Scotland Referendum: Notes From An Independent Country

The first time pengovsky really went abroad (yearly summer migration to Croatia notwithstanding) was Scotland. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was, catching the last train from Prestwick to Glasgow on account of Ryanass flight being late and then walking alone in the middle of the night down the streets of Glasgow, map in hand and two backpacks on me, looking for a hostel which seemed pretty close on the map, but really wasn’t… Well, let’s just say I could have been an easy target. But instead this guy Ian came up to me, moderately inebriated, and asked me if I was lost. Since he was satisfied that I wasn’t, he proceeded to ask me where I was from. And upon hearing my country of origin, he broke into wild cheers of “SLOVENIA! ZAHOVIC!” and then decided my hostel of choice was “shite” and personally took me to “this other place”, which was cheaper and nearer. And sure enough it was. Run by Iggy Pop‘s long lost twin brother (or so it seemed), it was a shabby place which could only provide a mattress for the night, but since I was off to Edinburgh the next morning, it didn’t really matter. And I got a discount. But I digress. Point is, my first encounter with Scotland was bizarrely pleasant which is why the whole Scottish Independence Referendum Thing perks more than just my political sciences side.

20140917 scotland Scotland Referendum: Notes From An Independent Country
In the words of John Oliver: Nothing screams Scottish freedom more than a millionaire Australian anti-Semite on horseback (source)

Just so there’s no misunderstanding, freedom has no price. That much should be taken for granted. And in a few hours you, the good people of Scotland, will decide. There is no wrong answer here. But living in a country that did in fact pull off a relatively smooth independence (especially when one takes into account the bloodbath that followed in ex-Yugoslavia), pengovsky feels he is in a position to give some qualified unsolicited advice, should tomorrow come to a “yes” vote.

Borders

First thing you will notice once the will of the people is enacted for real is the border. There hasn’t been a proper land border in your area for the last three hundred and seven years and I’m sure none of you remember how it was before then. And I can tell you it will be much more of a hassle than you ever imagined. Especially if you commute regularly from Scotland to England (or vice-versa, for that matter).

Now, I’m sure that should you vote in favour of independence, both countries will try to make border crossings as painless as possible. But some hassle is unavoidable. And whenever there’s a terrorist scare or even a problematic football match, borders tend to become much more tightly guarded. Really, if you’re not used to it, it’s not pretty. And since England or “rest of the UK“, as Whitehall apparently calls it, will probably join the EU Schengen border agreement on the Saint of Never, you’ll be pretty much stuck with that for the forseeable future. And just to give you an idea of how much that sucks: after Slovenia entered the Schengen system and we started thinking of our borders with Italy and Austria and most EU airports as glorified toll-booths, it came as a real shock to me when, visiting the US for the first time, I had to stand in line for two hours just to get past customs.

Majority

Second, and I sort of hate to bring this up since it is much too late in the game, is the legitimacy of your decision. Again, whatever you do decide is fine, but you might take a moment and a deep breath, because you’re not just fulfilling a dream of a generation(s) of Scots but also setting the environment for your children and your children’s children. And I was startled to learn that only a simple majority is required for a “yes” vote to win. In real life this means that in an eighty percent turnout, a fifty-one percent vote in favour of independence would actually mean that minority of Scots voted “yes”. Somehow, that don’t really fly, don’t you think?

You see, when Slovenia was putting together its rules for the independence referendum, the issue of a majority was a tricky one, too. Most of the right-wing wanted a simple majority rule, while most of the left-wing wanted a qualified majority of all eligible voters. The argument being that if you can’t trust your own people to support you, who can you trust, then. And the argument prevailed. Not only did more than half of Slovenians of voting age vote in favour of independence, the “yes” vote gathered as much as 88,5 percent support. Which is about as unanimous as you can get in a democracy. Henceforth legitimacy of Slovenian independence was not a question anymore. It was only a matter of convincing others of that fact and, well, executing it.

