Conservative Apocalypse – the Meaning of the 2015 Result for the UK

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

As much as we can celebrate such a wholesale rejection of Labour in Scotland, by a people consistently a second (at best) priority in the plans of the Labour Project, we can only look with dismay south of the border at the party’s failure to win the favour of an electorate that was absolutely its priority to win. The striking yellow of hope clothing one electoral map, the striking blue of despair cloaking the other.

This contrast was brought into sharp focus by my return to FaceBook on the morning of the results, where so many of my friends were bemoaning the Conservative majority. Lots of people are criticising the supposed ‘polls failure’ – with no real reason, as they were showing the result within the margins of error on the average of the last 25 polls. From the stats, Miliband was never perceived as convincing prime ministerial material, and the contrast between his and Cameron’s ratings told that story for years, even when Labour’s lead in the polls was double digits. Perhaps this ultimately explains the reluctance (or paucity of numbers?) of the English left to support Miliband – because he was less convincing than Blair had been as a prospective statesman: that Conservative-incubus looked ministerial, at least, before the Scooby Doo reveal of his true nature.

One friend in particular commented about how many selfish people there were in the country – and I know that she was not talking about Scotland voting for an anti-austerity agenda en masse.  People like to talk about that ‘shy Tory’ phenomenon – perhaps ‘ashamed Tory’ would be more accurate this time around – with people reluctant to divulge their true voting preference when asked…and one can easily imagine that in a time of economic pressure, the incentive to seriously place yourself and your family’s direct financial interests first might well be much greater. So, in the same way as likelihood to commit crimes increases with poverty and economic threats to one’s family, perhaps – if one really buys into the vanishing myth of Conservative fiscal prudency with their current ideologically-motivated incompetence – one also is more likely to commit as similarly selfish and destructive an act as voting Conservative.

Certainly, according to Ashcroft’s post-election poll, 49% of Conservative voters believe they are already feeling the benefits of an economic recovery. Most LibDem voters said they weren’t feeling an economic recovery yet, but were expecting to…and then we have voters of all the other parties. The majority of Labour, UKIP, Green and SNP voters all declared they were not feeling any sign of the economic recovery, and were not expecting to do so – and that is hardly surprising: in the last year, in Edinburgh alone, the referrals to foodbanks have increased from 35 a month to 350 a month. That threat is increasingly present within people’s circle of experience, and likely to be an influence – yet something seemed to speak louder than accelerating social decline to those that returned a majority Conservative government last week.

One wonders if there is a darker reason – maybe in some of the lashing out of Scottish Labour after Thursday’s rejection by their taken-for-granted electorate. Perhaps this is predictable: despite the SNP offering to be a genuine force for social justice and moral conscience for a Labour Party with a track record of being rather good at losing its way once in government, there have been attempts by the remnants of Scottish Labour to blame the SNP for Labour failing to get enough seats to form the government. A first cursory analysis dismisses this argument – even if all 59 seats in Scotland had gone to Labour, they would still only have had 291, still far away from the required majority, or even capable of making a significant coalition with anyone else. But there is another narrative that argues for the rise in the Scottish bloc vote as a repellant to Labour voters in England.

Put simply, is the decline in the Labour vote in England since 2010 a direct response to ‘anti-Scottish xenophobia’? That was the language that The Venerable Gordon Brown used to condemn Cameron’s campaign in the last two weeks. In that time the SNP was compared to the Third Reich, Salmond presented on giant posters as the stereotypical Scot pickpocketing an English voter… One important point is that criticising the SNP surge without evidence that they have actually lied to the electorate (because a clearly deceived electorate – as we were with Blair in 1997 – is not culpable) means directly criticising the electorate that is planning to vote for them, rather than the party itself. At the best of times, this is a dangerous move for any politician, as exemplified by Farage attacking one of his studio audiences during the debates – but a Scottish audience is likely to react even more contrarily to such an attack. ‘Thrawn’, as they say. ‘Oh, you bluddy think so, do ye?’ as Billy Connolly puts it.

It is true that this may simply have been a strategy by Cameron for immediate post-election gain: as Lesley Riddoch noted on polling day “English voters are being primed to overreact hysterically should Labour try to form a minority government on Friday – whether it’s a formal deal that includes the SNP, discreet dialogue or semaphore signals at dusk.” But the Conservative-supporting press campaigned to vilify the people of Scotland (by virtue of their electoral choice), making clear that when the Conservatives talk about ‘OneNation Britain’, we now know exactly which ‘one nation’ they are talking about. It is unclear whether this campaign had traction by bringing underlying chauvinisms to the surface, or created those chauvinisms anew, but one reporter from Nuneaton made clear that benefits claimants, immigrants and Scots were now seen as the three undesirables – perhaps because Scots fulfil stereotypes of the first two groups perfectly adequately down in the shires…

Paul Kavanagh neatly summed up the inherent genius of Labour embracing this strategy on results day: “Labour blames the SNP for its defeat. The Unionist parties went around screaming to anyone who would listen – which would be the BBC and Fleet Street – that the SNP would eat your babies. Labour smiled indulgently on the antics of Ian Smart when he called the SNP fascists and supporters of the Nazis. Labour looked upon a mildly left of centre social democratic party and it saw a scary monster. Then they blamed the SNP because voters in England were afraid of the imaginary monster that Labour had invented.”So Scottish Labour contends that even the possibility of SNP influence was sufficient to scare voters in England from Labour – and if that is the case, then perhaps the Union is more finished in the hearts of England than we previously thought. As Ian Bell put it yesterday: “If true, what does it mean? That Scottish voters should have declined the choice of a lawful party and declared themselves subordinate to the prejudices of English voters? If that’s the case, there’s no place for us within the UK. Does it mean, equally that voters in England will simply not countenance the participation of properly elected Scottish MPs within a government they regard as theirs alone? If so, the road is the same and it leads in one direction only.”

