offer was due to being under pressure from backbenchers who in turn are under pressure from UKIP in the belief that such a promise would win him the next election, and it is an offer made regardless of what concessions Cameron thinks he can spin from Brussels. It is very likely he chose the date as the UK takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU rather than any other consideration.

The reform option has always been dangerous as it splits the “out” vote to the benefit of those who wish to remain EU members. However Cameron’s promise largely negates the reform option as he can’t possibly hope to have any substantial concessions which he can put to the electorate by 2017. The changes needed to the founding Treaties simply cannot be achieved in time. Thus all he can rely on is what will be unconvincing spin without substance.

And this is where his track record of ‘PR man’, ‘cast iron’ and ‘lack of trust’ becomes an asset to the out campaign. Without Treaty change it will be spin few will believe and it is a mistake we can capitalise on. A mistake that Clegg appears to appreciate very acutely during the Lib Dem conference:
The Lib Dem leader said he was committed to a vote when there was EU treaty reform, but criticised the "arbitrary date" of 2017 set by the Conservatives.
It’s worth noting that the Scottish referendum also had superficial promises of the reform option announced by, among others, Gordon Brown who tried to rewrite the UK constitution on the back of a fag packet in an impassioned speech by offering essentially devo-max to the Scots. Yet the pledge of reform made little difference to the final results which were in line with months of predictions by the polls. Other core substantive issues instead decided the referendum which we will explore later in this piece.

Experience: 
The 1975 referendum was the first ever in the UK, thus there was no real direct experience to draw upon. As a result many mistakes by both sides were made, not least in the failure of establishing a coherent message particularly from the anti-marketeers - with the word 'anti' portraying negative connotations, In contrast we have the opportunity to learn not only from the referendum of 1975 but subsequent ones over AV and Scottish independence, and we can endeavour to try not to repeat mistakes made there.

The Internet:
In 1975 the media and all the newspapers bar one – the communist Morning Star – supported EEC membership. Such support would be similar today, including from the likes of the Daily Mail which in editorials has made it clear it supports EU membership.

However unlike 1975 we now have the internet and everything that comes with it; smartphones, Twitter, Facebook and forums. The establishment no longer has a monopoly on information. Scotland revealed the significance of this development. The independence campaign was a dry run of how an EU referendum would be conducted and it showed comprehensively that unofficial campaigns centered on social media was very powerful.

Indeed the Scottish referendum has revealed that social networking via Twitter and Facebook played a very significant part in the vigorous and intellectual debate to the extent that the “yes” vote remained strong in the final outcome:
The 2008 US election showed how politicians could use it as a campaigning tool, but it wasn't until the Scottish referendum that Britain really caught up.

According to Facebook, more than 10 million interactions were made about the fight in a month. So who won the social media wars - and what can we learn from it? The simple answer is: the Yes campaign was victorious.

The official Twitter account of the Yes campaign has an impressive 103,000 followers compared to 42,000 for Better Together. Alex Salmond boasts 95,000 Twitter followers and Nicola Sturgeon has 66,000 - while Alistair Darling has just 21,000. On Facebook, the Yes campaign page attracted more than 320,000 likes compared to 218,000 for the No.
But debate was not only held on the most well known outlets, there was much passionate debate on forums such as Celtic Football Club’s which ran to an impressive 1674 pages.

It’s also worth noting that during any campaign the URL address http://www.eureferendum.com/ would be much sought after – and this is already registered by Richard North. Typing the words “EU Referendum” into a search engine and links to the country’s premier eurosceptic blog comes top of the search results.

Thus with the internet we can bypass the mainstream media. This is a tactic that was used by Farage in UKIP’s early days. Comprehensively ignored at the time by the media, Farage went under the radar by taking the message direct to people by travelling the country and addressing local meetings. He was to replicate this method in 2013 with the Common Sense tour.

As UKIP proved, such methods can be very effective in getting the message across despite the bias of the legacy media and so it can prove with a referendum in 2017.

There's a strong anti-establishment vote: 
Unlike 1975 where there was more deference to the political system, we now have the obvious decadence of Westminster politics. A decadence which reveals itself by the increasingly lack of quality in MPs, hopeless leadership, the lack of relevance of political parties with membership plummeting, and the electorate itself being treated with contempt and their anger in return.

