TTIP and ISDS: the new frontier for deregulation and the free market

Today’s guest post is by April Cumming, who’s written for Better Nation a few times before. Thanks April!

cooperating-governements_usa_regulating_flagsLife in the Scottish Parliament of late has been, shall we say, a series of important and yet quite parochial discussions. My eyes, like the eyes of many others in my peer and colleague circle, have been firmly fixed on the changing dynamics of the general election, the constitution, a succession of spats and debates. These are all of course relevant and very important in terms of the shifting political landscape of Scotland.

So much so, that in following up a piece of research on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) I was horrified to find that in my distraction I’d missed some of the key points of a hugely important piece of legislation that, in my naivety, I thought would impact solely on our NHS.

On the contrary; TTIP is an all-out assault on what already feels to the public like the shattered remnants of our parliamentary democracy. If you have qualms with things like ‘cash for questions’ and the proximity of powerful lobbies to the legislative process, well, prepare yourself for a sharp shock to your democratic sensibilities. TTIP is coming, and we need our political leaders to take a principled stand to defend future governments’ ability to follow their policy agenda without let or hindrance from powerful multinationals, hell bent on profit at your cost.

Let’s be clear, this is a simple trade-off; those parties who are in support see this as a way to grow the economy and create a freer trade system with our allies across the pond (because of course the free market has worked so well for them, right?) at the expense of regulation and at the risk of being taken to court when policy agendas clash with commercial investment interests. The TTIP negotiations currently taking place include the use of Investor State Dispute Settlements which allow corporations to sue governments in the UK or the EU for any government action (at any level, including local government level) that limits their projected profits. If a piece of policy is designed for the wider benefit of citizens in this country, for example health legislation changing cigarette packaging to highlight smoking dangers, and it impinges on the ability of investors to generate future profit, then they can sue for the loss, or ‘expropriation’.

This means that the exchequer must then cough up the claim from our own pool of public funding. The government, and the citizen, lose out on two fronts: we develop a system of governance that takes into account the profit of big international investors as a deciding factor in whether policy to affect a greater good should be passed, and we also potentially lose chunks of our taxes in claims when a government does take a stand. This affects our ability to implement progressive energy policies, implement the living wage, and push for safer and more equal workplaces. This puts business in the US at the driving seat of our parliamentary process in a way that makes the current corrupt lobbying system look like children swapping top trump cards in a play park.

ISDS is in place in other trade agreements globally. Over the lifespan of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) outcomes have shown that ISDS frequently leads either to large claims being favoured or, as ‘Stop TTIP’ point out, “perhaps more seriously, a chilling of legislation, with regulators afraid to act for fear of being sued. The sorts of regulations most likely to negatively affect future corporate profits are those supporting health and safety, the environment, workers’ and other social rights”.

These are precisely the domestic policy areas that form the backbone of our parties’ ideologies and our manifestos; these are the things that we are supposed to protect and guard and shape for the good of the population. These are the policies that help us to create the better society that citizens of this country deserve. The questionable benefits that such a trade agreement might bring do not negate this assault on our legislative process, and the jobs that it may or may not create will be of a character dictated by organisations whose primary concern is expansion and profit. And this will in turn dictate the strength and resolve of our own policy agenda.

On the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP the UK Government is deliberately vague. They state:

The UK Government welcomes the European Commission’s forthcoming public consultation on the merits of ISDS in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The US has supported ISDS clauses in other trade agreements including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and already has BITs with nine EU Member States, but not the UK. At this early stage in negotiations it is not possible to provide more specific detail. If ISDS were to be included then we would press for provisions that strike the right balance between investment protection and the rights of government to regulate.

It is imperative that ISDS is not included as part of the already controversial TTIP package. The creeping agenda of privatisation and the prioritising of GDP and corporate interests over the common good is about to reach its culmination under a government who cares little for safeguarding our human rights. Now is the time for Labour and the SNP voice concerns loudly and take a principled stance to protect our parliamentary democracy.

Some previous examples of the effects of ISDS on trade agreements may be found in this George Monbiot article.

Why I am not a liberal

John_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870The word “liberal” is a pretty complicated one. Living in this country it gets associated with the Liberal Democrats, and I hope it should be obvious why I’m not a Lib Dem. In a US context it means anyone to the left of the Republican Party mainstream.

More generally, if you’ll forgive being told how to suck eggs, it’s associated with freedom, the philosophy of John Stuart Mill (left), and the like. And in modern political analysis, it tends to be divided into two sections: social liberalism and economic liberalism. The combination of these two, in a slightly caveated way, is loosely the position of the Orange Book Lib Dems.