That Labour failed to contest the narrative of a ‘threat’ from Scotland, thereby falling neatly into a Conservative trap, is perhaps the saddest aspect of this. It is not hard to dismantle the argument of the ‘Scottish threat’: England has 82% of the MPs, therefore an automatic veto with a ‘majority’ of 533 votes. This was an obfuscation of a constitutional issue/problem as a political issue/problem: English MPs have total control of Parliament, and always have had – no vote counter to that would happen without 219 MPs in England choosing to vote with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs. One of the very reasons why there is such widespread support for English Votes for English Laws in Scotland, is not because of widespread support for Scottish Conservatives (at this general election, despite a strong campaign by Ruth Davidson, their vote share fell to 14.9% – its lowest ever since they were founded in 1965): as Neal Ascherson put it yesterday in The Guardian “I think most Scots feel their MPs should not decide purely English issues. After all, before devolution they had 292 years’ experience of English MPs outvoting the Scots on Scottish issues.” Surely, given his arguments for the Union in the run-up to last September, Miliband could have come out fighting AGAINST the ‘othering’ of Scots, pointing out the basic arithmetic that undermines the portrayal of Scottish electoral choices as an ‘external threat’, and making Labour the party of an actual United Kingdom. During the Referendum campaign we were told ‘Scotland should lead the UK – not leave it’. Apparently that leadership is very much not wanted – and indeed any idea even of influence is to be shunned.

Personally, I prefer not to think that ‘fear of a Scottish vote’ was really a strong motivating force, as I would rather not think that we were so reviled by an electorally significant portion of England. Because if so – why is there still a Union? And – as an equally logical corollary – can we stop referring to it as a Union, and just say it is an Empire? (The definition being, ‘Supreme political power over several countries when exercised by a single authority’. A contentious question for another post, I think…)

As McWhirter put it “the entire post-war edifice of Scottish politics was pulverised into dust” last week. Nor were Labour and the Conservatives the only parties punished in Scotland: with less than 5% of the vote, LibDems paid out £170K due to lost deposits in 340 seats (my sister was apparently one of those candidates, when none of us knew she was even standing: ‘shy LibDem’ syndrome, perhaps?). Ascherson, again: “the meaning of last week is that the SNP has been adopted as ‘Scotland’s party’, not least because it has no strings to London.” If parties were smart, they would reconstruct themselves as autonomous units, in order to produce the required clear water for the electorate in Scotland to trust them again. If they simply don’t care, they won’t. Which will send its own message.

Does this election, as some have said, truly mean the launch of a trajectory towards a federal UK? Unlikely – as noone is interested in federalising England. Is it really so ‘impossible’ that Scotland’s vote for home rule will be ignored? Yes, of course – regardless of how much this vote was a clear mandated call for more powers for the Scottish Parliament than Smith was offering, the arithmetic is clearly on the side of the Conservative government. But such a strategy of turning a blind eye is somewhat fraught, if you truly are intent on preserving that Union, as opposed to consolidating short-term political advantage, creating, as it does, many avenues that fast-track independence.

As Alan Bissett noted, Scotland having to suffer another five years of Conservative-led government is a direct consequence of the ‘No’ vote – I don’t think that is an unfair observation, as one of the most resonant arguments in the Referendum campaign was that independence was the only way that Scotland could guarantee having no more Conservative governments dictating to it from London without a Scottish mandate. With a ‘No’ vote in place, it was only a matter of time before it happened – but what I find particularly distressing is that the left vote seemed to take a vacation in England, when the incumbent government had such a poor record on the economy (massively increasing the debt, failing to get the deficit down to 65% over the time period that it originally said it would completely eliminate it), and was promising to continue its savage cuts to a welfare state that were ideological and irrelevant (if not actively counter-productive) to getting the economy to recover. The positive attributes to what Eddy Robson dubbed “The best crisis since the abdication” were body-swerved in favour of Austerity Max.

A week before the Referendum was lost last year, Robin McAlpine of the Common Weal wrote the following on Bella Caledonia: “A butterfly rebellion is coming close to winning Scotland away from the forces of the British state. I think we’ll do it, but either way, they can’t beat us. We are already half of Scotland and we keep growing. They are weak and we are strong. When the people of Britain see their titans defeated by a rebel army who used infographics and humour, what is there to stop them following? England needs its butterfly rebellion as well.” That conclusion seems hauntingly prescient now, as we ask the question: is there any potent left remaining in England? Labour was hardly a radical left platform at this general election, but if an underlying xenophobia was really more powerful than the prospect of an unleashed Conservative government, indeed was strong enough not just for people to go to the Conservatives but to move straight to UKIP instead of a fundamentally right of centre Labour party, then what hope is there for any longevity for the concept of Britain?

Cameron can be bold – but it is hard to see how anything that he does is going to do other than pass the historical title of ‘Last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’ to his successor.

 

“For the long dark decades of Tory rule, Scotland was told that getting a government we didn’t vote for was simply the price of the Union. Now the tartan high heels are on the other foot, England might get the government that Scotland votes for. Ed, Davie, Nick and Nige scream that Scotland’s choices are illegitimate and unwelcome. But to no avail, no one in Scotland is listening to the four hoarse men of the Jockalypse.” (Paul Kavanagh, 7/5/2015)

 

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Disparate Thoughts from the Wee Sma’ Hours…a Troika of Pandas Coming Over the Hill

….5 hours sleep later, and leaving my bedroom I felt a little like Judy Garland approaching the doorway, wondering if it was going to be technicolor on the other side or not.

I checked my phone – a text from my brother gave me a small heads-up ‘Bye Jim Murphy, we won’t miss you’. Well, that was one scalp. But there were others on the list.

Putting on the television, and it was clear that the exit poll was looking pretty much spot-on, with the Conservatives heading towards a majority, as the SNP had cleared 50 seats in its own majority. Perhaps as part of the new realpolitik that his former classmate was not going to be deposed as Conservative leader in order to make way for his predicted ascendancy, Boris Johnson was making noises offstage that some kind of offer of ‘federalism’ had to be made to Scotland in the wake of his ‘Ajockalypse Now’ prediction.

Stats were being reeled off in the BBC studio, with the biggest single party vote in Scottish political history of 1.4 million for the SNP; Alex Salmond notes that the results in Scotland represented the biggest political swing in the UK since records began in 1835, with an average of 24% from Labour to SNP; within that, Willie Bain, architect of ‘The Bain Principle’ (The Bain Principle, the old Royal High School building on Calton Hill, and 30% of Labour Party Members going for Yes or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-1c ), predicted just over a week ago to be the last Labour MP standing in Glasgow NE, had fallen with a 39% swing to the SNP, producing Sturgeon’s ‘magnificent seven’ in a clean SNP sweep of all of Glasgow; Brian Taylor noted 60 years ago a 50.1% Scottish vote for the Scottish Unionist Party has now been eclipsed by a 50.2% vote for a pro-independence SNP.