Revulsion at this decadence and alienation from Westminster is common to both England and Scotland. In England it expresses itself partly in UKIP; in Scotland it helps power the SNP.

Thus unlike 1975, the parties of Westminster campaigning as one in 2017 to stay in the EU could actually prove to be useful as part of an effective anti-establishment campaign which when based around sound exit answers can win over a lot of people, as was shown in Scotland.

The establishment is not always united:
The Scottish referendum illustrated that the establishment campaign epitomised by Better Together was not always united. Although they shared the same aims of keeping the union together the fundamental differences between parties and between themselves could not help coming to the fore. Gordon Brown was sidelined until the last minute, Darling was consistently criticised for running a poor campaign, for example in May 2014:
Alistair Darling has effectively been dumped as head of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK following crisis cross-party talks.
And naturally there were tensions between the Tories and Labour:
A Labour MSP has criticised his party’s decision to “hold hands” with the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ alliance against Scottish independence and has claimed that the No campaign is now unable to “outline a coherent vision”.
Then arguments over "reform"
The Better Together campaign has been accused of “spiralling into self-destruction” after UK cabinet ministers appeared at odds over enhanced devolution proposals.
And after the vote:
Ed Miliband today publicly snubbed Gordon Brown after thanking every Labour MP who campaigned against Scottish independence – apart from the former Labour leader.
The 'in' campaign is likely to be as split as the 'out' one.

Having a major party on board is not always necessary:
As the SNP found out to its cost, a major party with an official position does not always mean party supporters and members follow suit  - voters in Salmond's own 'backyard' of Aberdeenshire gave independence the thumbs down. Official positions of Labour and the Tories in an EU referendum are likely to be very different to its members when deciding on an EU referendum and there are likely to be splits within.

The question has already been decided:
Should Cameron endeavour to progress with a referendum then it's out of the question that he can manipulate the question. The Electoral Commission has already given its advice to Parliament - the full details of its advice can be found here. In summary it advises:
If Parliament wants to retain the use of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ as response options to the referendum question, then the Commission has recommended that that the question should be amended to:

'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?'

If Parliament decides not to retain a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ question, the Commission has recommended the following referendum question:

'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?'
The European Economic Area (EEA):
Unlike in 1975 we have an off-shelf economic model in form of the EEA which can successfully nullify the FUD which will undoubtedly be deployed to portray by fear that leaving would be economically disastrous. The EEA was designed as a ‘stepping stone in’ for reluctant countries such as Norway and this can very easily be used as a ‘stepping stone out’. The economic arguments of 1975 would be made redundant:
Let us be clear about one thing: In or out of the Common Market, it will be tough going for Britain over the next few years.
In or out, we would still have been hit by the oil crisis, by rocketing world prices for food and raw materials.
But we will be in a much stronger position to face the future if we stay inside the Market than if we try to go it alone.
Inside, we can count on more secure supplies of food if world harvests turn out to be bad. And we can help to hold down Market food prices - as we have done since we joined in 1973.
The EEA therefore allows us to sideline the economic arguments effectively and so use the referendum to concentrate on the political aspects of the EU which prove to be so unpalatable for the British people (my emphasis):
Public opinion is divided on the detail of Britain’s role in Europe, however. Around three in ten each would prefer to see ‘Britain’s relationship with Europe remaining broadly the same as at present’ (32%) and ‘Britain returning to being part of an economic community, without political links’ (30%). One in five would like to see ‘Britain leaving the European Union altogether’ (20%), with ‘closer political and economic integration’ with other EU member states the least favoured option (13%).”
The 1970's pessimism has gone:
It's not unreasonable to suggest that the early 1970s provided probably the only window of opportunity to have joined the EEC. The UK was beset by a national lack of self confidence not long after "Great Britain had lost an Empire and had not yet found a role", the Suez crisis, devaluation in the 1960's, a global recession, spiralling inflation, collapse of Britain's traditional manufacturing industries and rising unemployment and industrial unrest.

With this in mind it's easy to understand why the UK sought refuge in the EEC. Yet largely as the result of the Thatcher reforms of the 1980s, the UK escaped from the inward straightjacket of its past. Rather than pessimism overshadowing the next referendum a confident UK will now be able to take advantage, outside the EU, of the dominating factor of trade...

