Engagement?: Make It So…

I recently read Lesley Riddoch expressing frustration at the lack of a spark regarding this general election, and that it did not seem to have captured the electorate’s imagination. She quoted a poll in early February for TNS, suggesting that only 64% of Scots were likely to vote, which was not only close to the 2010 figures, but also meant that three quarters of a million people that voted in the Referendum (where there was an 84.5% turnout) were simply not going to vote. She rightly mourned what seemed to be a loss of engagement – even in terms of electoral communications, Ashcroft’s poll in the first week of February showed that only 13% of voters had heard from the SNP, and only 9% from Labour. To be fair, Labour have a small problem with declining membership and active supporters…so it was perhaps no surprise that by the start of March they had to resort to sending out their big glossy leaflets and paying the Royal Mail to deliver them for them. Its probably more expensive now it has been privatized – perhaps Labour are regretting proposing that privatization, just before they left government in 2010, as they did not anticipate their supply of ‘boots on the ground’ drying up so fast…

However, her fears may have been premature, as subsequent polls have indicated a gear shift in the electorate, and clear water opening up between Scots’ intention to use their franchise, as against the rest of the UK.

The Hansard Society’s annual Audit of Political Engagement found Scots by far the most politically active in the UK: 62% (13% above the UK average) describe themselves as at least fairly interested in politics, 39% describe themselves as a strong supporter of a political party, 44% (32% UK average) believe they can make a difference to the way the country is run…and Scots are also more likely to say that the current political system needs “a great deal of improvement” than anywhere else in the UK. So ‘we’re no’ happy’ – nothing new there, some might say – but the headline figure is that 72% are likely to vote in the General Election in May…compared with the 49% UK average.

A ‘rogue poll’, as former Scottish Labour leader Ian Gray might say? Well, a new study of 7,000 voters by the University of Edinburgh showed an ongoing sense of political engagement in Scotland, with 76% of Scots likely to vote in the General Election – more than 10% greater than any other territory in the UK. So apparently we are coming to the party after all…although still almost 10% down on the Referendum turnout – so far.

This higher likelihood to vote was shown across the demographics, most strikingly with 65% of 18-19 year olds likely to vote (compared to only 34% in England), and more 18-24 year olds planning to vote in Scotland compared to England – and that has to be a result of the way the Referendum engaged younger adults for the first time, with 16 and 17 year olds (some of the latter will of course now be turning 18 in time for this vote) voting in higher proportions than any other under 35 group last September. And this is not some idle dabbling – there are current issues that directly concern their immediate future: youth unemployment is a pan-European problem standing at 22.9% of under 25s (17.6% for the UK, 15.9% for Scotland). Tellingly, another University of Edinburgh survey asked young people which political party they felt closest to, and the results were: SNP 28%, Greens 14%, Conservatives 8%, Labour 8%…and LibDems 0%. This last figure may seem shocking – the LibDems were always the student progressive party…and yet, as Patrick Harvie suggested, this emphatic vote of no confidence from what used to be one of their electoral strongholds, is probably a direct result of their volte face on tuition fees. Reap the whirlwind…

In the context of youth engagement, it is worth noting that – without a whiff of self-awareness or irony – the second largest unelected legislative body in the world, the House of Lords, recently criticised the legal amendment from the House of Commons in the wake of the Smith Commission to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in next year’s Holyrood elections. Their concerns (as they wailed and gnashed their teeth that it was not a new bill that they could block and send back repeatedly until the Commons just gave up) were that it might cause 16 and 17 year olds in the rest of the UK to get ideas. Yup – that’s kind of the idea – and has been the idea behind everything the Scottish Government has tried to do since 2007, in acting as a beacon of showing that There Is Another Way in the UK.

Let’s rerun some of the arguments one more time for extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds: they can get married; they can be taxed – but cannot vote for the tax policies that they want; can live independently – but have no say over housing policy; many are in Full Time Education – but have no control over the education system; can join the armed forces – though the UK is criticised for this internationally – but have no voice on defence or foreign affairs. The double standards of then denying them the vote, when so much is being taken from them (and that is not talking about the welfare cuts that are removing their independence) – and by unelected out-of-touch peers of the realm – is a stunningly gross hypocrisy.

Perhaps one of the factors that was giving ‘Their Esteemed Ermined Majesties’ pause for thought, was the large scale support for both the SNP and independence amongst those emergent voters – ‘Generation Yes’ is perhaps growing up a little too fast into the franchise for them.
“Could you tell me how you think the strategy of piecemeal devolution in Scotland in order to kill nationalism stone dead is going?” (Michael Forsyth in House of Lords, 10/3/2015)

The SNP Dividend: Backbone & Guts, to Keep Labour Honest

And…they’re off!!

Yes, you may not have noticed, with all the party conferences, tennis match headlines and speculation on government formations and ‘deals’ – but the general election campaign actually only officially starts today – Monday March 30th. I admit that this does feel slightly wrong, given that Lord Ashcroft’s polls (see next post) told us the result a month ago, so there doesn’t seem to be much point in actually going out to vote if it is a foregone conclusion…but all this intense number-crunching amidst the faux outrage of ‘who-is-letting-who-in-by-the-back-door’ has actually barely been preliminary saber rattling before the main event kicks off.