6am saw a revision of the 10pm exit poll: Conservatives 325, Labour 232, SNP 56, LibDem 12, UKIP 2, Greens 1.

I scanned the results with some mixed feelings – although turnout was apparently up by 10% in some constituencies, figures of 70-74% turnout are disappointing after the Referendum turnout at 85%.

At the pundits table, Kevin McKenna of the Observer comments on the loss of very able Scottish MPs as part of this near-wipeout.

In the studio, Paul Sinclair (‘SpAd-U-Like’: Paul Sinclair Talks Openly of Labour’s Westminster Navel-Gazing or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-5L), former Labour adviser to Johann Lamont and Douglas Alexander (the Labour campaign manager beaten by a twenty year old student for the SNP) acknowledges that over the years the SNP had done two things very successfully: firstly, to convince Scots that Scottish Labour wasn’t Scottish, secondly to convince them that it wasn’t Labour either. Which was pretty much how the Conservatives were dismissed from Scotland in the past.

Eventually, there was only one seat still to call, as Berwickshire went to a recount. Michael Moore – the LibDem Secretary of State for Scotland – had acknowledged that he was no longer in the running for his seat, which was now being fought over between the Conservatives and SNP…and it fell, ending 50 years of liberalism in the area, begun with David Steel: Calum Kerr, the former chair of ‘Yes Borders’ wins the recount with 328 votes. [I noted Jessie Rae – eighties one hit wonder with ‘Over the Sea’, check it out on YouTube, it’s good for a laugh – if only to see how far Scottish identity has moved beyond this in 30 years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOad0FU9zF8 – acquired 131 votes in that constituency.

With the final tally of 59 MPs in Scotland, 56 SNP, and one each of Labour, LibDem and Conservative, Carolyn Leckie (whose writing I do enjoy in The National) refers to the Troika of Pandas in Scotland, reflecting the old joke that Scoaltnad has more pandas than Conservative MPs. Except now, that honour can also be extended to two other parties: David Mundell remains the only Conservative Panda MP in Scotland, and Alistair Carmichael the incumbent LibDem Panda Secretary of State for Scotland retains his Orkney and Shetland seat. Perhaps, within that, the final irony or insult is that the last Labour MP standing is Ian Murray – in Edinburgh South, the constituency where I did most of my (admittedly limited – on this occasion) campaigning. Murray had the slimmest majority of any Labour MP (albeit not over the SNP), and retained his seat with an enhanced 2,500-odds majority. Despite the plethora of little tactical voting wheels (guides that told you who to ‘lend your vote to’ in order to keep the SNP out) distributed beforehand, it may only have been in Edinburgh South where they were actually employed, with the Conservatives appropriately propping up Murray’s seat for him to become the Labour Panda. That would be preferable to the idea that three year old misrepresented tweets (‘Thick and Fast They Came at Last’: Labour Unhinged in the Incoherent End of Days for the 2015 General Election or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-9e) might have swung anything against him.

All of which begs the question, with a Conservative majority government about to be confirmed, what does it all mean?

Before Holyrood, it was taken as gospel that if the SNP won a majority of Scottish MPs, then it had a mandate to call for a referendum on independence. With the Scottish Parliament in place, and the established process of 2011-2014, that is no longer the case, and the SNP can convincingly campaign for a stronger voice in Westminster without calling for a referendum. If you go along with that, and don’t accept this SNP surge as a ‘de facto’ declaration of independence or for a referendum (which, to be fair, has continuously been stated by Nicola throughout the campaign, when the other Scottish parties were trying to make it a general election issue) – then you have to accept that this vote is very far from an endorsement of what the Smith Commission came up with as proposals for ‘enhanced devolution’.

One can argue that it is a second chance for the Union – yet another one, after the botched Smith Commission proposals were watered down. It is the ‘feet to the fire’ that Alex Salmond called for before he stepped down as First Minister and party leader – a call for significant rather than token devolved powers. Of course, Westminster can ignore a Scottish voice, as always – but can it really afford to, if it truly genuinely does value the Union? Cameron has the arithmetic on his side for a Commons majority – but it means that his euroskeptic backbenchers are empowered by his majority being so marginal, and this hints at a more anti-Europe sentiment in the run-up to the promised EU in-out vote scheduled for 2017.

The scale of the Labour collapse in England, although regrettable, does make it clear that even if Scotland had given every seat to Labour, they would not have stopped a Conservative majority. Can one blame the SNP for this? Is the late Conservative surge very much part of a xenophobic anti-Scottish push, as orchestrated by Cameron with his poster campaigns featuring the SNP as pickpockets and thieves? Perhaps…but if that is the case, then Cameron has to think carefully over how to deal with those fears that he has stoked to win an election – does he maintain them, and risk alienating even more Scots in the process? With one poll saying that 54% of Scots had noticed a more hostile response from UK politicians and media towards Scotland SINCE the Referendum, Cameron will have an interesting balancing act to retain that fear in the public for his own support, yet ameliorate it for more practical government – and in the longer term interests of preserving the Union.

Labour has been rejected as ‘the party of Scotland’ as Miliband boldly claimed it to be barely 24 hours ago, when he made himself the only party leader not to visit Scotland the day before the election. Both Labour and the LibDems will have lost their leaders by lunchtime, I would guess – and even Jim Murphy should be gone over the weekend.

As ever, the UK gets the government that England votes for – the difference is that this time, Scottish MPs are not sunk within a party where the party comes before the constituents’ wishes. That is positive. In the meantime, a lot of new SNP MPs have to go to London and keep their noses clean, as part of the run-up to the (in many ways) far more important Holyrood elections next year. Their London stock is untried and therefore vulnerable, and as such critical for how the party will be viewed this time next year.