Because once you go for it, there’s a shitload of stuff that needs to be done. Take currency. I take it you’ve realised by now the English will not let you keep the pound. Which means you’ll have to issue your own and back it up. Now, having your own currency is expensive. Although it is probably even more expensive (as things stand now, at least) to adopt the euro, which you’ll have to do if you decide to join the EU. So that kind of sucks.

President Salmond?

Next up it’s the constitution. You might think it is simply a matter of upgrading current legislation, but it is much more than that. With the constitution, everything is up for grabs. You can do what ever the fuck you like. But since I doubt Bonnie Prince Charlie has any legitimate successors and any claims to the Scottish throne will in all likelihood be fake, you’ll probably form a republic. Will you be a parliamentary republic or will you go for a more presidential system? Does the PM appoint ministers or does the parliament do it? You see, Slovenia was sort of in the rush when we adopted our constitution and just copy/pasted some silly German provision which haunts us every time a new government is being formed. So don’t make the same mistakes we did.

Then there’s the army. I know you guys have a long and proud military tradition and I know you want those nuclear missiles gone. But you’re not maintaining your army directly. And that’s one fucking expensive toy, I tell you. But you can’t really afford not to have an army. Sure, no-one expects Norwegian raiding parties to land on your shores, but you’re probably not want to throw away all those regiments or worse, give them to the English.

Patriotism

And trust me, there aren’t going to be any more jobs just because you got independent. Slovenia may be an extreme case since we lost about 90% of our market once Yugoslavia fell apart, but any way you look at it things are bound to go pretty bad pretty quick. And while patriotism may make you forget you’re hungry it won’t put bread on your table. Slovenians learned this the hard way. Looking back, in my opinion it was still worth it, but ours was an alternative of a Balkan carnage and/or an autocratic regime, so the choice wasn’t really hard.

As for you, Scotland, I’m in no position to judge. I just thought you might want some first hand experience from a country that gained its independence relatively recently.

Now go and do you your thing.

    September 17th, 2014, posted by pengovsky

    Neo-Nazis, Lies And A Journo Doing Her Job

    Remember when Delo journalist Anuška Delić found herself at the wrong side of a criminal investigation pertaining to her alleged use of classified material when she wrote about the connection between Janez Janša‘s SDS, the Slovenian Army and the local Neo-Nazi Blood&Honour organisation? Well, things have taken a turn for the bizarre.

    20140916 blog1 Neo Nazis, Lies And A Journo Doing Her Job
    Anuška Delić gets more international attention

    Namely, contrary to common sense and basic decency, the prosecution did in fact press the case forward and… well, turns out SOVA (the secret service) freaked out and had Delić investigated because her articles were spot on. SOVA at the time did in fact detect a link between the Neo-Nazi element and the SDS (the party had presumably cleaned up its act since) and put together a classified report. This is where the plot thickens.

    Delić claims she never broke the law, i.e. never used classified material when she was preparing her article. Whether that’s true or just a line of defence remains to be seen. Or, rather, not seen, hoping still that cooler heads will prevail and let the matter die a quiet death in the mills of judicial bureaucracy. In fact, the prosecution, too, apparently feels they lack a smoking gun since they’ve asked the court to authorise a check on Delić’s phone records. Ironically, had the case not moved forward, Delić would never have known the state wanted to see her phone call log. Apparently she only learned of that when she was delivered the details of the indictment against her. Further to that, according to as-yet-unverified info, SOVA also had prosecution indict former head of the secret service Sebastian Selan. Whether or not Selan is being investigated as a possible source of the leak is still a matter of some speculation, but it does suggest that someone wasn’t really thinking when they set about closing the leak.

    Namely, dragging your former boss, the guy who knows all your secrets to court is, well, stupid. What are you going to do? Charge him with high treason? Becasue abuse of office doesn’t sound all that threatening when dealing with a former chief spook. Asking for permission to pry into a reporter’s phone log is doubly stupid, because, a) we’ve all seen All The President’s men and important info is never relayed over the phone and b) it makes the secret service look like it is chasing its own tail. Not that SOVA doesn’t occasionally indulge in this as it is, but still.