And you thought that the Referendum was a long time coming…

Anyway, the weekend rounded off the saber-rattling nicely with the SNP’s conference in the ‘Yes’ City of Glasgow, with a hall crammed with 3,000 people. It was a sharp contrast to other recent conferences, in Scotland, or the UK – when Andrew Marr raised Paddy Ashdown’s rather scathing review of his latest book with him, Alex Salmond casually noted that there had been more people at his book signing in Union Street, Aberdeen, than at the entire LibDem conference the previous week.
It was odd seeing the new Deputy Leader, Stewart Hosie, as the warm-up act for the leader’s speech on Saturday, having seen Nicola do that job for Alex for so many years. Stewart complained somewhat of the difficulty of his job…that simply saying ‘First Minister’ was not big enough…that ‘party leader’ was not enough, so instead he introduced her (in the wake of recent emphatic trust and leadership polls) as “the only party leader in the whole of the UK that people actually like!”
And there certainly seems to be some truth in that, given her high positive ratings compared to the deep negatives shared by all other leaders – including (after a ‘relative’ honeymoon period – sorry Angus Robertson! – where he was only low negative figures) Jim Murphy.

There are other signs of her popularity, too – the attacks from the establishment have been primarily around her appearance (hairstyle in particular – ‘BarnettGate’) and – horror of horrors – an expensive coffee machine (‘CoffeeGate’) seen in her kitchen during a breakfast interview…which would have either been a present or bought with her own money…but is the closest thing that can be found to declare her a betrayer of ‘class war’. As my sister used to tell me, as with Socrates, they attack the appearance, because they cannot fault your arguments.

But what are her policies or arguments? Well, it has been a busy old month for Nicola – at the start of March, she unveiled ‘Scotland’s Economic Strategy’ – when the SNP launched the first one in 2007, Scotland’s productivity was 6% below that of the rest of the UK, but that gap has contracted significantly, with Scotland’s GDP above pre-recession levels, and continuous growth for two years. However her benchmarks are Scotland is still 13% below Sweden and 20% below Germany – aiming high indeed. She is now proposing to replace Air Passenger Duty with a new system of taxing aviation. Many people hailed her move away from the 3 point drop in Corporation Tax, but that was only ever in the White Paper, so would only have taken place with independence, and as Corporation Tax is not devolved, she has to approach her problems in a different way. Her proposal is to build an economic framework based on raising living standards and competitiveness as ‘mutually supportive’, to boost competitiveness and tackle inequality. Even the International Monetary Fund – hardly the most ‘touchy feely’ of organizations – correlates lower inequality with faster and more durable growth of an economy.

And some of the research done into the impacts of inequality on society and its productivity are quite startling: Wilkinson and Pickett’s 2010 book ‘The Spirit Level’ used 30 years worth of data to show that everyone (not just the poor) has a less fulfilled and healthy life in unequal societies, with five times more mental illness and likelihood of imprisonment, six times more likely to be clinically obese, and many times more likely to be murdered than in equal societies (such as Scandinavia, Japan, Netherlands). The cost for unequal societies is high: unemployment, underachievement, low productivity, lack of innovation, vandalism, bad health, premature mortality, petty crime, drug and alcohol misuse, and depression all cost the economy massively. Indeed, in the UK, the ‘inequality gap’ as calculated by the Equality Trust thinktank in 2014, equals the total of the UK’s grossly-inflated defence budget.

And talk of reducing inequality in society does not seem so pie-in-the-sky as it did before the Referendum campaign. Grahame Smith, the General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Unions Congress, applauded Nicola placing the reduction of inequality at the heart of the programme of her government, contrasting it with Scottish Labour’s silence: ”[of significance is] how little of substance Labour has had to say about the role of unions and about the need for a positive approach to union rights.” So, at a time when 63.5% of 18-21 year olds in Scotland are earning less than the living wage, it is good that she has secured the 150th accredited employer in Scotland to agree to pay the living wage – and wants to raise the minimum wage to £8.70 by 2020.

Gender equality is also central to her government: “I despair that today in 2015 there are only 3 gender-balanced cabinets in the whole of the developed world – but I’m really, REALLY proud that mine is one of them.”

Clearly, something that Sturgeon is doing is right, given that SNP membership has just hit 102,143 – more than four times the party membership on the day of the Referendum. Maybe it is her way of words? I certainly smiled when (as I advised in a recent blog) she called on Miliband to pledge that he would not go into an agreement with the Conservatives, and let them back into Downing Street.

[She had some killer lines about why SNP with Labour was better than Labour on its own, which I will leave you with at the end, to finish.]

It was a solid throwing down of the gauntlet before proper hostilities began. However May goes – victory or defeat in MPs or in negotiations, I think she is solid enough to deal with it well – and deal with it well for the supporters of ‘Yes’, as well…which brings me back to when she was my constituency representative in Govan. We needed to get the roof of our flat (top-floor tenement – yeah, I know…) fixed, and the commercial properties refused to pay their share of the repairs. The main sticking point was the ground floor pub – owned by a group based somewhere near Bolton. We went along to Nicola’s surgery, explained the case, she rattled off a letter straight away. Within a week, we had a reply, and took it along to show her. In a near-stammering nervous rush of prose, the group (Punch Taverns) were apologizing to her as First Minister and that they would send a cheque forthwith. I laughed at their mistake, more as a sign of their ignorance, but she was very quick to be clear that that was not her position in the Scottish Government.