And yes, now we have to look to those Holyrood elections next year. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times said that 1 in 8 ‘No’ voters intended to vote for the SNP yesterday – and they probably did. It also indicated Labour losing 7 seats at Holyrood next year, with the SNP taking 70 of the 129 MSP places available. Again, you have to look back to that October 2013 poll (All Those ‘Wee Things’: The Loss to Labour or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-1h), which suggested that only 47% of 2011 Labour voters would vote again for them in the next Holyrood election in the event of a ‘No’ vote in the Referendum, as opposed to 55% with a ‘Yes’ vote. Now that the old guard is well and truly gone, Labour have to move fast to start rebuilding – even although this morning Paul Sinclair was saying Labour has to effectively give upon Holyrood for next year.

If Labour were smart, they would devolve their party in Scotland to a similar relationship to the one that they have with the SDLP in Northern Ireland – a ‘sister party’ – and give them that clear water necessary for Scottish voters not to think that Labour have a ‘conflict of interest’ with regard to Scottish representation.

IF they were smart.

 

“English colleagues should consider the reasons why Scotland demanded a Scottish Parliament in the first place: it wasn’t for reasons of nationalism or national identity; it was because it was patently unfair that our contingent of MPs could easily be outvoted on any issue by even a small fraction of English MPs. England could never, ever be in the same position. Even if every Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish MP wished to foist an unpopular policy on England, they could not do so unless they were joined by at least 209 English MPs. And the occasions when Scottish MPs have made the difference in policy areas affecting England have been so vanishingly rare [21 Commons votes out of 5,000 since 1997], they hardly justify such a constitutional upheaval.” (Tom Harris, Labour MP)

 

 

Exit Wounds: 40 minutes, and counting, into 3 and a half hours of political fiction….

Almost 40 minutes ago, the polls closed, and the joint broadcasters’ exit poll was released 60 seconds later:
Conservatives 316, Labour 239, SNP 58, LibDem 10, Plaid Cymru 4, UKIP 2, Greens 2…..to her credit, Nicola tweets swiftly to say within minutes that although she expects a good night, she thinks that 58 is FAR too optimistic for the SNP.

And here we enter the dreamtime – spiritual wandering, when the last ballot boxes have been sealed, but three and a half hours of speculation ensue before even the first actual seats start to be announced, and the truth of those ballot box contents begins to emerge into the light. To pad out time, pundits argue backwards and forwards – inevitably doing little more than retreading the autopilot rhetoric of the past 5 weeks….although the Scottish Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson seems relaxed and happy. Perhaps because she used to work as a runner in this BBC Scotland studio, before her political career began.

Immediate reactions? The Conservatives/Labour differential has fallen away from ‘almost neck and neck’ to a huge void, the Conservatives within touching distance of a majority. The SNP are still unbelievably projected to claim almost every seat – but interestingly the Labour collapse is SO bad, that even if they had had all 59 seats from Scotland, they would still be far behind the Conservatives total. The LibDems, on 10, with an even more dismal forecast than any of the polls had thus far predicted…less than even the 11 seats that they currently hold in Scotland alone.

On the basis of this fiction, the Conservatives appear to have stolen the last days of the campaign, perhaps with their anti-Scottish rhetoric provoking fear in the home counties of The Empire, Miliband having failed to convince with his statements of an outright refusal to do deals with the rising power of the progressives.

But – of course – these are only exit polls…so have some patience, and let us see how they might translate as the hands of the clock turn slowly through the night…

 

“I’d treat the exit poll with HUGE caution. I’m hoping for a good night but I think 58 seats is unlikely!” (Nicola Sturgeon, tweeting after exit poll announced)

From Holyrood to Hollywood: sitting back and watching the movie of the day unfold, and the distraction of the Yes/No interlude

It starts the same way as September 18th did: good luck wishes coming in from around the world. Fewer than before, and less galvanised by the reflected energy that we emitted to the world last year, less excited, less envious of our moment. I feel similarly: there is a curious, slightly depressed sense of anxiety about today, despite the bright sunny blue sky contrast to last year’s overcast grey day… The feelings of today put me in mind of a Sylvester Stallone film, where he is sent back to Vietnam to rescue US prisoners. Having been given the briefing details (and while still behind prison bars) John Rambo asks: ‘Do we get to win this time?’ I guess that nothing can hope to take the place of a win last September – in practical as well as emotional terms, this election is NOT a rerun of the Referendum.

Because our moment has passed – at least for now. But, surprisingly, it seems that the ones that have the greatest difficulty getting over it are not the ‘Yes’ people. Nicola Sturgeon drew warm applause during the last leaders’ debate, when she pointed out that the people going on about a second (‘Fourth, surely?’ Ed.) referendum were not the SNP, but the Unionist parties – in particular, Labour. And out on the stump, that perspective is replicated: Conservative candidate for Danny Alexander’s Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency, Edward Mountain, says that Inverness and Scotland need to ‘move on’ from the Referendum. Would this be because that was one of the 15 Westminster constituencies that actually voted ‘Yes’, perhaps?

So – as I began my first post, back in July last year…why are we doing this, again?

This reminded me of a truly bizarre letter sent into The National on the eve of Xmas last year, by one Sandy Wilkie. Again, he wanted the world to ‘move on’ from the Referendum, to deal with ‘real issues instead’. To be fair, at the time, Wilkie – although couching his hubris in some pomposity regarding ‘Nicola Sturgeon has yet to reply to my e-mails offering her an olive branch’ – was merely echoing the increasing clamour from those victorious No campaigners, as the polls began to look disturbingly solid for the exchange between Labour and the SNP in terms of polling percentage for Westminster. There was, at the time, a desperation with which people were urged to ‘move on’ as though this was an overnight situation that had suddenly arisen and could be as easily dismissed, like a fire in a flat, that once dowsed could be forgotten about with little consequence…rather than something 60 years in the making.

I read his letter at the time with some disbelief – he simply seemed incapable of grasping that the desire for independence was not a way of putting off discussing solving the problems of the day: that decision for independence came from the long, painful dawning realisation that it was the only way that we were going to GET to address those issues, as the great ‘family of nations’ of the Union was a lie. Change has not come from the Westminster system over many decades – and clearly will not, because Scotland’s problems will never be any kind of priority (electoral arithmetic proves this – just listen how easily the prospect of even a full 59 SNP MPs has been dismissed as ignorable in the last couple of weeks by the two main parties) in the Westminster structure, certainly not to the degree that means it requires attention. Hence independence.

