As Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to come to terms with its violent past, many still wonder if the country will ultimately disintegrate. This was a prognosis recently put to Zeljka Cvijanovic, the current Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, a sub-region. She dismissed the question out of hand. Still, it was clear from her presentation at the Royal United Services Institute in London and in a subsequent interview for BBC HardTalk that her primary allegiance (as a citizen and politician) is to Republika Srpska, rather than to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The 24th of March 2016 could be Scotland’s Independence Day if Scots vote ‘Yes’ in next September’s referendum. However, the skirling of bagpipes to herald the birth of a new nation can barely be heard in the far distance. The most recent poll shows the ‘Yes’ campaign continuing to trail the ‘Better Together’ campaign by 9%, with 38% of voters intending to vote ‘Yes’, 47% inclined to vote ‘No’ and 15% undecided. With almost half of voters remaining in the ‘No’ camp, the future of the union looks secure. However, demographic complexities behind this once-in-a-generation referendum may make standard polling techniques unreliable.
The left-wing Radical Independence movement has presented the referendum as a ‘class conflict’ in which the rich promoted a ‘no’ vote to maintain their privilege. In reality, the battle lines are less clearly drawn. Research conducted by the eminent psephologist, Professor John Curtice, found that middle class people needed more reassurance than their working class compatriots that independence would not have an adverse effect on the country’s economy. However, if citizens could be guaranteed that they would be £500 a year richer under independence, the results would be turned on their head. If the ‘Yes’ campaign can make a better economic case for independence, or if fear of the UK leaving the EU becomes real, the economic calculus may change.
For outside observers, gun control seems to be an oxymoron in America. Even following the school shooting in Newtown, the Senate failed to pass an amendment mandating universal background checks on sales of firearms. President Obama reacted with visible anger. He had staked much of his post-election political capital on ‘gun sense’, only to have a watered-down bipartisan bill proposed by two pro-gun Senators muster just 54 votes in the Senate. Polling revealed that the bill had more than 80% support amongst Democrats, Republicans and independent Americans.
The formal American system is famously anti-majoritarian: it is a cluster of staggered, disjointed and (in the case of the Supreme Court) even mythical legitimacies, all of which exercise influence over federal legislation. But questions remain as to why America cannot pass stricter gun laws, when a majority of Americans support a number of increased restrictions.
The Commission on the Consequences of Devolution, also known as the McKay Commission, reported quietly in March 2013. Its remit had been to consider how the Commons should handle legislation that affects only part of the UK, now that domestic policy, to varying degrees, has been devolved to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It was not, however, instructed not ‘to deal with matters of finance in the context of the devolution settlements or with the representation of the devolved areas at Westminster’. This is Hamlet without the prince: finance and representation are the big unsolved questions in UK devolution. But for news about Claudius, Laertes and Polonius, read on.
The Commission examines solutions to the ‘West Lothian Question’ (WLQ) other than cutting the numbers of MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The WLQ, properly stated, relates to the powers of MPs (and in principle peers) not from a given part of the UK to alter legislation that affects only that part. In the past, it has severely affected Scotland, Wales and (Northern) Ireland. The Poll Tax was introduced in Scotland only by an Act which the majority of Scottish MPs opposed. Older examples include the blocking of Welsh church reform from 1868 to 1920, coercion Acts in nineteenth-century Ireland, and the Patronage Act (Scotland) 1711/12, violating the then recent Act of Union.
However the WLQ can now only affect England.
A funny thing happened in Moscow in September. Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow at the beginning of the month, Armenia’s President Sargsian announced that Armenia had decided to join the Eurasian Customs Union. The Customs Union and the more general Eurasian Union project are an effort to foster re-integration in the former Soviet space. Sargsian’s statement effectively amounted to a retreat from the agreement between Armenia and the EU on Association. After three years of intense and successful negotiation with the EU, Armenia dumped the project.