Tag Archives: Second Reading

The UK’s EU surcharge (another blow for Osborne) – Second Reading

[Image: Left Futures.]

[Image: Left Futures.]

At first glance, this article from the House of Commons Library blog didn’t look as though it was going to contribute anything new.

We know why the UK had to pay a surcharge to the EU based on its economy performance from 2002 until 2013 (according to this article; 2009 according to some others). We know that it relates to the EU budget because member states pay a proportion of their gross national income into the EU’s coffers in return for membership. We know that the revision goes back to 2002 because the EU disagreed with the way some member states had worked out their figures. We know that the question of whether the rebate would always apply to this payment is hotly debated.

But then the article states:

“Concessions have been reached on the timing and staging of payments. Member States will be able to pay in stages with payment completed by 1 September 2015. The original amending budget required a single payment to be made by 1 December 2014.

Member States paying later will not incur interest charges for doing so. Regulations would have allowed for interest payments of 2 percentage points above the base rate, increasing by a 0.25 percentage point for each month of delay.” [Boldings mine.]

Didn’t Osborne come back from Europe saying he had negotiated concessions for the UK? What’s all this “member states” business?

For example, on Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday (November 9), he said: “This is a real win for British taxpayers… It’s another sign this government can get a good deal for Britain in Europe.” [Bolding, again, mine.]

There’s no mention of the other member states in his renegotiation story at all! Osborne makes it look as though he negotiated a deal for the UK that the other states agreed…

… In fact, it seems all member states agreed on a deal that would affect all member states.

For all we know, Osborne could have sat at the back of the room and twiddled his thumbs. The more we learn about this deal, the less significant his role seems to be.

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On the international Day of Older People, more older people in the UK were having to stay in work

If there is a drawback to Second Reading (the House of Commons Library blog), it’s that the library’s stern practice of impartiality means that it can end up producing figures on a phenomenon without being able to explain why that phenomenon came about.

So it is with yesterday’s figures on ‘Older people in the UK labour market’ – which looks at key statistics regarding older people who are still in work.

First we get a graph showing that the number of people aged over 65 who are still in work has more than doubled, from 4.9 per cent in 1994 to 10.1 per cent (of 11 million people, making 1.1 million) in 2014.

141001-employment-rate

Before anybody leaps in to say they’re taking jobs away from younger people, it is worth reading on to discover that they are far more likely to be self-employed or working part-time (79 per cent of the total, with 39 per cent self-employed – 438,000 people).

That’s really as far as Second Reading can go. Fortunately we have Flip Chart Fairy Tales to provide more insight into the reasons. In an article posted on August 1 this year, this blog states:

Chris Giles wrote a piece in the FT this week arguing that most of the increase [in self-employment] is due not to lots more people becoming self-employed but to lots more people not leaving self-employment who would otherwise have done so.

If that’s the case, you can’t even blame the catastrophic collapse in self-employed earnings after 2008 on there being lots of new people who didn’t know what they were doing. If Chris is right, this is old-timers seeing their business shrink, rather than newbies trying to find their feet, under-charging and messing things up [all boldings mine].

The same goes for the increase in the number of self-employed tax credit claimants and the steady rise in non-employing and non-VAT paying businesses. If there has been no surge in new entrants, then either a lot of low profit and low turnover businesses are hanging on in there, or a lot more of them have become low-profit and low turnover businesses since 2008.

Chris says we should stop complaining because self-employment boosts tax revenues. It hasn’t done much boosting in recent years though. Despite the increase in numbers of people, the declared income of the self-employed was down by £8bn between 2008 and 2012.

What we’re seeing, then, is a huge rise in the number of people who find themselves unable to retire because they won’t have enough income to support themselves.

It has been said that Conservatives try to look after the elderly, because they are the only population group that is sure to vote in elections.

It seems the Tories have forgotten around 1.1 million of them.

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Demographic differences and voting patterns in Scotland’s independence referendum – Second Reading

Shall we all look forward to the inevitable claims of bias and misinformation from disgruntled ‘Yes’ voters? Here’s Steven Ayres of the House of Commons Library staff:

In Thursday’s referendum, Scottish independence was rejected by a margin of around 10 percentage points. Yet the 1,617,989 votes cast in favour of leaving the UK – representing 44.7% of total voters and roughly 37% of all those in the country aged 16 or over – indicate clear differences of opinion on the question of independence.

In the lead up to the referendum, polls consistently pointed towards a variety of demographic and social foundations for these differences, from age and gender to levels of economic deprivation and country of birth. The purpose here is to explore how regional differences with respect to these factors may have played a role in the different results observed across Scotland. In short, what is so different between say Dundee, where 57.3% of votes were cast for ‘Yes’, and the Orkney Islands with 32.8%?