And so the problem that the Referendum was supposed to resolve still exists – indeed, is clearer than ever before. The answer and resolution to the problems that Wilkie cites {dear god he even invoked Braveheart…I’ll bet he calls himself a ‘proud scot’ as well} of foodbanks, poverty, NHS funding, the environment and the democratic process still comes back to what he called ‘Yes/No’ – solved by the natty hashtag #OneScotland, which began to sound suspiciously equivalent to #OneNation Labour. Those individual problems ARE what the collective ‘Yes/No’ was supposed to solve. You can talk about these problems as much as you want – the solution to them is entirely within ‘Yes/No’ – and nowhere else: any other ‘solution’ is merely robbing another part of our society and impoverishing it at the expense of other areas, simply because another solution will not be permitted because of the representational obstacle that ‘Yes/No’ was meant to remove. In case Wilkie hadn’t noticed, the best political and cultural minds in the country already had the conversation – and it was considerably longer than the one day that he reckoned would bring together a ‘unified force’ to deal with these issues – and by and large they came out on the same side for September (clue: not that of the 55%).

Ultimately, I found myself rather sad from reading Wilkie’s letter, as it made me feel that I had personally failed him – the fact that, even after 3 years of the campaign, he still had not noticed exactly what the Referendum was about – as though, maybe, it didn’t go on long enough for him to get it? (How much longer does a campaign need to be??) It made me wonder if at that stage he was simply a Hangover ‘No’ that after 3 months was only at the beginning of understanding the mistake that he had made.

So this General Election is NOT a rerun of the Referendum, and is not ‘rerunning old battles’. As Lesley Riddoch noted 3 weeks ago, rather than this being a Referendum rerun, it looks like GE2015 will be a referendum on Home Rule – and gaining an emphatic ‘Yes’ in the process. A demand for the substance contained in the rhetoric of The Vow, not the homeopathic Emperor Smith’s new tax powers. A calling in of that ‘second chance’ given to the Union.

Labour are keen to say that they are the only ones that have brought the necessary changes in the past to Scotland…but they omit, of course, to mention that having abandoned their Home Rule roots as they were assimilated into the Westminster establishment, they have only made subsequent moves – such as establishing Holyrood – when under the duress of the SNP gaining political ground from them. Even when Labour’s executive have been pushing for change in Scotland, as in 1978, the votes of 34 Labour MPs against their party rendered a devolution vote for Scotland effectively impossible. The ‘Party of Devolution’? Only when they are given no choice.

So the SNP drives that political and constitutional change – as much as Labour have thus far been able to take the credit for something they were being forced into – as a simple strategy to emasculate the support for independence. Which is why the astonishing lack of any serious moves towards further devolution in the wake of the Referendum, as a means to again neuter the rising calls for more powers, is an amazing piece of arrogance. But yet again, it underlines my initial point – the mass move towards independence last year was not based on some romanticised historical whim, but on the modern post-war political reality of Britain, that there is no other way forward any more: if Labour have traditionally been the party of ‘giving Scotland concessions but only under duress’ – and the most they would do this time under Smith after the Referendum is token tax powers and road sign design, then the well is truly dry. This is why ‘DevoMax’ – everything except defense and foreign affairs – is a unicorn that does not exist as an option for Scotland, and never will: they ain’t giving any more. (Perhaps the reality of Michael Forsyth’s recent point in the House of Lords has finally dawned on them.) So the only way forward is self-determination.

The move towards independence was not a flash-in-the-pan, not a distraction from ‘real issues’, but a practical realization that Westminster has no interest whatsoever in the issues affecting Scotland, unless they are so bad that they affect the south of England. And why should we have to wait until that point for this broken system? The Referendum is part of a continuous mounting resistance to the old order, which only stops when that order is gone – ‘Keep Calm & Dismantle the British State’ shall be my t-shirt (we always need a t-shirt – or a nice shiny new campaign badge).

Will the result tonight – even if it WAS the highly unlikely 59 seater ‘wipeout’ – really compensate for losing last September? I remember 1973’s ‘The Sting’, wherein Robert Redford and Paul Newman play two 1930s con artists, avenging themselves on Robert Shaw for killing their con partner Luther Coleman. At the start, Newman warns Redford that he doesn’t want him turning round at the end, having beaten Robert Shaw, and saying ‘it’s not enough’ to make up for Luther’s murder. Sure enough, by the end of the con, Shaw has been beaten – and Redford turns to Newman: ‘You’re right, it’s not enough.’ Then, as Newman’s character tenses for a fight, Redford’s starts to laugh – ‘but it’s close!’ Even though we will probably ‘win’ tonight, I suspect that the revenge will not be enough for what we lost. But this is about more than revenge, and expunging the self-interested that are fraudulently posing as our representatives – we still have to work forward, towards independence.  And wayposts on the way are a solidarity and consensus of argument for more autonomy and powers, with which it can be demonstrated to the Scottish people that we can govern ourselves perfectly well enough to be independent – and perhaps to demonstrate to the rest of the UK that maybe they should be looking to the North for ideas for how to run their patches, too.

 

“Sovereignty in Scotland lies with the people. If Westminster elites say No to a reasonable plan for exercising that sovereignty within a loose federal Union, the people might say Yes to independence next time.” (Dr. W. Elliot Bulmer, author of ‘A Model Constitution for Scotland: Making Democracy work in an Independent State’ (2011) and ‘A Constitution for the Common Good: Strengthening Scottish Democracy after 2014’ (2014))

‘Thick and Fast They Came at Last’: Labour Unhinged in the Incoherent End of Days for the 2015 General Election

And as panic rises on the streets of London, we have the BBC reporting chaos on the streets of Glasgow. Once again, Jim Murphy’s cynical attempts to orchestrate and stage manage an ‘incident’ have yielded the result that he was looking for, with the certainty of a flying egg. You can see his complicity in the broad grin as he faces the opponent shouting in his face: that is exactly the money-shot’ that he was looking for…although his smugness might be a trifle close to the surface.

It is a depressingly familiar story from the Referendum experience: faux outrage emitted by the unionist press at the slightest scrap that can be used against campaigners for more autonomy for Scotland, while doggedly blind eyes are turned to regular attacks by unionists on those same supporters. Double page spreads that Nicola Sturgeon cut the hair from her sister’s Cindy doll, Neil Hay for Edinburgh South three years ago linked to an article on the spoof BBC Scotlandshire website and commented sympathetically on an academic report looking at the abilities of some pensioners to vote, when it was being disputed that 16 and 17 year olds should have the franchise for the Referendum. In contrast we have the barely reported assaults on ‘Yes’ supporters and ignored death threats to prominent members of the Scottish Government. One aspect fits the official narrative, the other doesn’t, so is blanked.