    Anyhoo, the thing that makes this more serious a matter than just yet another amateur night in the Slovenian spook business is the fact that SOVA disseminated the report among top-level officials responsible for this country’s security: chief of police Janko Goršek, justice minister Aleš Zalar (who at the time served as acting interior minister), defence minister Ljubica Jelušič, PM Borut Pahor and President Danilo Türk.

    Let’s take a look at this one more time, in slow motion. The very top of the security pyramid in this country was notified by the secret service that there’s an active connection between Neo-Nazis and a specific political party, extending all the way into the Slovenian Army. And no-one moved a muscle.

    Well, not exactly. According to a Delo story from a couple of days ago, President Türk did, according to his statement to the said paper, alert both PM Pahor and defence minister Jelušič to the report and urged them to act upon it. Which is about as much as he could do, since his authority over the armed forces is minimal during peace-time.

    And that was it. Jelušič wrote at the time that discharging soldiers due to their alleged sympathies with the extremists which they profess in their own free time would really not be kosher. She even famously added at the time that “we do not even know what sort of extremists we’re dealing with here, whether they’re illegal and whether they indulged in extremist activities in their free time or not”.

    Well, it appears Jelušič, despite her writing to the contrary knew full well what she was dealing with. The fact that SOVA is going after Delić for publishing it says so. The only question is why she chose to ignore it. One can only speculate, but the fact that Slovenia was in the middle of 2011 election campaign at the time possibly played a part. Which points the finger at Jelušič’s then-boss both in the government and in the party, Borut Pahor, who has since been elected president of the republic. That his office is staying mute, speaks volumes.

    The latest developments in the case were, admittedly, picked up the Guardian as well as International Press Institute. But still, at the end of the day, what we have here is a security apparatus clamping down on a journo who did her job when no-one else would, as the spooks were leaking at the seams and the people trusted to run the country made every effort to look the other way when faced with an inconvenient truth.

    Maybe, just maybe, it is better the case made it this far. Now at least we know how fucked-up the matter really was. But it would be unfair to ask of Anuška Delić to see it that way. After all, it is her back up against the wall.

    VOLUNTARY DISCLAIMER: Anuška Delić was in no way, shape or form contacted for the purposes of this blogpost. Whatever conjecture there is in it, it is entirely mine and made based on publicly available information

      September 16th, 2014, posted by pengovsky

      Yet Another Letter to the Prime Minister

      Yo, MC Miro, huddle up! Congrats on yesterday’s PM confirmation and all that jazz, but pay attention now. 57 votes in favour is a sweet thing but keep in mind the storm is just brewing. Admittedly, pengovsky is on vacays these days and follows events at home sporadically but there seems to be a consensus that you didn’t do a particularly good job with your acceptance speech. You gotta work on that, dude.

      20140826 cerar Yet Another Letter to the Prime Minister
      Prime Minister Miro Cerar addressing the National Assembly (source)

      Now, I think we are both in agreement that you more or less fucked up putting your coalition together. I mean, just DeSUS and SD? What’s wrong with you, man? No, seriously, you’ve willingly put yourself in a position where Karl »I-want-a-prestigious-post-with-little-actual-work« Erjavec can grab you by the balls and swing you around every time he feels threatened.

      The SocDems don’t even count. Not to mention that DeSUS and SD were once part of the same flock and have even tried to form some half-baked form of a coalition before the elections. Point being they are much more likely to conspire together against you than letting you play them one against the other. Also, let us not forget that both SD and DeSUS are teeming with veterans of the national political cess-pool and will take you to the cleaners the first chance they get.

      Because that’s what’ll happen. If you think the two junior coalition partners will not seek to empower themselves and/or make up for the losses they’ve suffered on 13 July, you’ve got another thing coming.