Globalisation:
Nothing illustrates the ever decreasing need for single market access for the UK than the rise of globalisation. This is the EU's redundancy notice, its P45. The EU is a relic of the 20th century, a time when the cold war dominated, when memories of war on the continent were still painfully fresh. Yet during the late 1970s and 1980s we had the emergence of other markets such as Japan.

Fueled by the evolution of technology, improved transport (Containerisation) and the growth of multinational companies and trading blocks globalisation is now the dominating factor. With the growth of China and India, the United States for example is increasingly looking east rather than to the EU in terms of importance of trade.

With globalisation has come the increasing importance of global bodies setting international standards. The Single Market, is a collection of regulation which drives the harmonisation of standards, with a view to not only facilitate trade throughout the Communities but to lead to increasing "political union" in the EU. It has primarily a political objective not an economic one.

However the EU acquis of harmonisation is gradually being replaced by international regulation which does not have the same political overtones. As such the EU loses its European distinctiveness and simply becomes a property shared by all members of the WTO, which they will all use as the basis for international trade. The EU's Single Market thus will become redundant. Gradually it is being replaced by the globalised market.

As it stands, as long as we are in the EU, we have a subordinate position, (only 8% of the vote within the EU) on international bodies and the agreements on international standards are negotiated and approved by the EU on our behalf. 


However EFTA/EEA countries such as Norway are able to negotiate for themselves at the top international table and only after they have agreed them are they then processed into actionable law and passed down to regional trading areas such as the EU. The following graph illustrates how this works:
The early '70's demonstrated the UK's lack of ambition and self-confidence by tying itself to an inward-looking customs union based on the European continent.  A 2017 referendum will give the opportunity to argue instead for a vision which was not available in 1975 - a vision that embraces the globalisation one which the UK can fully participate in.

An Exit Plan:
With the above in mind it is essential then that there is a detailed, workable and credible exit plan. Nothing illustrates this better than what has been very apparent from the Scottish independence referendum. The 'yes' campaign was not undermined by FUD, nor by the closing of ranks by the establishment, nor by a loaded referendum question nor by the lack of funds. Instead what the polls clearly showed is Salmond lost primarily due to not answering the currency question:
Meanwhile so far as the issues are concerned, if the Yes side does lose it will probably have done so not least because it never managed to persuade a majority of Scots that the country would be more prosperous under independence. YouGov find in their latest poll that only 35% think Scotland will be economically better off under independence while as any as 47% reckon it would be worse off.
 And:
Of course, describing the patterns of the kinds of people who were more or less likely to vote Yes or No does no more than give us clues as to why people voted they way they did. What we can note at this stage is that women, older people, those in ABC1 occupations and those born elsewhere in the UK were all, according to YouGov’s final poll for The Times and The Sun, relatively pessimistic about the economic consequences of independence. And as we have repeatedly noted on this site, nothing seemed to matter more to voters in deciding whether to vote Yes or No than their perceptions of the economic consequences of leaving the UK.
In other words Salmond did not have a well thought out exit plan to deal with the basics. And failure to address the core problem of currency if Scotland left the Union then plants further doubts in voters' mind about other issues such as; defence, NHS,oil, immigration, EU membership, the Monarchy, pensions and so on. If Salmond had provided answers to these then it is very likely we would be looking at an independent Scotland.

One of the fatal flaws of the 1975 campaign was its inability to come up with a credible alternative to then EEC membership, a situation replicated by Salmond. With a fully workable exit plan we can avoid that flaw and crucially win...

Eurozone:
This is the joker in the pack. Without yet a resolution to the inherent problems of the Eurozone namely it's still only an economic union without the political union necessary its problems are far from resolved. Given that a referendum is likely to take place in September of 2017 (during the UK Presidency of the Council of the EU) it will be at a time that is traditionally one of market turbulence. We could see a Eurozone crisis right in the middle of a referendum campaign.

In many ways therefore we can see that winning a referendum in 2017 is perfectly possible. Reluctance to take a calculated risk until conditions are just 'perfect' obviously begs the question if not in 2017, then when?

Monday, 29 September 2014

EU Referendum: A Free Bet?

This blog has no ulterior motive other than to campaign to exit the EU a reflection of myself who was inspired to object to membership during the Maastricht debates and the ERM crisis. And as I made clear internally when I first joined UKIP, and stood as a PPC in 2010, my loyalty is to the cause not to any party.