The frenzy mounts as polling day approaches, with counter claims rendering the air incoherent – Cameron makes a speech in a London market and is heckled by someone for anti-Scottish racism; Miliband has a spinal tap moment with his ‘EdStone’ as a cenotaph memorial to his chances of a majority government; Kezia Dugdale reveals on ‘Good Morning Scotland’ that she has no clue what Ed’s 6 policies are on the ‘Milistone’; in a clear attempt to get a sympathy vote at the last minute, leaked rumours of discussions emerge about making Labour in Scotland completely independent (lol) from London; Labour discusses moves to cut the Barnet formula, which Labour swore to protect in the event of a ‘No’ vote – but I guess it was ‘in the event of a ‘No’ vote – AND provided you kept voting for us alone’ (they should be clearer in their gun-to-the-head politics…); David Cameron announces that “Behind the economy are real issues, such as lifting children out of poverty”. I couldn’t help but read that with a tone as though he had recently discovered this to his great personal surprise – although I suspect that I was actually supposed to read it as the birth statement of all new cuddly Dave (vote for him – he IS friendly, after all!), when it appeared in the Independent on Sunday; Gordon Brown hoarsely proclaims that ‘Yes’ voters should vote Labour if they “want real change” – because, of course, that is what they got under you as Prime Minister, isn’t it, Gordon? I confess that I am relieved to see that he finally appears to be running out of steam, energy and voice and perhaps this will be the last ‘shock intervention’ from the ex-politician in this particular campaign.

Miliband left the ‘Question Time’ stage of his political misstep, where he publicly refused any sort of relationship with the SNP – thus opening himself to the accusation that he would rather let the Conservatives back in for 5 years, than take the controlling role himself. This opened up the End of Days situation of Labour’s arch SNP hater (and former pro-independence armed struggle psychopath) Brian Wilson criticising Miliband for ruling out any sort of deal with the SNP that he loathes (but wouldn’t a Conservative-run government be preferable to you anyway, Brian?). Miliband’s reasons for refusing such a deal were wonderfully hypocritical, and based on everyone forgetting how many constituent countries there are in the UK: Ed won’t do any deal wait Plaid Cymru or the SNP, because they want to break up the UK. But…Labour has a ‘sister party’ in Northern Ireland – the SDLP – whose electoral aim is the unification of Ireland…and, just to be clear, that is unification OUTside of the UK, not in. What does this ‘sister party’ relationship mean – shared birthdays, exchanging lipstick, joint visits to MacDonalds and taking turns on the swing at the playpark together? No…it actually means that Labour will not put candidates up in Northern Ireland’s 18 seats, even when the head of the Labour Party there asked to do so last spring. Funny how Labour are selective about that ‘breaking up Britain’ business’…perhaps it is only because there are only 3 SDLP Westminster MPs, so not exactly representing a mandate for change across all of that region’s constituencies? Maybe that is why Labour were never so vocal about refusing to work with the SNP when there were only 6-11 of their MPs in Scotland…

But even more than the rationale for Miliband’s justification of his decisions, the consequences of his rejection of the SNP are even more surprising. As noted by the Labour-supporting Sunday People a few days back, “Ms Sturgeon is likely to muster more anti-Tory MPs in Scotland than Labour ever could.” Actually, there is some justification for this, as the SNP have the potential to take LibDem (pro-Tory) seats that Labour never could, even before Labour were mortally weakened by the Referendum. The maths works out like this – 1 Conservative plus 11 LibDem pro-Tory MPs against 41 Labour plus 6 SNP anti-Tory MPs, gives a net 35 anti-Tory MPs from Scotland in 2010. If the SNP manage to increase their take of MPs, then it will not only be Labour, but LibDem seats that will fall – remember, for each Labour seat that falls to the SNP, there is no net change in the pro/anti-Tory numbers – but there is for each LibDem that goes. So potentially, by removing 12 proTory MPs and replacing them with antiTory MPs, there is a net 24 vote shift against the coalition continuing. You would think that would be welcomed by a Labour prime minister in waiting, wouldn’t you?

Labour’s leadership has retreated in the face of the Conservative-orchestrated right wing press, to a position that would make them a lame duck government, seen to be weakly backtracking on their commitments if they subsequently do any deal with the SNP, even although it is Cameron who should look the weaker, in failing to win a majority twice running. One can understand that Labour would lose a double-digit lead as the incumbency effect starts to kick in close to the date of the election, one can also understand the loud noises of nonsense made by both Cameron and Miliband as they proclaim that they are looking to win, even though everyone knows that that ship has sailed for both of them long ago. But the systematic erosion by Miliband of his potential post-vote allies has been an act of madness and weakness, giving away ground and positions of strength under elementary intimidation from the press. Perhaps Miliband thinks he looks stronger to shut out all prospects of a deal – he looks more like a fool to have gone as far as he has, especially as those who were espousing a fear that he would do a deal with the SNP, now do not even believe him when he has categorically ruled it out. He has capitulated on his position – to no advantage whatsoever.

The ‘EdStone’, intended for the Rose Garden at Downing Street (although apparently there would be a whole swathe of planning permissions required to install it there) may yet prove to be both his ‘spinal tap’ moment, and his political obituary by Friday morning.

 

“Right now our political cup is running over. Let us hold it with a steady hand and get this done for the country.” (Alex Salmond, 5/5/2015)

May the Fourth Referendum Be With You: Stall Wars, and the Return of the Rebel Alliance

I flew back from working in China over the weekend, getting into Edinburgh Airport early Saturday evening. A day to chill on Sunday (and briefly adjourn to BrewDog), and I was checking if the Stall was back on Monday.

Yes, the Stall – the one on the Meadows for ‘Yes Marchmont’ that I had helped staff throughout August in the run-up to the Referendum last year. I knew that there were plans to get something in place regularly for the run-up to the election, but was unsure how well those plans had been realised. Sure enough I got a response back – it was running in the afternoon, 2 till 4.

