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The Scottish Government this week released the first draft of an interim constitution for an independent Scotland, as well as details about the nature of the Constitutional Convention that would come together in order to write a final document. In a post first published on the Democratic Audit UK blog, Alan Renwick argues that though some elements of this are encouraging, a bolder approach – particularly in terms of convention membership, and the clarity of the document as a whole – would be preferable.

The Scottish Government has this week set out its plans for Scotland’s constitutional future in the event of a Yes vote in September’s independence referendum. Those plans come in three parts: an interim constitution to take effect on the day Scotland becomes an independent country; a procedure for drawing up a permanent constitution; and some ideas on what the permanent constitution might contain. Many of the proposals are sensible. But they also evince a disappointing lack of ambition. If our democracy is to escape its current despond, more innovative thinking is badly needed.

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Dr Alan Renwick

Today’s Queen’s Speech includes a commitment to bring forward legislation allowing recall of MPs.  A recall petition will be opened either when an MP is jailed for up to twelve months (longer jail sentences already lead to automatic expulsion) or when the Commons itself decides that a miscreant MP should be censured with the threat of recall.  If at least 10 per cent of eligible local voters sign the petition within an eight-week period, a by-election will be held.  The sitting MP will be allowed to stand in the by-election, but will have to prove his or her continuing local support in order to retain office.

This is identical to the proposals set out by the government in a draft bill and accompanying white paper in 2011.  For some time after those proposals were published, it seemed that the government had got cold feet on the idea: the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee was not keen, and many MPs clearly disliked the thought of being dislodged by angry voters between elections.  The matter has returned to the agenda because the government can’t appear to be unresponsive to the anti-establishment mood that has fuelled the rise of UKIP.

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The SNP have promised that an independent Scotland will develop a codified constitution.The other main parties have suggested that a No vote is a vote for a union in which Scotland is granted greater autonomy. But how should new constitutional arrangements be decided?  In this post, first published on the blog of UCL’s Constitution Unit, Alan Renwick explores the options and concludes that the recent Irish Constitutional Convention could provide a useful model.

As the hullaballoo around the local and European elections begins to fade, attention is turning back to the main event in UK politics for 2014: the referendum on Scottish independence.  We are now in the official sixteen-week campaign period and, if the last few days are anything to go by, the two sides in the debate plan to continue screeching at each other much as they did before.  The Yes camp insists that Scotland’s economy will flourish following independence while the No camp counters that numerous economic dangers lie ahead.

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In his second post on this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Dr Alan Renwick looks here at what the voting patterns tell us about attitudes towards sexual minorities across Europe today.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest has been won by a bearded drag artist from Austria.  There was much talk beforehand about whether the votes cast for Conchita Wurst would reveal a divide across Europe in attitudes towards alternative sexual identities.  Attitudes in the north west, many supposed, would be more progressive, while attitudes in the south and, particularly, the east were expected be more conservative.

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It’s time for a little eurovisio-psephology here on the Reading politics blog.  The voters have all been counted for Eurovision 2014 and Austria’s Conchita Wurst has been declared the winner.  But what if the votes had been counted differently – could the result then have been different too?  Dr Alan Renwick, Reading’s very own Eurovision voting expert, investigates.

We tend to think that the results of democratic elections are decided by the votes cast.  But, actually, there are lots of different ways of counting up the same set of preferences to produce a voting result.  And the method used can sometimes produce starkly different results.

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Scotland will be voting in just eight months time on whether to maintain or dissolve the Union.  There has been much speculation about the result.  But remarkably little of it has investigated the lessons we can draw from past referendums in the UK and around the world.  In this post, Reading politics lecturer Alan Renwick explores the evidence.

Do we know what the outcome of this year’s Scottish independence referendum will be?  The polls have been remarkably stable for months, suggesting something like a 60:40 split in favour of maintaining the Union.  Leading commentators, however, continue to urge caution in calling the result.  Andrew Marr’s answer to the question of whether Scottish voters will opt for separation is “They micht.”  The leading political scientist and BBC elections pundit Professor John Curtice says “the polls may not have moved much so far.  But the important arguments and debates that will take place in the next 12 months could still make a difference.”