The question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” brought Scottish voters out in record numbers, with 3,619,985 people casting their vote. The turnout of 85% was 21 percentage points higher than the 2010 General Election and 35 percentage points higher than the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election. The map below indicates how voters turned out across the country with the coloured areas in the map on the left showing those LAs where the majority voted ‘Yes’, and the one on the right those that majority voted ‘No’. Darker shades represent higher turnout.

As in general elections, the referendum took place as a secret ballot and therefore we are unable to investigate voting patterns on the basis of characteristics of individual voters. Opinion polls offer some clues about such patterns, yet here we are making use of regional data to investigate how voting may have varied according to regional characteristics.

The table below shows the strength of association between a variety of different characteristics at the Local Authority (LA) level and the proportion that voted ‘Yes’ in that LA. The correlation coefficient represents the strength of the relationship and is characterised by a value between -1 and 1. A positive number indicates a positive relationship (as one variable increases, the other also increases) and a negative number, a negative relationship (as one increases, the other decreases). The closer to 1 (or -1) this value is, the stronger the relationship.

Relationship between various demographic and social variables and the ‘Yes’ vote

140923 JPEG2

The charts below capture these relationships, with each dot representing  a Local Authority – ‘No’ LAs are represented in red and ‘Yes’ LAs in orange. The green line depicts the line that best fits the data points ( i.e. is closest to as many of them as possible) and indicates the general direction of the relationship. It is important to note that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. In other words, a relationship between two variables does not necessarily mean that the change in one causes the change in the other.

140923 JPEG3

Out-of-work benefit claimant rates

Interestingly, the four LAs with a majority for ‘Yes’ – Glasgow City, West Dunbartonshire, Dundee City and North Lanarkshire – rank first, second, fifth and sixth in terms of claimant rates respectively. This is in contrast with the ten LAs with the lowest claimant count who saw average support for ‘Yes’ of under 40%. A similarly strong relationship was observed when isolating Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) – a component of out-of-work benefits.

SNP vote share in 2014

It is also important to note that voting behaviour is rarely exactly as these factors might predict across all areas. In the two previous examples, the ‘Yes’ share in the Highlands is above what might have been predicted from benefit claimant rates and rates of people born elsewhere in the UK. This highlights the importance of regional differences and suggests there may be other factors that play a more important role in driving voting behaviour in the Highlands. As the relevant chart shows, the areas with the highest vote share for the SNP in the 2014 European Parliament election did not actually see the strongest support for independence. This is highlighted by the shape of the curve, indicating that up to a point of around 50%, there is indeed a positive relationship between ‘Yes’ support in the referendum and SNP support in the EP elections. However, as we move into a ‘Yes’ majority there is a visible plateau in the relationship (as shown by the flattening of the curve).

This curious association is best exemplified by the LA of Eilean Siar, where the SNP received its highest vote share in the 2014 EP elections (43%) but which rejected independence by a margin of 7 percentage points. Perth & Kinross and Aberdeenshire were ranked 8th and 12th in terms of SNP support in 2012, but 23rd and 24th for support for independence.

For the rest of the article, visit Second Reading.

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How do Scottish referendum polls compare with the result? – Second Reading

In the immediate aftermath of the Scottish referendum there are many details of the campaign and the data to examine (expect more here next week). One particularly interesting feature is how the polls carried out during the final weeks of the campaign compare with the actual result, writes Oliver Hawkins in the House of Commons Library blog, Second Reading.

The following chart shows the distribution of polls whose last day of fieldwork fell during the final two months of the campaign. The columns show the number of polls reporting a given percentage of people intending to vote Yes, once undecided voters are excluded. The dotted green line shows the actual percentage of people voting Yes in the referendum. Both the polls and the actual result are rounded to the nearest percentage point.

referendum-polls

 

As the chart shows, the most frequent result for Yes was 47%. Superficially this doesn’t seem too far from the actual result of 45% — it’s within the margin of error for a single poll. But looking at the polls in aggregate, it’s clear there is a systematic difference between the estimated level of support for Yes and the percentage of people who actually voted that way: 23 of the 29 polls conducted in the last two months of the campaign estimated support for Yes at 46% or more.

Of course, what is missing from this analysis is any consideration of the trend in the level of support for Yes during the final two-month period. It’s possible there was a late swing to No. But looking at the 14 polls conducted in the week before polling day, all of them estimated the level of support for Yes at 46% or more, with an average result of 48%. Furthermore, as Lord Ashcroft’s post-referendum poll indicates, most voters made up their minds much earlier than this.