Well, it is noo, hen. Gaun yersel.

 

“We know from long experience that a Labour Government left to its own devices simply can’t be trusted to deliver the change that Scotland needs and wants and that is a fact. The last Labour Government was elected on a wave of hope and optimism, but it ended up imposing tuition fees, privatizing the NHS, presiding over a growing gap between rich and poor, and taking us into an illegal war in Iraq. So the message couldn’t be clearer. If you want a Labour Government to have backbone and guts, you need to elect SNP MPs to provide it for them. If you want ‘The Vow’ of more power for our Parliament to be delivered in full, then you need SNP MPs to go to Westminster to redeem that promise. And if you want a Labour Government that won’t just be a carbon-copy of the Tories, but will instead deliver the real change that Scotland needs, then you must elect SNP MPs to force Labour’s hands and keep them honest.” (Nicola Sturgeon, Address to Conference, 28/3/2015)

The Labour-Conservative Alliance: Two Sides of the Same Coin

So Gorgeous George’s last bribing budget came out, with 50 days to go until the General Election. 50 Days of Yes to More Austerity….and very few surprises, with the expected concessions for the oil and whisky industries. The novel Help-to-Buy ISAs have been criticised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, as (if done without a housebuilding programme) they would push up house prices, and heat the (predominantly southern – with house prices going up by 13% in London last year) housing bubble even more. Current economic growth comes from 130 billion of subsidised mortgages – which enable consumers to feel comfortable about borrowing again…creating a mini consumer boom…which only lasts until interest rates start to go up.

Supposedly Osborne also revealed a new harder-to-forge pound coin design – perhaps someone had suggested to him that this one would be more difficult for the Scots to ‘steal’?

Perhaps the one real surprise was that he said that the economic recovery was progressing well – yet made no attempt to present a budget ameliorating the previously projected cuts…until some 5 years time. So, of course, this left plenty of room for HM Opposition, the Labour Party, to leap in and play progressive posturing, with less cuts, or slower cuts, or a smaller overall total. Ok, they had been claiming that the government were planning a further 75 billion in cuts, so the ‘reveal’ of a mere 30 billion over the next two years might have taken a little of the wind out of their sails, but they would still have room to descry the coming axe in some form or another…

Except that they didn’t. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls explicitly said that he would not change or wish to reverse ANYthing of what had been announced by the Chancellor. Labour’s much vaunted declaration that they would not cut so much or so fast, has been shown ultimately to be hollow. Yesterday in Glasgow, Miliband tried to distance himself from the Conservatives in order to try to recover Labour’s position in Scotland, by saying that the Chancellor was making cuts not because he had to, but because he wanted to. But then, where does that leave Labour, if their Shadow Chancellor is saying that he would make the same cuts?

This not only vindicates what may have previously been judged to be ‘cruel’ or ‘unfair’ comparisons with the Conservatives, and suggestions that there was not any difference larger than a cigarette paper between them. They do not simply have the same political priorities, the scale of those priorities is identical, even when they could make political capital in the last weeks of a general election campaign. Their desire to be as vanilla-identical to the Conservatives in order to get those votes in the SE of England is so great, that they might as well marry the two parties together. As Richard Walker remarked, after Osborne’s budget and the failure of Labour to criticise it: “The expected influx of SNP MPs in the General Election will not just benefit Scotland, in the shape of the extra powers it can wrest from Westminster control. It will also give Britain the effective opposition so obviously and dangerously missing from the House of Commons”.

This also follows on from Shadow Welfare Secretary Rachel Reeves’ comment: “We are not the party of people on benefits… we’re not the party to represent those who are out of work.” If the Labour Party is not the party of the poor or the unemployed (or the ‘economically inactive’) – and, let’s face it, neither of the current coalition partners seem likely to be in a rush to take over that role…then who does represent these 11 million UK residents that are left without political advocacy?

Derek Bateman noted on February 1st that Britain has some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world, with the OECD figures showing that our earnings are more likely to reflect those of our fathers than any other country: “Social mobility hasn’t changed since the 1970s – and in some ways has got worse”. The Institute for Fiscal Studies noted directly after Osborne’s budget that the Coalition’s policies have singularly targeted the poorest in the UK (leaving middle-to-high earmers “astonishingly protected”, as their Director put it). Overall, the IFS says that median income for 22-30 year olds is 7.6% lower than it was in 2008. If looked at by share of average earnings, the UK pension is 23rd out of 27 in the European Union. From 2008-2014 9% of public sectors jobs were lost, with only a 4% concomitant increase in private sector jobs. Since the coalition government took office in 2010, the average wage is worth 2.5K less (and is 3.3K down on its pre-crisis peak). From 2002-2014, the number of single people living in emergency homeless accommodation in Scotland (for which housing benefit cuts in both support and eligibility are largely to blame) increased from around 4,000 to over 10,000.

As observed by the Bank of England’s chief economist, this is the worst fall in living standards since Queen Victoria was monarch in mid-19th century: the illusion of a recovery is generated by service industries subsisting on low pay and insecure work. And as Osborne announced last week, a further 12 billion (mostly unspecified) in ‘savings’ are planned for the welfare budget.

