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Stand alone, fall alone or collaborate

The UK responded to my complaint in yesterday's scrivenings about the absence of any information on their takeover proposals relating to oversight of the post-Brexit single market by publishing a document later that day. So now I read it.

All the talk about co-operation and collaboration seems to have been just that. With all four administrations agreed that a shared oversight regime was required, it seems passing strange that only one of the four regimes - Westminster - has signed the document. But then it been produced without any meaningful discussion around the table about its contents.

It's interesting that one of the areas referred to as successful joint working related to the Climate Change Committee. Perhaps they just forgot that a part of that success might stem from the co-decision-making that it incorporates. No board member may be appointed without the agreement of all the Governments.

That's not just a theoretical statement. As our Climate Change Minister, I objected to a proposal brought forward by a UK Minister. I then re-interviewed candidates and came to a different conclusion about who to appoint. When I explained my reasoning to the UK Minister, agreement to my recommendation rapidly followed.

Collaborative working generally delivers better outcomes.

Sometimes overlooking the proper role of the Governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is carelessness. Increasingly it is hard to resist concluding it is pure malice.

But it also used to happen when Labour was in power down South. I previously wrote about Gordon Brown banning us from being part of the UK delegation to the UNFCC COP in Kopenhagen. But at least Labour doled out the indifference, or worse, without political bias.

I recall being invited to a meeting between all four Government's Climate Change Ministers in London. David Milliband, for it was he, kept the rest of us waiting for some time. That was fine, I had an excellent catch up chat with Jane Davidson, who was my Welsh opposite number. Of the four of us, she was by far the best informed and longest-serving Minister. I listened carefully to all that she said. Her being a member of the Labour party created no barrier to her common-sense approach to the topic.

When Milliband arrived, he seemed to be not in the best of humour. And spent most of the rest of the hour's meeting berating his political colleague from Wales. My colleague from Ireland, I think it was Sammy Wilson, who was their Minister for the Environment at that time, and I got to speak a bit. We were listened to, but not responded to. The UK Minister wanted to get back to attacking Jane.

It somehow was emblematic of a contemptuous view help at Westminster of other Governments in the UK that seemed to prevail then. And, on the evidence of the last few days, now.

It's not as if collaboration doesn't deliver dividends in politics.

If one is a cynic, one will see the advantage of having neutralised future attacks from an opponent by making them a party to a decision. And if it all goes wrong, being able to have them share the blame. Or even, being able to shrug one's shoulder and say that one had come under great pressure and that you regret having been persuaded.

If one is clever, you listen, learn and adopt others' ideas as your own.

If you are partisan, one always owns one's own mistakes.

I have pressed for years for Scotland's Fisheries Minister to take the lead on behalf of the UK in European negotiations. That makes sense because we have so much more to gain, so much more to lose than the other nations of the UK. And our Minister is generally more tightly connected to an informed understanding of the issues.

Equally, I have always been alert to the downsides. We would have to sign up to an agreed UK position, with the potential for Scottish priorities being diluted a bit. We would own the failures because complete success in such discussions is always tantalisingly out of reach. But the UK Government always refused to contemplate such an approach. Even to the extent on one occasion of sending an unelected member of the House of Lords whose only connection to fishing seems to have been limited to reading out a couple of answers when the usual Minister had been absent.

It's not a principled issue for them. On a number of occasions, Scottish Ministers have represented the UK when abroad. I, for example, spent three days at a Polish Government financial conference accompanied by officials from the UK Department for Trade.

At a rational level, the benefits of working together are understood and the words indicating the worth of such an approach are mouthed. But in practice, such words are forgotten or cast aside.

Difficulties related to the UK single market are magnified even in the face of local experience.

Not a word appears in the UK paper about the existence of the Common Travel Area that the UK has had with Ireland for several generations. From a UK point of view, Ireland became fully independent on 18th April 1949 via the Ireland Act 1949.

And yet that Act also said:

"2 Republic of Ireland not a foreign country
(1) It is hereby declared that, notwithstanding that the Republic of Ireland is not part of His Majesty’s dominions, the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country.."


thus indicating that independent countries can closely collaborate. So why is it so difficult for nations within one state to work together?

My niece, of whom I have previously written, lived in Norway for a number of years. And crossed the border with Sweden, where she worked, twice a day without having to show her passport and without any other inconvenience. One inside the EU; the other not.

So I can only conclude that the current UK Government is naturally disposed to sign up only to the protocols of the deaf adder.

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