So I went back to The Meadows with some trepidation as to what I would find.

The Yes stall was always staffed by a disparate group from different parties. Last year, following the result, there had been talk of parties standing under a Yes Alliance banner in this General Election – but that was before Johann Lamont became the story with her stinging departure as head of Scottish Labour at the end of October, and launched the SNP’s stratospheric rise to switch its 20-odd% position in the polls with Labour’s 40+% in Scotland. (It is somewhat ironic that Lamont’s departure was allegedly precipitated by Murphy – who ironically now holds the poisoned chalice to his own shouting and protesting lips.) At that point, with such a clear leading party, the idea of an alliance seemed less obvious – in particular for the SNP. It was no longer as though they were a minor party in the run-up to Westminster that could help others in a similar position, and vice versa, as proposed by the tactical voting Unionist advocates: suddenly they were the clear and logical primary ‘Yes’ party in every seat in Scotland, to which votes should be lent.

So, in the absence of an a-party ‘Yes’ stall, were the same faces still there?

Reassuringly – ‘Yes’. A couple of Green activists were not only in evidence, but one of them was actually organising the stall…which was 50% SNP, 50% Green/Scottish Socialists/CND. Non-aligned Kay was there, retired ‘Faslane Frances’ from the Western Isles, Paddy – it was good to see. I felt all fingers and thumbs – all those valuable ‘skills’ of responding to individual questions while deploying badges and asking if any children wanted balloons…those assets needed to be renurtured, and it does not look like there will be time to do that. Rain scheduled for Tuesday, meant only Wednesday remained as a stall option before the day.

Amongst the encouraging numbers of visitors regularly coming to take and display material – stickers to adorn a ‘Revolution’ brand bike, a balloon and badge for the kid riding pillion behind its mother – there was an interesting issue that raised itself, perhaps relevant for that initial broader question of the proposed ‘Yes Alliance’ platform for the vote. It was raised by one somewhat aggressive (?)student individual who approached the older women on the table to challenge the presence of ‘Yes’ imagery as an indicator that there was a secret agenda for a second referendum. As his targets began to answer, he interrupted (in classic troll, Murphy-aping style) with other questions – what about the ‘decision for a generation?’ Was that a lie? I started to answer that I did not believe that it was Nicola that had said that, but Alex – and I understood that was the reason why he had resigned after the result, to free up the possibility of as many further referenda as were necessary. The troll looked confused – I don’t think he expected to be challenged about Nicola, let alone have Alex’s resignation presented in that fashion – then an SNP man moved in to start insistently offering him a leaflet, which he kept refusing, until he moved on.

Of course, it isn’t really a ‘second’ referendum – it would be the fourth one on constitutional change in a generation. The first was in 1978 for the Scottish Assembly, the second the 1997 one for the Scottish Parliament, the third was last September on independence. And perhaps that is a more realistic way to look at it.

In the wake of this encounter, it became evident that there had been a couple of similar (if less aggressive) queries earlier that day. We debated, and decided that it might be simpler – if the presence of ‘Yes’ symbolism was being deliberately misconstrued as a sign of a (poorly) hidden agenda – simply not to display such iconography. But this particular species of attack relies on criticism of ‘the neverendum’, that idea of ‘oh how terrible it is’ that the question was ever asked once in over 300 years, just think how it paralyses the Scottish Government while that happens. It is predicated on the idea that any Scottish Government so committed to such a referendum would just be doing that and nothing else…when actually the reverse appears to be true. While the majority government preparing for the Referendum, the SNP were an extremely dynamic government in office, very much showing how Labour and the LibDems should have been doing it in the first years, and effective and efficient in governance and legislation. Perhaps actually being in office to fight for a single imagination-capturing political issue as the main focus of your time in government should actually be obligatory, if not mandatory, because it is a concrete reminder of why you are in office – and it stops holding office being simply power for its own sake, a lesson that Labour have failed to learn during their stewardship of Scotland.

But it did make me reflect on how problematic it might have been, had the SNP not become such an emphatic frontrunner, and the Yes Alliance had indeed been launched for the General Election: it would have been impossible to deflect the accusation of a hidden agenda – although in the immediate wake of September’s result, many of us were admittedly fired up for exactly that – a second independence one straight away. Under Nicola, we keep the powder dry, and restrict the question to manifestoes for Holyrood only – and if support then delivers a system-beating majority for the SNP again, then a second referendum will happen. In contrast, for Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon is now – following her astonishing individual success on the televised leaders’ debates – campaigning credibly as a UK politician, talking about policies for the whole UK as a result of the potential influence of the SNP on a Labour government – not just Scotland. Even the Labour-supporting Sunday Mail and Sunday People delicately came out in support of Nicola at the weekend….That all builds a perception that does much to ameliorate the anti-SNP (arguably anti-Scottish) propaganda distributed south of the border during the Referendum by the press. It also hints at the possibility of SNP-allied candidates standing in England in the future. Previously unthinkable, that is indeed an exciting prospect.

The Fourth Referendum spectre might well have been the negative aspect of the Yes alliance concept, and certainly for where we have got to now – without at all disputing that we would welcome another one as soon as practicable – it would be a distraction. We have other more immediate fish to fry. I took two new campaign badges from the stall, one in ironically UKIP purple saying ‘Hey, where’s my powers?’ The other one was in Labour red – ‘Labour No More’.

I’m keeping that one – with crossed fingers – in hope for Friday morning.

 

“Scotland reloaded appears to be a nation prepared to challenge the establishment in all its guises, to shine a light, to demand and to do different, to call for and create change, seemingly content to create uncertainty in doing so. We are a country suddenly confident in our choices and challenges. Gaun wirsels.” (Kate Higgins, Women for Independence, 20/3/2015)

The Hyperbole of Hatred, or, Slain in the Ratings (Again)

It has been yet another grim few days for Nicola Sturgeon. The day before she launched the SNP’s manifesto, Boris Johnson dedicated his Telegraph column to her. Whereas Piers Morgan could only come up with a depiction of her as a ‘mini-Godzilla’ (surely an oxymoron, Piers?), Johnson characteristically began by wishing to advertise his classical education, but – unusually for Boris – instead of Hector (the Greek hero, rather than the dog with the house from the BBC) he began with Herod. Sturgeon in charge of the SNP at Westminster would be like the venerable king left in charge of a baby farm – or Attila the Hun as doorkeeper to the Roman Senate. They would be the fox running the henhouse, weevils hired to protect the ageing timbers of a local church, the convicted jewel thief interviewed to be the custodian of the Tower of London, the temperance campaigner running a brewery. [A scorpion even made it in as a comparator.]