Currently, there are three generally recognised grades of poverty: Relative Poverty (household income less than 60% of the UK average); Severe Poverty (household income less than 50% of the UK average, 11.5K in 2012-2013); Extreme Poverty (household income 40% or less than the UK average 9.2K in 2012-2013). Although relative poverty has fallen in the last ten years, Severe Poverty (affecting half a million Scots, including 330,000 working-age adults, 100,000 children, 80,000 pensioners) and Extreme Poverty have both increased: the combination of welfare cuts and eligibility changes, with insecure contracts and low income (the living wage of 7.85 and hour is 20% above the legal minimum wage), against a background of costs rising faster than wages, means that once you are in poverty, it is extremely difficult to get out of it, and the reduction in Relative Poverty probably is mainly a reflection of those who have fallen out of it down to Severe and Extreme levels. A Scottish Government Report on the 17th March made the observation: “In short, poverty is changing; work is no longer a guarantee of a life free of poverty; people in poverty face increasing costs; and those in receipt of benefits and tax credits – which of course includes many in work – are finding their incomes squeezed.” Hence, the chilling new term of the ‘in-work poor’. And so we have 167 organisations across Scotland trying to provide food, with emergency food aid now being rolled out to those in work as well as on a wide variety of social security payments, with the numbers using foodbanks increasing from 5,726 in 2011-2012 to 71,428 (almost a third of them children) in 2014. There is also an increased rise noted by police in people shoplifting for food – a sign that the social stigma of accepting charity is still difficult for many to overcome.

And let us not look to the ‘new legislative powers’ resulting from the Smith Commission to save us. A new study by the University of Edinburgh has concluded that a last minute intervention, specifically by Ian Duncan Smith, blocked extensive tax and welfare devolution, due to his fears of repercussions on UK policy. Thus we are left with 81% of welfare still controlled by Westminster, 70% (37.3 out of 53 billion) of tax revenues from Scotland still being controlled by Westminster. And the worries concerning the transition from one government to another of the few newly devolved components (particularly those being voiced by the voluntary sector with regard to the introduction of Universal Credit, in a letter signed by 56 Scots voluntary sector organisations in January), do not promise a smooth and seamless handover, at a time when those in extremely vulnerable situations can ill-afford to be fumbled or lost in transition.

 

“It’s just not deliverable. The UK Government’s approach to benefits is completely the opposite to the Scottish approach to public services. They are two different bureaucracies heading in different directions. The idea that they could call this [the command paper, ‘Scotland in the United Kingdom: An Enduring Settlement’] when it is really just a political quick fix tells its own story.” (Martin Sime, CE of Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, 10/2/2015)

Sturgeon calls on Miliband to rule out coalition with Tories: No Half? Of Two Games…Part 2

The Second Game in Town, apart from Nicola’s (see previous post) is, of course, the Daily Mail’s.

Widely-trailed by many press outlets including the Guardian and the Financial Times towards the end of last year (when a ‘Jim Murphy feelgood factor’ reversing the SNP’s rise in the polls was failing to manifest), and advocated by a few second league politicians to give it some credence, the idea that there should be a ‘Coalition of National Unity’ between the Conservatives and Labour, in order to shut out any progressive influence from Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP, seems a most desperate and myopic measure. Surely, it not only discredits Labour (more than the Conservatives) but undermines the sense of Westminster as being a seat of safe and solid democracy. Of course, it beats the numbers impasse of 273/273/49, but wouldn’t the damage in credibility to the system (never mind at least one of the two participating parties) be a mortal wound? Possibly even fuelling further calls for self-determination, and bringing the British state even closer to disintegration?

And yet you would be wrong to dismiss the idea. It is not just in the UK that this has been trailed in the media: the pattern of ‘national unity governments’ (against what ‘national threat’ exactly? Who is at war with whom?) has also been proposed in France and Italy, in attempts to exclude rising popular parties from the ‘old boys club’ of established parties that perpetuate a system that failed to see a reason to prosecute bankers in 2008. It would seem that this exposes the lie of left and right packaging distinctions between notionally different (but practically identical) political parties…a Labour Shadow Chancellor who after Osborne’s budget last week says he would do nothing differently? Not even pretending to even slightly reduce the 30 billion budget cuts? This seems like a party so desperate to appear indistinguishable from the party of choice of Conservative voters (perhaps particularly in the SE of England?) that…it actually IS indistinguishable. Repeating the Blair mistake, all over again – trying to get power at all costs will corrupt you and remove any chance you have to change anything.

In this context, it seems less surprising that in a Survation poll 37% of Scots are saying voting SNP is the best way of keeping Cameron out, compared to 35% advocating the ‘old tired way’ of voting Labour to attempt to achieve that end. Labour tends to get into Westminster when SNP support is at its highest – perhaps traditionally this is because the dissatisfaction with the Establishment manifested in an SNP vote in Scotland just as it triggered a Labour vote in England. The difference now is not just the presence of a solid SNP vote, but as Labour has become more indistinguishable from establishment Conservative policy in its zealous conversion to and embrace of austerity, UKIP has sprung up to split that ‘dissatisfaction vote’ down south, in diametric opposition to the Greens. The system appears to be panicking: as Patrick Harvie has noted, first-past-the-post works fine if people are only allowed to choose between two competing parties. But when those two parties only command a third of the vote each, with a plethora of new parties taking the rest, the system breaks down.