The latter is pretty straightforward: should companies and individuals be free to act economically largely without constraint, except where a direct harm can be demonstrated? This part has never had much appeal to me. It seemed clear to me that such an idealised system would essentially see those with money acquire more of it, and those without continue to be squeezed.

The Tory/Lib Dem/Labour consensus position on markets isn’t pure economic liberalism, but even the version I’ve lived under all my life clearly has those undesirable feedback characteristics.

The advantages under capitalism of starting with assets are so strong that a safe Piketty-ish bet is that inequalities will not just be protected but will grow. No thanks. I’m in favour of innovation, I’m in favour of a role for business – but within a clear framework that puts society’s needs first.

The former I find a bit more complicated, though. I have in the past described myself as economically socialist and socially liberal.

My use of “socially liberal” as a description of myself was a result of seeing social liberalism regularly in the same space as me on policy issues like equal marriage, drug legalisation, the New Zealand model for sex work laws, ID cards, etc. It seems like a tempting team to back, especially when you see it as a binary with intolerant “social conservatism”. And who on the left wants to be called illiberal?

However, it became increasingly clear to me that social liberalism has more in common with economic liberalism than I’d realised: that they have similar flaws, just as they have a similar theoretical underpinning.

Most obviously, neither social nor economic liberalism take account of power dynamics. In both cases, classically liberal positions risk favouring those with existing money or or social power. It leads to intellectual clusterfucks like today’s Tim Lott piece in the Guardian, a defence of privilege from someone who’s so liberal that he can’t even say whether or not the EDL is racist or right-wing.

To take another topical example, just look at the way “freedom of speech” is used and misused by social liberals. It’s a stopping point for too many people: an end to discussions. Social liberals seem determined not to analyse who has the power and who has the platform. It’s also off limits to consider what they’re saying or what impact it might have. It’s hard to persuade social liberals to look at whose voices are being systematically excluded, mocked, or ignored, especially when they have some technical freedoms of speech (i.e. where we don’t live under Stalinism or similar). Decisions not to invite discriminatory speakers becomes censorship (as argued against in this letter to the Observer, to which I was a signatory), neglecting the radical and worthwhile idea in human rights discourse, which is to protect individuals against oppressive restrictions at the hands of the state, not to restrict the organising of those individuals.

Some of this is simply naive on the part of liberals, but it’s hard not to read some of it as defiant protectionism for those who already get heard a lot, a close ideological parallel with the cartels or oligopolies which economic liberalism has consistently facilitated. Money accrues to those who have it: liberal platforms accrue to those who have them. The poor stay poor: the marginalised continue not to be heard. Liberal assessments do nothing to identify power inequalities, and liberal policy framings do nothing to redress them.

Now, clearly I still support policy positions where I happen share them with social liberals, but for me they are part of an anti-authoritarian value set, closer to anarchism than to liberalism. I’m done with liberalism: all of it.

Thankyou for listening

10476399_10100915509179671_9088546730157656764_nA few years ago I was invited to become a regular part of Better Nation, at a time when it was the only blog in Scottish politics that did not exist entirely to massage one person’s ego or to cheer-lead religiously for a particular political party. It was something I was happy to do, but all things run their course.

This year has seen the independence referendum and much else, but on a more personal level I have finished my PhD and have now turned back to doing what I really enjoy, writing foreign and cultural journalism. I’m also writing a book, which all being well should appear this summer. What’s inside will be familiar to anyone who has read my Better Nation posts, and there are some other interesting projects in the pipeline to do with Scotland’s growing new media. I have also been reminded that taking an obsessive view of Scottish politics leaves little time for reading books and climbing mountains, which are the essentials of a fulfilling life as far as I am concerned.

Scotland is a much more complex place than anyone would really care to admit, and what needs to happen now in reflecting that cannot come in the form of a blog, however well intentioned its authors might be. I have never been the kind of person to salivate over polls or write insight pieces just to cultivate my own sense of performative hackery, and I can’t sincerely stand up and try and pass off my personal beliefs as being particularly valid compared to the general population. Politics is interesting, and important, because it ultimately impacts on people. As a game in itself though it is often no better than navel gazing. There’s more fun and good to be had in writing about life than about Holyrood.

There are still things to be written, not least over at the Scottish Review and The Conversation, but not here any more. You can just about feel the spring in Stockholm, and that makes me think it is time to go.