      Special interest counting to 46

      Three years ago Ljudmila Novak of the NSi dropped an epic put-down to Zoran Janković in his PM bid telling him that he needs to learn to count to 46. But you seem to have taken that particular lesson way too literally. Sure, 46 is the magic number, but there are ways to get to that number and there are ways to get to that number, if you catch my drift. You really shouldn’t have given your predecessor such a cold shoulder. Alenka Bratušek and her four votes would have come in mighty handy pretty soon. To put it bluntly, you are now in a position where Karl Erjavec always (and I mean, always) holds the key to your 46 votes. The man really deserves his middle name. Victor.

      And if you’re congratulating yourself on kicking out certain political forces (the word on the street is that »you weren’t going to give in to the people ran by Gregor Golobič«), stop it, while you still can. Slovenian politics is full of bogeymen. Some people hoist the banner the moment someone mentions Janša. Some people see Golobič in every shadow. Others think Milan Kučan at his advanced age still runs the show. Fuck, there are probably people who’ll swear that Edvard Kardelj is still alive and pulling the strings! But in reality, what we have here is just a succession of progressively bad moves by progressively challenged people who were elected to positions they were not fit to hold in the first place.

      Really. There is no conspiracy. You need to remember this as you’ve just invited the person who invented the phrase »uncles in the shadows« into your government. You’ve also made a deal with a politician who claims to represent the largest special interest in Slovenia: the pensioners. You’ve even agreed to 40+ million EUR additional financial obligation per annum even before you’ve even picked (let alone have had confirmed) a new finance minister. And you still believe you’ve freed yourself from undue influence?

      Pushing Potočnik and other shop-worn faces

      While we’re on the issue: Dušan Mramor is a relatively good pick for a finance minister. You could have done a lot worse. But you could have done much better, too. In fact, I fail to see why you couldn’t break the arm of the outgoing finance minister Uroš Čufer and persuade him to stay on. We know you can play hardball, we’ve seen it with the issue of EU commissioner post.

      Further to that: Janez Potočnik? Seriously? I know the man is likeable and your promoting him probably falls within the pattern of you picking colleagues from Faculty of Law and Faculty of Social Sciences. But Potočnik held his EU post for two terms now. Ten years. And he wasn’t even elected to it. I’m sorry to be the one to bring it up, but as far as I remember, ALDE (the EU political group Potočnik belongs to) said prior to EU elections it will only nominate people who were on the ballot. Potočnik famously chickened out of leading an all-ALDE ballot in Slovenia. The dude is damaged goods. And he’s only further damaging himself by acting like a fucking prima-donna (»I’m in! I’m out! No, I’m in!«). And have you ever considered that maybe Juncker wouldn’t want Potočnik on his team?

      To be honest, for a leader of a new political force you sure seem to be ending up with plenty of shop-worn names in your cabinet. It is as if you’ve spent all of your ammo on insignificant issues and are going to have to settle for a sub-optimal team of ministers.

      The Youth Office and other pensioner related issues

      But enough about that. You’ve got a job to do. And despite the fact that mine is not the only »open letter« you’ll be receiving these days, I dare say others are of more, well, stock variety. So, the labour unions wrote you a letter. Welfare state, labour rights, yaddayaddayadda. They do that every time. But let’s cut to the chase here. Ever since they torpedoed the law on menial work (and arguably from well before that) the labour unions are nothing but a pressure group of people looking for the most favourable retirement conditions possible.

      I mean, sure, the labour force is taking the brunt of this crisis. But within the labour force, the young-and-educated by far worse of than anyone else. They are the people who will, by the nature of things, have to keep the economy afloat, make the money go round and raise that GDP. There simply is no other way. Most of these people have no union representation (although the unions claim otherwise) and – more importantly – they’ve zero »official« experience to make them eligible applicants for what little jobs fitting their profile there are available. I know that the latest draft of the coalition agreement uses all the correct buzzwords about youth employment, but at the same time you dismantled the Youth Office, the only institutional representation in the (broadly speaking) government young people had and drowned that particular office in the new »Trans-generational Cooperation Office« to be headed by a person from – the pensioners’ party? Dude, c’mon!