But how could such a move towards a ‘government of national unity’ (surely a final admission of the indistinguishability of Conservative and Labour – much like the end of ‘Animal Farm’) be justified in the UK? Governments of national unity are the stuff of international wars or terrorist assault (although similar rhetoric was also deployed when the coalition with the LibDems first came about). So who is the enemy – without or within – now?

One might (as is being touted now) float with faux rage the idea that the SNP gaining seats in Westminster in some way means that Scotland will become independent and ‘Break Up Britain’…but any cursory analysis of this, in terms of getting legislation through the first chamber, never mind the nakedly regressive House of Lords, shows that this is a hollow claim. There are only 59 seats in Scotland, of a possible 650 across the UK – the SNP cannot progress anything radically outwith the policy of the existing two (or even three, if the LibDems still retain some influence after May) unionist parties.

So what is the threat that requires this ‘national unity’? One remembers the odd manifestation of ‘Siol nan Gael’ – an organisation that (perhaps curiously) arose when SNP political progress in Westminster was increasing, supposedly representing the ‘armed struggle’ for an independent Scotland …whose activities seemed to be largely linked to material (eg explosives) supplied to activists by representatives of the police, in order for them to later be arrested by (presumably different) police officers for possession of the aforementioned explosives. A sort of ‘supply and demand’ relationship, perhaps? The strategy is simple, discredit your enemy by pushing him to consider excess, so that he – and his wider political aims, whomsoever they be supported by – can be discredited. As Alasdair Gray recently remarked – it was almost as though it was being done by people in order to make Scottish independence look stupid and discredit it. As an ‘organisation’ (if they ever truly existed as a real entity, separate from the British state) they were largely regarded as a joke – and undoubtedly there was some associative damage, even just in conceptual terms, done to the idea of independence in general and the SNP (as the then only visible embodiment of the independence movement) in particular.

The SNP have moved so far forward that the idea of an association with such a movement (especially when – as in the seventies – their electoral strategy is reaping such massive rewards) is simply not credible. Thus the paper tiger is presented, of a threat to ‘Break up Britain’…when there is absolutely no such risk whatsoever. So a black op – if, as appears, that was largely what ‘Siol nan Gael’ substantively was – is extremely difficult to link to the SNP now. In Scotland, they are seen as a responsible party of governance (the most popular since the return of the Parliament), with trust ratings soaring: a PanelBase poll at the end of August last year on who was trusted to make the decisions for Scotland gave 60% to the Scottish Government and only 16% to Westminster. In the rest of the UK – see the polls in the previous post – there is less hostility to the SNP having some role in the forthcoming government, although undoubtedly they could be swayed by ‘Siol nan Gael’-style trumped up terrorism nonsense in a few usual suspect tabloids.

But what about the impact in Scotland, were this government of ‘national unity’ to go ahead? Surely this would be the most naked manifestation of the truism that for a government, Scotland gets whomever England deigns to vote for. We can participate in their democracy…as long as it matches with what they are saying – otherwise they will take their ball back and not let us play.

Because this is not a question of blocking some imagined road to Scottish independence through Westminster – the fact that the strategy is echoed elsewhere in Europe gives the lie to that. This is about a rise in politics across Europe that is rejecting a hegemony run by two parties, and actually responding to concerns and beliefs of the People. Democracy has not had to do that for a while in most of Europe…and the system does not like it. This is about making sure that no reforming parties (and especially the SNP – as they are the largest prospective progressive block…ringleaders, if you like) gain ground to break up the status quo and disrupt the investments of the vested interests. So…we can participate within your democracy – as long as we agree with what you are saying – otherwise we can’t play anymore? Ah, so long as we vote for LONDON-controlled parties, I see…

If the Westminster establishment had realised how different politically we were – that actually the ‘No’ campaign in the Referendum would have the effect of pushing people emphatically towards the SNP (not that anyone would have been predicting that as an obvious ‘No’ outcome…), would they really have fought so hard to keep us in the Union, realising that we had a chance of upsetting their precious and cosy little private party?

Maybe they would have – but I’d like to think that they would have been smarter about HOW they fought that Referendum battle, in order to contain the damage to themselves afterwards.

No, they wouldn’t have, would they?

So, there we have it. I would say that there are only two games in town should the 273/273/49 scenario result: Nicola’s, and the Daily Mail’s, with Ed the unwitting ball in between them.

Perhaps Nicola should be calling on Ed to rule out a coalition between Labour and the Conservatives?

 

“…Scottish National Liberation Army looks like the work of folk trying to make the move for Scottish independence look dangerous or ridiculous. This cannot have been the work of MI5, MI6 or other UK state security force, because they would have surely been more efficient.” (Alasdair Gray, 23/2/2015)

Miliband catches up with Sturgeon: No Half? Of Two Games…. Part 1

So, in the scenario outlined in the previous post, with neither Conservative nor Labour gaining the necessary half of Westminster seats +1 required to form a majority government, the LibDem vote is projected to collapse, with the SNP supposed to replace them as the third largest party in the Commons.