 

Latest Holyrood poll

The latest monthly Record/Survation poll (formerly in partnership with this blog) is out, and it’s a corker. As per previous polling posts here, the vote share is the change on last month, and the seat change is since 2011.  And as usual, the ‘kippers would win some seats, but the Scotland Votes model doesn’t include them. I’ll run this again with a better predictor when I can fish it out.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 48 (-2) 65 (+12) 39 (±0) 2 (-14) 67 (-2) 51.9
Labour 28 (+2) 5 (-10) 22 (-1) 22 (±0) 27 (-10) 20.9
Conservative 13 (+1) 1 (-2) 12 (-2) 13 (+1) 14 (-1) 10.9
Liberal Democrats 5 (-1) 2 (±0) 7 (-1) 4 (+1) 6 (+1) 4.7
Scottish Greens - 0 (±0) 13 (+3) 15 (+13) 15 (+13) 11.6
UKIP - 0 (±0) 7 (+1) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 7 (+1) 0 (±0) 2.1 (+1.2) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

There’s two substantial changes here, and two only. First – Labour would see their worst ever Holyrood result by some margin, reduced to barely a fifth of the Parliament. Second – this is the best poll I’ve ever seen for the Greens. We’d be up from 2 to a massive 15 seats, and would be narrowly the third largest party. Bear in mind the UKIP caveat, which would probably hit Labour hardest but would also chip one or two off the Greens and Tories.

Astonishing.

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Big day for the Scottish Greens

Less than two hours ago nominations closed for the Scottish Greens’ list candidates in 2016, and the rumour is (as you’d expect with a party that’s probably seven times as large as it was last time we selected for Holyrood) we’ve got both quality and quantity coming forward.

I’m going to run through a few of the candidates that I know about, roughly from strongest region for us to weakest – please, I don’t know you’re standing, don’t feel snubbed. I’m sure there are many more good potential top candidates I don’t know about.

Lothian: Alison is standing again, of course, and of course there’s no-one better than her to top this list. This is the only region where we’ve previously had two MSPs, so I’m also very pleased indeed to see land reform campaigner Andy Wightman standing here. The moment he joined I thought he’d make a first class MSP: rigorous, principled, awkward in a good way. (declaration: I put in for one of the lower places on the list here, i.e. a support role, but will definitely vote these two ahead of me, and probably others as well)

Glasgow: Patrick is standing again too, and the same applies with him. I don’t think anyone else could have fronted the Green Yes campaign in the way he did, and I believe his contribution there and before that to be the largest factor in the surge in membership in Scotland. I only know one other definite candidate in this region, who is Zara Kitson, our force-of-nature Dunfermline by-election candidate, who’s moved back to Glasgow and who would be a great second to Patrick - if we do as well as the polls suggest (no-one is counting chickens) we’ll pick up a second MSP here too.

Highlands and Islands: Two strong candidates here I know of, and I’d find it hard to pick between them (fortunately that’s someone else’s problem). Fabio Villani, based in Moray, is the long-standing activist: astute, warm, hardworking. And of course John Finnie, elected as an SNP MSP in 2011 before the party moved away from the anti-NATO platform he was elected on. He charmed conference last autumn when he announced he was joining – and felt like “one of us” from the start.

North-East: For me Aberdeenshire-based Debra Storr is narrowly ahead of Dundee-based Pauline Hinchion, although either would make a splendid top candidate and MSP. Debra, like John, was formerly elected for another party, but left during the Trump fiasco, when she and Martin Ford found the Liberal Democrats to be neither particularly liberal nor democratic. She’s determined, principled, and energetic. Martin himself is standing for the second spot, and his rigour and hard work would also be an excellent asset in the Chamber if we do find ourselves getting our best ever results (just polling, the only poll that matters, etc etc).

Mid-Scotland and Fife: The only candidate I know is standing here is former Green MSP Mark Ruskell: when he wasn’t re-elected in 2007 I admit I was utterly distraught. One of the real stars of the 2003 intake, and now Stirling’s first Green councillor. Having him back in the Chamber and representing this region would be almost enough in itself for me to regard this coming election as a triumph.

South: Two here where I’d again be reluctant to pick, but again don’t have to. Jason Rose is my calm and collected successor as head of media for the Green MSPs, and he’s been doing sterling work reviving the East Lothian branch. Sarah-Beattie Smith is also standing, I believe – and she’d also be a smart, hard-working candidate, and a great public speaker.

West: Great to see Ross Greer standing here – it’s a hard region for us, but one where good organisation could get a Green over the line. And that’s one of his strengths. He’s doing a vast amount of work right now supporting new local groups and branches, and if anyone can win this for us, Ross can.

Central: I believe (and apologies if I’m wrong) Kirsten Robb is standing again for Central. She’s a great long-time activist, former candidate here, and well plugged into a lot of local campaigns and groups. As with West, we’ve got a lot more members here than we ever had before, and she’s the obvious person to lead this list – and 10% nationally, which some of the polls have us on, could see her elected too.

There’ll be loads more who’ve put nominations in I don’t know about, but just from those I do know about we’ve clearly got the potential for some amazing candidates in the top slot or two across the country. The future of the party has never looked so good.

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