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The University of Reading Graduate School and the Department of Politics and International Relations hosted a very special seminar on October 23rd to discuss the impact of economics on US strategic options – an event whose topicality was emphasized by the recent partial shutdown of the US federal government.  The seminar was organized by our PhD student Mark Jakeman, who did excellent work to bring together a collection of leading speakers in this area.  In the paragraphs that follow, Mark reports on the discussion that unfolded.

The relationship between economics and grand strategy cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries and therefore sometimes gets neglected.  Yet it is among the most important relationships for us to understand.  An enthusiastic audience gathered for this seminar, including members of the faculty as well as PhD Students from Reading, Exeter and Kent.  We heard four expert speakers give their views on how current economic issues facing the US, together with likely future developments, would affect America’s position in the international system.

Left to right: seminar organizer Mark Jakeman and speakers Nicholas Kitchen, Iwan Morgan, Sandford G. Henry, and Darren Perdue.

Left to right: seminar organizer Mark Jakeman and speakers Nicholas Kitchen, Iwan Morgan, Sandford G. Henry, and Darren Perdue.

Dr Nicholas Kitchen from the London School of Economics opened the session by explaining the importance of the role of capitalism as a constituent of US identity and as a driving force in the evolution of US foreign policy. He also discussed the changing nature of economic power in a more integrated and globalised world and warned against an uncritical acceptance of the popular narrative of American declinism.

Professor Iwan Morgan from University College London spoke in depth about the US debt and deficit with a detailed account of the US financial situation since the First World War. He explained the building pressures of entitlement programmes such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the “baby boomer” generation retires. He also discussed the difficult choices that will have to be made by the US government by the middle of the 21st Century regarding monetary and fiscal discipline and the impact they will have on US international relations and foreign and defence policy.

Sanford G. Henry from Chatham House struck an optimistic note whilst acknowledging the current difficulties faced by the US. He felt that a more flexible economic environment in the US together with technological advances driven by American innovation and the establishment of a new generation of trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would create the framework for a resurgence of US prosperity. This would allow America to grow out of its current economic constraints.

Darren Perdue from the US Embassy in London spoke frankly about the challenges America faced but was confident that with a combination of immigration reform, improved education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and modern trade agreements which opened markets and protected the intellectual property rights (IPR) of US companies, America would continue to be the leading force in the global economy.

The discussion which followed the presentations was lively and robust. The audience showed a deep understanding of the topic and were eager to challenge some of the speakers’ assumptions and reassess parts of the evidence they presented. Question topics included the nature of international power, the development of US strategy, the possibility of US immigration reform, the proper scope and scale of IPR in the developing world, the flexibility of future capital markets, the relationship of trade to military power and the relationship between Chinese prosperity, its military capability and US strategic options.

The Department of Politics and International Relations is deeply grateful to all the participants at the seminar and, especially, to Mark Jakeman for organizing it so skilfully.

Our PhD student Corinne Heaven is researching the politics of UN fact-finding missions.  Recent events in Syria have pushed such missions to the very top of the world political agenda.  In a new post on the Global Policy Journal blog, Corinne draws on this expertise to argue that the work of the UN inspection team in Syria may ultimately serve to strengthen the role of the United Nations.

To read her post, go here: http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/17/09/2013/shadow-iraq-syria-inspection-teams-and-new-powers-united-nations.

A special colloquium on the current situation in Syria will be held at the University of Reading on 4th October.  The event, organized by our PhD students, will include contributions from both staff and students.  Full details are available on the colloquium website: http://syriacolloquium.blogspot.co.uk/.

The June protests in Istanbul may have faded from the headlines, but their consequences are still unfolding.  And those consequences could be very serious for the future of Turkish democracy.  In a new post on the Open Democracy blog, Reading International Relations lecturer Burak Kadercan analyses the situation today and assess the opportunities and dangers that Turkey will face in the months to come.

For the global media what happened in Gezi Park throughout June is now old news. Not so much for the citizens of Turkey. Gezi still remains the single most salient reference point for politics and, more than ever, everyday life. Make no mistake, post-Gezi, the genie is out of the bottle and not only refuses to return, but also cannot be fully contained by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP.

To read further, go here.

Alan Renwick

There is much justified indignation in the newspapers this morning about yesterday’s announcement of thirty new members of the House of Lords.  Yet such indignation is curious when it comes from papers that campaigned vociferously against the government’s proposals for reforming the Lords last year.  The new appointments highlight again the fact that the current make-up of our second chamber is indefensible.  A gradual process of change to something more credible is badly needed.

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