In this regard I should at this point say that I am unmoved by the stats showing 40+ seats going to the SNP (never mind Ashcroft proclaiming 56 out of 59 Scottish seats), no matter how rock-hard the polls saying this have been over the last 5 months. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be excellent (and, conceivably – an excuse to dust down and repurpose my ‘We are the 45+’ badge – but I doubt the ability of the public to hold firmly to their expressed voting intention, in the face of the incessant BBC onslaught, no matter how firm their beliefs. For whatever reason, Gordon Brown seemed to come out of the Referendum campaign with at least an initial bounce of support, so even though his constituency seems under some kind of threat, I find it hard to believe that people are going to wake up and smell the coffee, after so many years and even his profound negligence on Dalgety Bay has not triggered sufficient alarm bells for them not to oust him beforehand…and one has to concede that ‘feelnothing factor’ may carry on to his successor.

But given our starting point was a likely Conservative/Labour/SNP seat breakdown of 273/273/49, let’s go with the flow for the sake of argument. This count leaves two prime scenarios, one of which has Nicola Sturgeon as KingMaker, and the other one which we will deal with in the subsequent post.

How would such a scenario play out with the rest of the UK? Certainly, the attack posters have been using the idea of a deal with the SNP as a major weakness for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party – vote Labour, and you’ll get the SNP, has been the narrative down south. (Somewhat ironic, given that competing campaigns from Labour and the Conservatives in Scotland have been arguing, respectively, ‘Vote SNP Get Tories’ and ‘Vote SNP Get Labour’…) Which is a little bizarre, given the numbers that would be required to get any significant legislation through for Scotland, with a simple ganging up of some Conservatives and Labour, never mind the LibDems, able to block anything with some ease. And then there would be the unlikely gauntlet of the (avowedly SNP-free) House of Lords to be run…does anyone really see any progressive legislation promoted by the SNP surviving to get through that legislative chamber unscathed?

Sharp-witted readers will realise that this of course is the very same gauntlet that any Smith-derived legislation would need to progress through, with a similar unlikelihood of safe passage. Unless, of course, one of the coming together (if not ‘red line’) issues in any SNP and Labour deal was the abolition of that self-same House of Lords. I doubt that ‘Red Ed’ has a single socialist concept in his body, but I suspect that even he sees a strong argument for that body finally being abolished, before it finally does outstrip the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party as the single largest unelected legislative body on the planet. Now that would REALLY start to free up the Westminster system from its moribund shackles…

But surely giving such an influential role to the SNP would be enormously unpopular – if not suicidal – for the Labour Party in England, in particular? One need only look at polls like the Future of England Survey, which showed that 71% of voters in England (and 62% of those in the UK) believed that Scottish MPs (of whatever hue) should be prevented from voting on England-only laws. Surely this is an indicator of a xenophobic opposition to Scottish (especially SNP) involvement in the UK government?

Apparently not: Comres polling for (everyone’s favourite oil rag) the Daily Mail has shown that 57 per cent of people in England believe the SNP should be able to play a part in government after the General Election.

I am, of course, using the term ‘deal’ between SNP and Labour, as Sturgeon ruled out any coalition with Labour last year: everyone has seen what a poisoned chalice such a relationship has been for the LibDems (and, historically, for any party as junior partner in a Westminster coalition), and noone wants to lead a resurgent party that has just broken through the 100,000 members threshold down that self-destructive pathway. This did not stop many coalition government ministers howling for Miliband to repeat Sturgeon’s assurance of no coalition pact between them, which he finally managed to do last week. And it is clear that his party are very far away from wanting to rule out any deals with the SNP. Two polls on 14th March show that most Labour supporters do NOT want to rule out a deal with the SNP – 63% of respondents on the LabourList site (with only 15% wanting to rule out any deal whatsoever), perhaps reflecting the 48% of Labour members who want unilateral disarmament. The other poll covered those that voted Labour in the Scottish elections, and shows a much smaller majority for a deal, with Labour 2010 voters split 63/23 compared to those intending to vote Labour at Holyrood split 47/41. One could argue that this reflects a different perspective – in the UK as a whole, the SNP being seen as something to drag Labour’s principles back towards the left, put some steel into their words on protecting the NHS and remind them of the large support for getting rid of Trident. In Scotland, those who support Labour now are largely down to diehards, who most likely blame the SNP for all of their woes in the world.

At a time when the expression of UK-wide disillusionment and frustration with the Westminster-system is in danger of being thwarted by two nuanced shades of right wing parties, it may well be that it falls to Scotland to act as the Moral Conscience of the UK, promoting the unfashionable values of protecting the NHS and removing nuclear weapons.

 

“The plan for a stronger Scottish Parliament we seek agreement on is for nothing else than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the UK.” (Gordon Brown’s Loanhead Miners’ Club speech live 50 minute BBC broadcast)

The ‘Nurse Event Horizon’ & the End Times: New Labour’s Vision of Class Warfare, 2015-style.

I wrote recently about coming back ‘off hiatus’ (as I believe the transatlantic phrase is…or maybe was, in the 1980s), but I should probably make clear that this is only in a writing sense, as I was still noting the news reports as they came in from various sources, no matter where I was in the world. In a large part, it could be said that little has changed – the polls of voting intentions for Westminster have remained remarkably solid since mid-December, and in that sense it could be said that not much has been missed by me being AWOL for the last 90 days.