He overegged things a bit when he tried to invoke Shakespeare though, with his portrayal of Nicola as Lady Macbeth requiring him to present Ed Miliband as King of Scotland…um, maybe he has not seen the polling results in recent months? The latest TNS approval ratings for the UK’s political leaders came out a couple of days ago, showing that in Scotland Sturgeon is on +55%, whereas Miliband is on -2%. If sovereignty remains with the people in Scotland, then Ed is going to be nowhere near King of Scotland (let alone MacBeth – whose presentation by Bill Shakespeare is actually pretty similar in terms of accuracy and impartiality to the treatment reserved for the SNP by the press).

Ed wouldn’t make King of the UK either, if he is wondering – fair enough, he does best of the Westminster leaders in Scotland compared to Cameron (-7%), Farage (-15%) and Clegg (-34%, remember him?) – but UK-wide Cameron is on +7% compared to Miliband on -8%.

But all of these are kind of irrelevant, when it is noted that Nicola Sturgeon, UK-wide, with the vigorous hate campaign targeting her through the press in these last weeks, is polling at +33%. That is +33% across the WHOLE UK. She is being presented (if I can go to a less classical comparison, with the new TV series starting on Sky) as Lizzie Borden getting ready for her Xmas family reunion, leading a party standing in only 59 seats, and yet she is the highest rated party  leader across the UK, uniquely even running her own Twitter account. It is not for nothing that one journalist noted she is the only party leader to appear on a manifesto – at a time when some candidates of other parties in Scotland (solo Tory David Mundell and the leader of something called the Labour Party in Scotland, Jim Murphy) actually fail to mention their parties at all on their election literature. Her linkage of herself with her party benefits both.

Also, as Lesley Riddoch has suggested, the attacks on Nicola may well have peaked too early: despite the hyperbole of hatred consistently leveled at her as this very exemplification of her party, and thus being the biggest perceived threat to establishment politics at Westminster since the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s, her star continues to rise. [On that point, it is interesting to note that one correspondent recently compared the Scotland Office’s fabricated memo (referred to as “a piece of grubby espionage” by Martin Hannan, with Carmichael clearly encouraging spying on the Scottish Government) leaked by Alistair Carmichael, to the Grigory Zinoviev letter of September 1924. This letter, purporting to be written by a representative of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union was allegedly fabricated and released to the press by the Foreign Office, as it was intended to discredit the Labour Party in the run-up to an election…but I digress.]

‘Despite the hyperbole’….or, perhaps, because of it?

Home Secretary Theresa May declares that any SNP influence would create the worst constitutional crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 – and yet 59% of voters in Scotland say that the current labelling of the SNP as ‘dangerous’ is putting the Union in danger, and one can sort of see where they are coming from. The ‘othering’ of Scots is astonishingly flagrant – the continued attacks on the SNP as some rabid group, verging on terrorists, who simply should not be permitted within the hallowed halls of Westminster, seems to spectacularly fail to realise that rather than persuading the rather substantial numbers of voters who have expressed that preference of the error of their ways, it is alienating them further from Westminster, consolidating their choice…and also making it seem the more logical choice for others.

And it is not just the bizarre future leader of the Conservatives that seems deranged in his writings on the subject (although deranged has to be relative for Boris), but the current incumbent, as well. When David Cameron, normally calm and controlled, starts going beyond words like “nightmare” to using phrases like “a match made in hell”, he starts to sound like he is actually starting to lose control for the first time. The idea of him losing the plot like this, with a little naked venom openly leaking out, is something I really do not recall seeing before…and when it brings former Thatcher cabinet Lords Michael Forsyth and Norman Tebbit out seeking to temper the Conservative campaign, saying it is too negative and could endanger the Union, that really is something new.

We’ve been here before, of course, from representatives other than the PM. This pretty much reflected the often-hysterical tone in the run-up to the Referendum last year – with the Westminster mob only pulling back from the brink 48 hours from the end, by trying to position the question of independence resulting in a ‘No’ vote being a vote for DevoMax.

But they’ve kind of used that option up. With apparently 25% of ‘No’ voters being bought or persuaded at the last by Banquo’s ghost (to torture Boris’s metaphor some more) of DevoMax turning up to be offered at the 11th hour of the electoral banquet provided that the electorate only voted ‘No’, the subsequent failure of the Emperor’s new tax raising powers to look anything like the more powers that those voters were allegedly looking for with their use of the franchise, and noises from both Lords and Commons that make it sound as though they fully intend to water the final Smith proposals down even further, it would be rather difficult for them to turn around and say ‘No, don’t vote SNP, because now we are REALLY offering you DevoMax – the last time doesn’t count – Gordon Brown, Jackie Bird and Alistair Darling didn’t know what they were talking about, we’re serious this time.’ That ship has sailed. But they don’t really have another fallback position to go to – they broke the glass in case of emergency, and did not have time to replace it with anything else for the next crisis just over 7 months later.

And now we witness the result. William Hills revised its odds on the SNP taking all 59 of the Scottish Westminster seats from 1,000 to 1 in 2010, to 3 to 1 this week – which was before today’s 30th April results from IPSOS-MORI for STV showing SNP 54% (+2), Labour 20% (-4), Conservatives 17% (+5), LibDems 5% (+1), Greens 2%, UKIP unchanged at 1%. The key thing about that, is 54% means that the Electoral Calculus tool predicts all 59 Scottish seats falling to the SNP for the first time – whereas other sites more conservatively put the figure at a mere 58 seats resulting from that percentage of the vote.

Voters across the UK were taught by the press over a number of years to hate and fear Alex Salmond, to generate that kneejerk unthinking ‘ah dae like that Alex Salmond’ response to his name. With seven days campaigning to go, the media seems to be learning that they are running out of time to do the same to Nicola Sturgeon before May 7th.

 

 “People in Scotland should think that anything that is a nightmare for David Cameron is a good thing for most other people.” (Nicola Sturgeon, 23/2/2015)