However events change as they often do in politics. What I thought was not possible five years ago was that a major party would offer a referendum on EU membership as Cameron has done. Those who took part in very lonely campaigns over the last 20 years must be invigorated by the fact that the question of EU membership is starting to take centre stage.

In some ways UKIP can take the credit for this and for the about turn by Cameron. Despite Cameron previously refusing a referendum on the basis he wanted to stay in and deploying a three-line whip on the same basis, he has performed a very significant u-turn.

And he has done so as a result from pressure from his own party who in turn feel the heat from the rise of UKIP. It’s odd therefore that many in UKIP having extracted this concession now dismiss the Tories offer. One wonders what they actually want. Perhaps this is a reflection of UKIP’s long standing fundamental indecisiveness of whether it is a pressure group or a fully fledged party.

The latter seems to have won out and has a consequence become a party that not only jumps on every bandwagon going (when Nigel is not falling off it) but performs consistent rapid backtracking on party polices withing 24 hours as per VAT on luxury goods. Then in addition it often makes clear that it simply wants to destroy the Tories and nothing else. Somewhere in the mist the party's mission of exiting the EU has become somewhat lost.

Now it is understandable given Cameron’s track record of many not “trusting” him on this issue – an unprincipled, shallow, useless chancer he is. For me this for the eurosceptic side is a bonus – not only does his lack of authority and principles make him very vulnerable to his party’s whims but having an incompetent “general” in charge of the “in” camp is beneficial.

Thus for me it's not a question of trusting Cameron but strategy.  Like most in the country I don't trust politicians in general. Well actually more accurately I should emphasise that I do trust them…to do precisely what they’re told when they absolutely have to, for example the consequences of marginal seats concentrates the mind no end. That’s the nature of true power and democracy.

The EU referendum then becomes one that is more of a question of strategy and having a punt (worth noting that certain UKIP supporters bet against their party)

The brutal reality for those who wish an EU referendum is, as it stands, voting for any other party in 2015 will guarantee that we won’t get one, thus we stay in the EU for another 5 years. Labour won’t give us one, UKIP can’t and nor can any other party.

However… a Tory victory has given the possibility of a referendum in 2017. And in my view political reality says Cameron won’t have a choice but to deliver. If he wins the general election it will only be with a small majority giving rebellious backbenchers a lot of power. These backbenchers will consist partly of those who have campaigned for a referendum during this parliament and others who also simply just don’t like Cameron. Thus if he fails to deliver it is very likely that he will be out on his ear sharpish.

Of course despite this Cameron may be able to wriggle out of a referendum but in the event of that what would we have lost? Nothing other than 5 more years in the EU; the same as would be by voting for anyone else anyway.

So in betting terms what we have if we want a referendum is a free bet.

Friday, 26 September 2014

How To Lose The Female Vote In An Instant

Apparently Nigel Farage is attempting to woo the working class voters with a so-called 'wag tax'
Ukip has unveiled a tax on luxury goods such as designer shoes, handbags and sports cars in a series of populist announcements aimed at winning over former Labour voters.
The party wants shoes costing more than £200, handbags worth more than £1,000 and cars costing more than £50,000 to attract a higher level of VAT.
Leaving aside the fact that the acquisition of designer clothes can be part of working class culture, not least women who desire to own Louis Vuitton handbags and Blahnik shoes, what on earth is UKIP doing proposing to retain VAT? VAT is an EU tax which was introduced with our entry into the then EEC in 1973. Why is UKIP proposing to keep it?

We can't help as a consequence coming to conclusion that UKIP has no interest in leaving the EU...

Update: And what about Russell and Bromley? As an example. Most certainly they are not classed as "luxury shoes" but some cost more than £200. Have UKIP lost the plot? One suspects their policy has not only been made as they go along but by men who have no idea whatsoever...

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Eurosceptic Lite

Thanks to the tenacity of Witterings from Witney, he has managed to procure a copy of David Campbell Bannerman's IEA submission, a copy of which is available here. On his blog WfW had done a fine critique of DCB’s flawed submission, with an added piece from Richard North.