But aside from those polls (and more on those in another post), some developments have been more remarkable. What is predictable in the world anymore, when a survey released on the 6th of January showed that for the first time the Conservatives (Cameron, 22%) were trusted as better at running the health service than Labour (Miliband, 20%)? That this is mirrored in Scotland by a YouGov Poll for The Times on 14th March showing that 47% of Scots think the SNP would be most effective at protecting Scotland’s NHS, compared to just 20% for Labour, is less surprising, given what seems to be a largescale rejection (however temporary) of Labour in Scotland to be relied on to do anything, even protect their one achievement (the NHS) that these days is regularly cited as the one thing that makes people proud to be British. And perhaps this is reflected by Scottish Labour with the piece of buffoonery that was their pledge to deliver a thousand nurses more than anything the SNP offered to deliver, paid by the mansion tax – despite the fact that the £1.7M that is Scotland’s share (of a largely London-derived tax) won’t pay for a thousand nurses – and there aren’t a thousand nurses out there to be employed anyway. And, what if the SNP said ‘we will provide 100,000 nurses’ – do Labour automatically say 101,000??? It reduces their ‘policies’ to the level of playground tit-for-tat taunts, and reminds me of Douglas Adams’ account of the ‘Shoe Event Horizon’ as a phenomenon when society collapses through all retail outlets having become shoe shops. Perhaps what Jim and Scottish Labour are pitching for is the ‘Nurse Event Horizon’ – so desperate to win back NHS Scotland support after trashing them repeatedly over the years of the SNP being the majority Scottish Government, that they have alienated a natural core area of their support. ‘If you become a nurse, we will give you a job – gonnae vote for us now, eh?’ A fiendish plot to grow their electoral support, by turning every voter into a nurse and giving them guaranteed employment. Clever.

Well, it’s a plan, Jim – just not as we know it. But maybe a smarter one than the determination to oppose the SNP even when it involves the curiously insane position of arguing for alcohol to be permitted at football matches again. In terms of our ongoing cultural problem with alcohol, 2013 saw Scotland with the largest death rate from alcohol of any of the countries of the UK, but still the only one to witness a significant fall in that death rate over the previous ten years. Murphy may posture this as New Labour’s version of ‘class warfare’ – allowing people to drink alcohol at football matches, just like the ‘toffs’ do at rugby – but it still is a policy that involves a high likelihood of increased alcohol-related deaths and domestic abuse…ah, perhaps this is where Jim got his idea from, for a further thousand nurses being needed by NHS Scotland? It is not so much that they are needed now (well…) – but he is making forward plans for the impact his alcohol policy will have in terms of increasing pressure on the health service. Clever. Again. As someone remarked not long ago, the correlation between long-term Labour wards and low life expectancy in Glasgow is striking: Labour may (in their faux internationalist posturing) state that they care about the worker in Grimsby just as much as the one in Glasgow – but that doesn’t mean that they are going to do damn all for either of them.

But let’s leave the bizarrely unique hue of Labour in Scotland at the start of 2015 to one side (as they now like to pretend that they only ever said ‘a thousand nurses’, without the playground add-on of ‘whatever the smelly SNP say’ – if only they hadn’t printed off all that literature with it on it…), as we look at the fortunes of the Labour Party across the UK in the context of that first poll: the idea that the electorate south of the border would abandon an intrinsic trust in Labour to look after their grand creation, the NHS…well, what next – cats and dogs mating in the streets? Are these not so much ‘Interesting Times’, as ‘End Times’?

To be fair, perhaps the phrasing of the first poll, with the named leader rather than the party, is telling – albeit in a slightly chilling fashion: confidence levels in Milliband as the next Prime Minister have been diving for many months, even when Labour were edging ahead of the Conservatives in voter support. There is something about Ed that just does not seem to inspire that confidence needed in a leader.

It is not completely comparable (of course it is not, it is not only a different question, but a different group of people being asked), but in this context it is worth looking at the leader satisfaction ratings in Scotland: Sturgeon +49, Cameron -40, Clegg -51, Miliband -45. Astonishingly, there is the same reflection in Scotland as noted for Ed with the NHS across the UK – the Conservative Prime Minister has greater satisfaction in Scotland than the Labour opposition leader?? Cats and dogs in the streets, indeed, as well as lions eating their own, and 6-legged horses….

Milliband may well be a liability as a party leader (only true if there is someone more credible who can get that job), and it was a long time ago that the party passed the point at which they could change him – as though horses in mid-stream – in time for the May 7th shindig. So he gambled, to try and shore up the Labour support in Scotland (and possibly rid himself of a tempestuous former cabinet member that supported his brother as campaign manager for his Labour Party leadership bid, along with Dougie Alexander) by sending Jim Murphy back up north to take over from Lamont. How is that working out? Well, when former Labour voters were asked the effect of Jim Murphy becoming Scottish Labour leader on their likelihood to vote for Labour, 20% said they were more likely, 28% were less likely, and 48% said it made no difference to them. So it has not exactly worked out too great, with a net loss in likelihood to vote Labour (as most people who had not spent too much time at Westminster predicted, he represents the toxic right wing of Labour that has had membership nosedive in Scotland since Blair was premier).

So, on the 30/1/2015, the Guardian published a poll of voting intentions which gave the following result in the Westminster elections: Labour 273, Conservative 273….and SNP 49.

Enter Nicola Sturgeon – and (next time) the only two games in town that Ed has left to play…

 

“You don’t get a banking crisis by employing too many nurses or teachers, or (for that matter) civil servants. You get a banking crisis by employing too many bankers.” (James Meadway, Senior Economist, New Economics Foundation, 4/12/2014)

Wings Over Bonn: Waiting for ‘Project Red’…

I spent the last week of February attending a training course in Bonn. Come the last Friday afternoon, and I had some time to kill before going to the Airport for the flight back to Edinburgh. As the internet had been a little erratic to access for the preceding day or two, I managed to find an office in the department I had been studying in, and logged in – Gmail (a forbidden pleasure in so much of China) the inevitable first port of call.