      Controlled privatisation? WTF?

      On the other hand, the industry is going on and on about their usual mantra: Workforce too expensive, taxes too high, leaving the country, bada bing, bada boom. Sure, the tax-mix is less than optimal and there’s a compeling case for tax-cap, but no matter how much you cut the wages or cut taxes it ain’t gonna solve the basic problem of Slovenian industry: it just ain’t competitive, mostly because on the whole it doesn’t produce enough added value. And that’s mostly because there isn’t enough innovation (to be more exact, not enough innovation gets from the laboratories to the production floor).

      While we’re on the issue: What the fuck does »controlled privatisation« mean? It sounds something like »half-pregnancy«. I mean, you make it sound as if previous privatisations were uncontrolled. Sure, those that amounted to botched-bordering-on-illegal MBOs were uncontrolled. Those few state-owned companies, however, that were actually sold to the highest bidder, we were at pains to let go as if we were selling our only daughter into slavery. You said it yourself in your acceptance speech: we have mostly ourselves blame for this crisis. And no amount of rule of law or values or pride is going to help when the industry and the mind-set that runs it is still in 1980’s.

      Start taking positions, pronto

      Ah, yes, values and the rule of law. You were pretty big on that in the past couple of months. But soon you’re going to have to take real positions on real issues. Because »equality and respect for all ethnical and social minorities« is not the correct answer to question of same-sex marriage. Just to give an example at random.

      Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s been slightly more than a month since your sweeping election victory and already your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.

      You wrote in your draft coalition agreement conditions must be met to hold an exhaustive debate on all forms of families. But we already had that debate. More than once. And the views between supporters and detractors of same sex marriage and non-traditional forms of family are irreconcilable. This is what running a country is about. You form a policy, you form legislation, you pass it and then you enact it. Your British PM colleague was able to do it, you should be, too.

      Slippery slope

      And what’s that about instituting a trial term for judges? That, my dear prime minister is a marked step backwards, since judges today are sworn into a permanent term immediately. You know very well that a) a permanent term is meant to insulate judges from political meddling and that b) the only party that really makes an issue of the trial/permanent term is Janez Janša’s SDS. We both know why.

      But you don’t seem to be familiar with the concept of »slippery slope issue«. You see, instituting a trial term at the beginning of a judge’s career is akin to getting a foot in the door. Sure, it looks like a small concession to the party and its leader who made a career out of conspiracy theories. But in fact this is the biggest hurdle for them to clear. Once trial term in enacted, it is only a matter of political opportunism when the trial period gets its first extension. Say, from one to three years. And once you’re there, it’s no sweat of anyone’s back if gets extended from three to five years. And pretty soon, say within ten years, you’re left with a judiciary that is more incompetent, more corrupt and more politically influenced than we ever thought possible.

      Which, of course brings us to the Curious Case of the Convict MP. The fact that under existing legislation Janez Janša gets to keep his MP seat despite serving a two-year prison sentence for corruption in the Patria Affair is a major embarrassment. But, you see, legislation is not only to be observed, it can also get passed. I believe your predecessor already started legislative procedure that would solve the conundrum. Don’t be afraid to follow this through. After all, this is not a legal but rather a political question. And a political solution to this must – as usual in a democracy – become law. For this is not really about Janša. He will only take whatever advantage he can in a given situation. And you already saw that he can be stopped dead in his track by political means.

      I’m referring to his bid to become a member of of the committee for intelligence services oversight, with his party chum Branko »Gizmo« Grims serving as president. Which of course means Ivan would be de facto chair of the committee. But your parliamentary group chief Simona Kustec Lipicer put the entire committee on ice pending final decision on Janša’s MP status.

      (Re)Focus

      But as you are about to move into your new office in two weeks, Janša’s parliamentary issues will increasingly become Kustec Lipicer’s problem. You need to focus. Or, if we are to judge by the draft coalition agreement, refocus.

      After all, it is the economy, stupid.

        August 26th, 2014, posted by pengovsky

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