With those comprehensive critical pieces I don’t have much to add, only to express that it saddens me deeply, as someone who wrote a 20,000 word submission as part of a history degree, to read the utter poor quality of DCB’s work. This is not supposed to be a GCSE homework project, but a submission into the IEA competition, or indeed a Brexit plan in general.

WfW rightly highlights the basic errors - for example capital letters appear to have been inserted at random – and certain arguments are fundamentally incorrect for example DCB’s assertions that the four freedoms can be negotiated:
The ‘Four Freedoms’ is regarded by the EU  as a non-negotiable part of the Single Market acquis – something stated quite categorically by Viviane Reding whilst she was an EU Commissioner.
As a result one has to question the thought processes of anyone who proffers an amendment to something that cannot be amended. Another example of the poor standard of the submission can be seen below from a random couple of paragraphs:
Citizens from the original group of 15 EU member states, including Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Portugal, originally had unrestricted access to the Swiss labour market. but in May 2013the [sic] Swiss Government moved to tighten the immigration tap, extending restrictions to these older EU member states, setting a cap of 53,700 for 12 months.

But [sic] most significantly, all immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, two of the newer EU members, was severely restricted and will remain so for years. This Swiss safeguard quota model is designed to limit numbers from the .least [sic] economically developed nations - those often with one sixth of UK average wages, whilst allowing free flow from more developed nations, and EEA Lite follows this logic. .[sic]
This sort of sub-standard work, with a complete lack of proof reading, would have been chucked out of the window as a degree student. Yet DCB as a Conservative and a former UKIP MEP who has "prestige" it is taken seriously. A demonstration indeed of the failings of our so called media and establishment.

If this is the best the eurosceptic movement as a whole can accomplish then we deserve to lose any referendum. We seriously need to up our game.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Outside The Wall



It's long been this blog's view that the status quo effect will prevail in the Scottish referendum, especially when the "don't knows" are hovering around the 23% mark. Thus while the polls recently have become neck and neck in terms of in or out, bookmakers are still offering odds-on regarding a no vote.

With Scotland there is understandably a clear anti-establishment vote which has been relayed to the pollsters. Yet experience shows that this only translates to referendum results, or indeed other elections, if the resulting vote has no dramatic consequences.

An example of this is the non-binding referendum in New Zealand in 1992 regarding political reform. We also see the same apply in mid-term by-elections where anti-etablishment kicking is prevalent only to return to a default candidate at a General Election. Ireland proves to be another example when they rejected the Lisbon Treaty first time around only to approve at the second time when it was made clear "rejection would have consequences" regarding EU membership.

An interesting observation though is despite the obvious anti-Westminster vote within the Scottish referendum, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have decided to encamp in Scotland for the day so that there will be no PMQs, thus demonstrating a wonderful illustration of arrogance and complete political blindness - seemingly unaware that their presence is more damaging than helpful to the Union cause. Subrosa is not impressed and rightly so:
Interesting times aren’t they?  Yesterday, in a token gesture to Scotland, the Saltire was raised over 10 Downing Street.  I believe it is to stay in place until after the referendum.  How happy I am to see such benevolence from London. Do I feel patronised?  Of course not.
Be prepared for the media to be overflowing with reports about the London heir bummers’ visit to our country and don’t forget to smile at their ignorance (or should that be arrogance?).
A point echoed by Norman Tebbit:
The political establishment down here in the Westminster village has been stung into hyperactivity by the sudden surge of support for the Yes campaign in Scotland. Without very much discussion with their own parties Ed Milliband and David Cameron have reached a joint conclusion: that Scotland's discontent can be overcome and a "No" vote secured by promising the Scots that they can have independence in all but name if only they vote to stay within the Union. Devolution by the bucketload, it is implied, would allow the Scottish assembly to tax and spend as it pleases while still remaining under the cover of sterling.
It seems to be a perfect example of why so many Scots are supporting the severance of the Union. In short, it typifies the remoteness of that Westminster establishment, not just from Scotland, but the people of England and Wales.
And again, more forcefully by Dan Hodges:
By the evening Gordon’s chat with a few of his constituents had become a full-blown plan to recast the Union. It was, Brown said, nothing less than a move towards a federal Britain. “A new Union is being forged in the heat of debate”, he said.
Great. But what debate? I’m not involved in it. You’re not involved in it. Unless I’m missing something, no one in England, Wales or Northern Ireland is being given a say over this radical new constitutional arrangement.
I’m not missing something. Gordon Brown was crystal clear yesterday. “These reforms will confirm that Scotland has helped changed not just our own country but the United Kingdom,” he announced. Well, thanks for that. But I’m afraid that’s not Scotland’s prerogative.
Scotland is currently holding a referendum over whether it wishes to secede from the Union. It’s a simple Yes/No question. Do you want to stay, or do you want to go? Not, “do you want to unilaterally establish the English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh Federation.”
’ll repeat, what do our politicians think they are doing? Whether or not Scotland remains a part of the Union is a matter for the Scottish people alone. It’s right they are having their referendum, and that they should have sole say over their destiny. But that is no longer what is on the table.
What is now being proposed – we are being told – is nothing less than an entirely new constitution for the United Kingdom as a whole. And no one other than the people of Scotland appears to be getting a say on whether they agree with it or not.
Actually, let me rephrase that. No one but the politicians appears to be getting a say.
Alex Salmond has some justification when he refers to "Team-Westminster". Team Westminster are clearly panicking and are offering overtly devo-max, this though is not new, it was offered quietly by Cameron some time ago. But how arrogant is it for Gordon Brown et al to now brazenly offer such terms without reference to anyone else in the Union  - it's our Union as well.