Further analysis of the Scottish referendum results will be published next week here on the blog and in our forthcoming research paper.

Debunking the myths: EU qualified majority voting does NOT mean the end of UK sovereignty

vote

A report is doing the rounds via Twitter and various blogs (e.g. Inquiringminds and pjcjournal) about changes in the European Union in November 2014 that will mean the end of British sovereignty.  They also claim that the Prime Minister’s promise to hold an in/out referendum by 2017 is spurious because it would be “illegal” under EU law. Many constituents have contacted their MP about the report, wanting to know if it is true, according to Second Reading, the blog run by staff at the House of Commons library.

Their verdict: It isn’t and it won’t.

Before we go on, it would be wise to point out that the House of Commons Library is not in any way subservient to any political party or philosophy. It provides impartial research and information services to MPs and their staff.

The article states [all bolding mine]: “The report points to 43 or so areas of EU policy areas that are subject to a system of voting called Qualified Majority Voting or QMV in the EU’s legislative body, the Council, which comprises government ministers from the 28 EU Member States. The report accuses David Cameron of being determined ‘to delay our referendum beyond that date, tying Britain for ever within the non-democratic, totalitarian and now clearly despotic EU’.”

Doesn’t this look like a UKIP plot?

“QMV has been a feature of EU decision-making since the birth of the EEC in 1957.  With various EU Treaty amendments, more EU policy areas have moved from governments agreeing by unanimity to agreeing by QMV, largely so that decisions can be made more easily in an expanding EU and not be held up by a need for consensus. QMV has been particularly useful i adopting laws to establish the single market.

The increased use of QMV does have implications for national sovereignty,  because it means individual governments can’t veto proposals they disagree with. However, they do not mean the end of the UK Government or Parliament, as claimed on blogs.

“Individual States’ powers of veto have been removed in some of the 43 areas, where unanimous agreement has been replaced with agreement by a qualified majority. This means governments have to work harder to form coalitions, find allies and negotiate compromises.

“In many of these areas the UK is not affected by any changes to voting because it has an opt-out from that policy area. So the list of items (as reported on blogs) over which it is claimed the UK will have no control is misleading and in some cases wrong:

  • The UK has an opt-in or opt-out option to EU measures concerning asylum, border controls, crime prevention, criminal justice cooperation, criminal law, Eurojust, Europol, freedom security and justice evaluation, immigration and police cooperation. This means the UK can choose whether or not to participate in decisions on these matters (but if we choose to participate, then we have to abide by the QMV rule).
    This arrangement applies to 11 of the items in the list.
  • The UK has an opt-out from the Euro and Eurozone representation.
  • In two cases – concerning freedom of movement for workers and social security – there is an ‘emergency brake’, which means that if a Member State objects to a proposal on grounds of important national concerns, the decision is taken by unanimity.
  • Common defence policy: any move towards achieving a common defence policy will be by unanimity. QMV can be used only to establish ‘structured cooperation’ in defence, whereby a group of like-minded Member States choose to cooperate in a defence-related matter. If the UK does not want to participate, it does not have to.
  • European Court of Justice: QMV is used only to amend the Court Statute.
  • Culture: QMV is used for incentive measures only.
  • Freedom to establish a business: QMV was used before the Lisbon Treaty.
  • The EU Armaments Agency was not in the Nice Treaty as stated in the blogs. The reference is to the European Defence Agency, which was established in 2004. The European Council (heads of state and government) decided unanimously in June 2003 to ask the “appropriate bodies of the Council to undertake the necessary actions towards creating, in the course of 2004, an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments”.
  • Funding the Common Foreign and Security Policy: only urgent start-up funds for emergency situations are subject to QMV.
  • Sport was not covered by the EU Treaty before Lisbon so the reference to the Nice Treaty is wrong.”

Finally, on the subject of the referendum:

A UK referendum vote on EU membership will not be ‘illegal’ and the UK will not be prevented from leaving the EU in the event of a negative vote in 2017.

“Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) provides for a Member State to leave the EU if it wishes, without needing the permission of the other Member States. QMV would be used by the other Member States to agree the terms of exit for the withdrawing State.”

So there you have it. British sovereignty is safe and any promise of an in-out referendum on the European Union – by David Cameron or any other UK Prime Minister –  is supported, not banned, by EU law.

You can read the full article, Extending Qualified Majority Voting in the European Union: does this mean the end of British sovereignty?, on the Second Reading blog site.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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