I saw the notification that the year’s ‘Wings Over Scotland’ fundraiser had started at 10am that very morning, and my interest was piqued right away. Their first fundraiser in 2013 had set a precedent for a political website, and last year’s had been legendary: launched 6 months out from the Referendum, with a target of £50,000 (+£3,000 for the fund-raising site’s commission) to try to reach in 34 days, it had hit the total in under 8 and a half hours, had gone over £80,000 in 24 hours, and finished the 34 days at £110,717. A stunned and outraged unionist twitterati (note: no capital ‘t’…) mumbled incoherently that the fiendish editor of ‘Wings Over Scotland’ must be taking the same money out and resubmitting it, under a variety of fake accounts, to produce such a large sum (as clearly there could not possibly be so many people believing in independence and the service that he provided)…despite the fact that the commission would erode the money each time….and the amount of work to generate over 1,710 donor accounts would have been quite impressive.

‘Wings Over Scotland’ might not – as their fundraiser positively declared – have ‘finished the job’ last year, but their impact was massive, and in a war against a decidedly partisan and all-pervasive media (coming soon, The Death of Scotland’s Post-War Dream Pt.4), as much underground promotion of the case for independence as possible was necessary: the legend that is The Wee Blue Book had a massive penetration of literally hundreds of thousands of copies, and won many minds (and, perhaps, hearts) over to ‘Yes’. For Rory Bremner, in his BBC review show of the Referendum campaign, to say that Wings was the unofficial propaganda outlet of ‘Yes’, in the same way as the BBC was for ‘No’, was a high plaudit indeed. I certainly don’t regret the two week’s salary donation one bit – I only wish that I could have given more. Undoubtedly, ‘Wings Over Scotland’ are a huge part of the reason why The National exists today, where before there was no equivalent media outlet (Ok, the Sunday Herald came late to the party…) before September 18th: it demonstrated an appetite for news that was not coloured by an overriding hatred of the idea of an independent Scotland.

But back to Bonn. I clicked the link from the Wings e-mail that led to the IndieGogo page, to see how things were doing. I think my biggest post-Referendum interest has been on how much of the surge in support for ‘Yes’ (in a broad sense – full fiscal autonomy, as a path ultimately to independence) would be retained by the time May 7th‘s General Election comes, so anything that gives an indicator of change, or weakening resolve, interests me. Is the hope for self-determination being crushed and eroded by the increasingly contradictory nonsense coming out of the ‘No’ camp parties?

The page started to load: it was just after 4pm in Germany, so that meant the fund-raiser had been running for five hours. I looked at the figure, and my heart fell slightly…the only figure up on the page was the target – £48,356. It did not appear that there had been any donations at all yet. Still, people would be getting home from work soon, and…no, this was not right. £45K plus £3K for indieGogo’s commission was fine, but that £356 was…just weird.

On an impulse, I refreshed the page. £48,501. And I started to laugh…

‘Wings Over Scotland’ had hit their target in 5 hours – a slightly lower target than the previous year, admittedly, but still: the difference between £105 per minute last year, and £160 per minute this year.

Around two weeks later, on the 14th March, the fund-raiser broke through the £100K mark. So far it has over 2,700 donors, and still gets several hundred pounds each day. I have a feeling that, if it was running through the end of March, there would have been yet a further surge when another payday came through.

And what, might you ask, does all this mean?

Firstly, I would contend that the faster rate of donation, across more individual donations, suggests that despite the Referendum focus being absent, that this is a mark of people’s ongoing revived engagement with politics in Scotland. It is also – clearly – a massive endorsement of Campbell’s character (the editor), to inspire such belief through his posts on the website AND what he delivered during the Referendum campaign, The Wee Blue Book in particular being outstanding [http://theweebluebook.com/]: this is not just based on some wild promises, then the proceeds disappear as he runs off to the Bahamas – this is a vote of confidence, based on what he actually delivered last time. People have confidence in him, believe in and trust him to do well for them with their money.

And what – I may hear you ask – is this money for? Well, in addition to the (compared to mainstream media) thoroughly referenced and researched articles, and a (small) salary for the man to do it, he commissions a large amount of leftfield polls, asking alternative questions…which reluctantly the mainstream polls slowly drift towards asking in his wake. And something hinted at for this year’s fundraiser is ‘Project Red’: “After last year’s Wee Blue Book, we’re currently working on another sizeable and significant undertaking in time for the general election. We can’t give away too much about it at the moment…” Project Red: a book of handy referenced Scottish Labour lies, perchance? Well, that would be my guess, anyway…but whatever it turns out to be, I am pretty sure it will repeatedly nail the lie that ‘the biggest party gets to form the government’ (only true if you get a majority…otherwise it is the incumbent’s job).

 

“Wings are the ‘No’ campaign’s biggest nightmare: they were expecting Alex Salmond and the SNP. They were expecting Blair Jenkins and Yes Scotland. They were NOT expecting Stuart Campbell and Wings Over Scotland.” (Dr. Morag Kerr)