If nothing else the Scottish referendum demonstrates acutely that the arguments are less about Hadrian's wall and more about a circular symbolic wall around London, universally known as the M25.

We need this...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Brexit And Telephones (1)

One of the greatest revolutions of the 20th Century is the obvious but often forgotten advancement in mass electronic communication technology. The rather humble telephone, along with devices such as the likes of television, came to dominate the 20th Century.

Although the telephone was commercially available in the late 19th Century it took until 1912 before a unified telephone system was available throughout most of Britain with the National Telephone Company providing for over ½ million subscribers. By the early 1930s radio, while in its infancy, emerged nationally; mass television though was still a distant dream, and the internet was not even a vague concept.

Thus from the outset, before the emergence of the internet (and other data networks), telecommunications had a simple clear meaning: the telephone and its elder brother, the telegraph. The relative simplicity meant that placing a conventional phone call used what is known as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), informally known as the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) - using copper wires which carried analogue voice data over the dedicated circuits.

Described as circuit-switched telephony; the system worked by setting up a dedicated channel (or circuit) between two points for the duration of the call. Nothing illustrates this better than images in the early days of telephony showing operators needing to physically connect a call, moving cables from one place to another, as pictured below.
The basic principles of telephony endured during 1960s even after the innovation of the modern “fax” pioneered by Xerox and the digitisation of the PSTN. Facsimile sent via the PSTN, adding the ability to communicate documents and data at a distance, was still considered a telecommunications issue because it was still carried over a PSTN.

That changed after the 1960's when advances in telecommunications continued with indecent haste aided by significant advancements in computer technology. Thus as a consequence in recent decades electronic communication expanded to include data, video conferencing, e-mail, instant messaging, and web browsing.

Telecommunications therefore as concept has also moved away from traditional copper wires to include microwave, terrestrial wireless, satellite and diversification of broadband via mobile phones. The modern industry therefore is far more diverse including not only software-based applications with a communications emphasis but also being suppliers of telecommunications equipment and software products as well as the telecommunications service provider.

Ironically the unprecedented relatively recent divergence in the types of electronic media to communicate, via voice, audio, video, or data, has led to a path of convergence of telecommunications hardware. Telecoms architecture has become increasingly integrated. Previously the PSTN, cable, and data networks coexisted as separately owned and operated networks carrying different types of communications.

Now most media is increasingly being communicated over a single common network as telecommunications has moved from the traditional circuit-switching to computer based packet-switching. A transition that was probably best epitomised by technology such as Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) - which achieved faster dial-up speeds on the traditional circuit switched network before it was killed off by packet switching broadband which led to BT Home Highway being withdrawn in 2007.

To give but one example of convergence; the existence of a private telephone exchange (PBX) within a company usually means two separate networks - one for telecoms and one for computer data. This meant two sets of cables and two types of incompatible sockets (RJ45 for network sockets and Type 600 for BT sockets) which would run throughout the building.

However with the emergence of Voice over IP as a technology (as popularised by programs such as Skype), which uses packet-switched telephony - voice information travels to its destination in countless individual network packets across the Internet -  means voice calls can be transmitted over computer data network. This not only makes voice calls free but eliminates the need for a separate voice network in businesses.

This voice/data integration of architecture offers economies of scale in both capital expenditures and operational costs, and also allows different media to work within common applications. Convergence has now meant that both telecoms technology suppliers and service providers are in the business of providing telecommunications in all media simultaneously rather than specializing in a particular type such as voice, video, or data.

The increasing technological advances and diversity has been significantly reflected in the continuous development of telecommunications regulation in the UK with government policy makers often struggling to keep up with rapidly evolving technology.

Beginning in 1901 with the licensing of private telephone companies, telecoms was then nationalised in 1912 and remained so until 1984 - the simplicity of regulation being directly related to the fact that it was a direct provision of the government - essentially it was a regulated monopoly

Then with privatisation in 1984 we had a regulated duopoly consisting of BT and Cable and Wireless who were able to provide competing telecoms services. In 1991 the existing duopoly in telecoms services was ended and licensing of multiple service providers permitted for domestic service only. International telecommunications remained within the duopoly framework. In 1996 the international duopoly was ended, and other operators were free to offer international services within the UK.

Thus we can see that the UK has progressed from a state regulated monopoly in terms of telecoms to one of a myriad of regulated markets. Yet it's not only internal pressures and technological changes that have lead to a diversification of the UK's telecoms regulation. Electronic communication very obviously has worldwide implications and not unsurprisingly is affected by international regulatory bodies notably by governance systems such as the EU, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The EU for example began "liberalising" the telecoms market in 1990 with Council Directive 90/387/EEC - "the establishment of the internal market for telecommunications services through the implementation of open network provision". This was during a 10 year period leading up to 1998 where the EU imposed on member states, via a series of green papers, directives, and recommendations obligations with respect to equipment markets, regulatory structures, value-added services, and regulation of infrastructure and service competition where it existed.

Then in 1998 the European Union issued framework directives to liberalize entry into telecommunications markets effectively trying to end monopoly provision in EU countries:

In order to accompany the opening of the sector to competition, the European Commission began the huge task, in 1999, of recasting Europe's regulatory framework for telecommunications. The general aim was to improve access to the information society by striking a balance between regulation of the sector and Europe's competition rules. This regulatory framework for electronic communications is made up of five harmonising directives, focussing in particular on the framework directives, access and interconnection, authorisation, universal service and users rights and protection of privacy. To these were added the Decision of 2002 on radio spectrum policy and the Regulation of 2002 on access to the local loop.

By 2003 further European directives removed the need for telecommunication service providers to be licensed by national regulators which in the UK led to several existing regulators merging to form Ofcom via The Communications Act 2003. EU involvement has probably been more immediate to telecoms customers by the privatisation of directory enquires as per EU Directive 2002/77/EC and mobile phone roaming charges within the EU.

Thus with the enthusiasm of the EU for increasing political integration, a process which is not yet complete, coupled with international bodies and a multitude of domestic authorities we see a muddled regulatory system that is not only less than ideal but also deeply embedded in the UK. The telecommunications regulator, OFCOM now sits amidst a number of ancillary and overlapping bodies in the United Kingdom, including horizontal or cross-sector regulators which include advertising, competition and data protection.

That there are various almost competing regulatory bodies which can intervene at all levels raises concerns about effective coordination and the risks of a lack of transparency. Too many ministries, agencies and authorities inevitably creates a danger of responsibility overlap and blind-spots in the formulation, implementation and oversight of policies.

This undoubtedly creates considerable confusion for customers, where awareness is often limited to only to domestic bodies such as the ASA and OFCOM, and perhaps Parliament. EU and International involvement remains hidden as is so often the case.

Telecommunications is one of Europe’s most important economic sectors. It's worth around £38.8bn for the UK and  €234 billion in total for the EU. Revenues are equivalent to the gross domestic product of a mid-sized country. EU and UK companies have invested in building businesses in every continent and the services they provide, in particular the broadband and wireless infrastructure, are central to many other sectors of the economy and to the daily lives of almost every citizen.

Therefore the complexities of European political and regulatory networks present significant challenges when considering Brexit, With this in mind we will be returning in more detail to this subject over the next few blog pieces.