Galloway and Salmond: An Unlikely Unified Chorus

Alex Massie in The Spectator has noted that there are now more members of the Scottish National Party than there are soldiers in the British Army. Which is all well and good (unless he is actually proposing a direct ‘contest’ between the two?) – but that means little compared to actual electoral success. Despite that simple statement, lots of external commentators have taken very different meanings from the result of the General Election in Scotland. The SNP winning 56 out of 59 seats was, for example, presented by Vladimir Churov, the head of the Russian electoral commission, as clear evidence that the Referendum last year was rigged – but that is (to say the least) a simplistic analysis, that ignores the focused media impact in a binary plebiscite, compared with a multi-party election.

Writing provocatively for The Telegraph within 24 hours of the General Election results being finalised, Bruce Anderson had a hilarious piece harrumphing away at the presence of the Scottish electoral choice in Westminster, declaring that Scotland needs time to “calm down”, that Westminster should “stop appeasing the Scots”, and the wonderfully insulting “when the Nats launched their offensive the Labour high command found out that their party was almost extinct. Some Glasgow constituencies had a nominal membership role of a hundred, half of whom turned out to be dead: another quarter, in Barlinnie Gaol. The rest were often some of the most primitive socialists ever known. As no-one had told them that the Warsaw Pact was also extinct, some of them were still hoping for the arrival of Stalinism”. So, no stereotypes or cliches there, then: with such a grasp for politics (and the Labour Party) in Scotland, it is a wonder that Anderson is not considering running for First Minister next year.

In another interpretation, you can also say that in May pro-independence parties secured 51.3% of the vote in Scotland, but – as much as there is an increasing receptivity to the idea – the majority of people understood that the General Election was not a rerun of the Referendum, that this was about opening up a new front in the campaign for Scotland to take charge of its own future. I would argue that this is demonstrated in a number of ways – and not merely by the SNP saying it, because, well ‘they would wouldn’t they?’ What is telling is not the numbers of independence supporters that voted for the SNP, but the ones who are not yet convinced by independence, yet know that the SNP has that long-term objective, and still saw a good reason to support them going to Westminster. In a way, supporting the SNP in spite of – not because of – the longer term goal.

I have referred before to the October 2013 poll that indicated how much Labour support in Holyrood was projected to fall in the event of a ‘No’ vote in the Referendum (47% of their 2011 voters, see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/all-those-wee-things-the-loss-to-labour/ ), and the latest TNS poll of 1,031 makes even gloomier reading for them: 60% of those planning to vote next May would now vote SNP (45% in 2011), Labour would get 19% (32% in 2011, so 59% of that vote rather than the 47% predicted two years ago), which would leave them only marginally ahead of the Conservatives on 15%…and then there would be the LibDems on 3%. This result would mean zero Holyrood Constituency seats for Labour (they currently have 15). For the Holyrood List section vote, the results are lower at 50% for the SNP (which actually might, through the PR system, lead to them losing their majority in Holyrood), with Labour still on 19%, Conservatives 14%, Greens 10%, LibDems 5%, UKIP 2%. Also, the TNS poll (from the end of May, therefore predating Charles Kennedy’s death) shows that among under 35s, 80% say that they will be voting for the SNP, with only 6% going for Labour.

Poll results like this, the successful crowdfunding of the Carmichael money, the continuing popularity of the First Minister as well as sites like Wings Over Scotland, all suggest that the appetite for change is not restricted to elections…and it has not gone away after returning 56 SNP MPs out of 59 possible constituencies, no matter how much the enemies of change might wish to rationalise it otherwise – or be unwilling to countenance the result in other terms such as ‘a political sea change’.

As much as these figures all seem to show that support for the SNP – and trust in them, even from ‘No’ voters – is strong, the bigger question remains what this may or may not mean for the question of independence. Arch-Unionist George Galloway, launching his campaign for London Mayor a week ago, declared that he thought independence could probably ONLY have been stopped from happening within the next five years by a Labour government winning last month. Not exactly the most credible of political commentators, Galloway’s expressed view echoes Salmond’s comment just after the General Election, that (when asked directly) he thought the result in May had brought independence closer for Scotland. At the time, this was seized on with howls by the media in an attempt to show a ‘split’ between him and Sturgeon (who had clearly said that a vote for the SNP was not a vote for independence at this General Election), his successor – in much the same way as they have tried to misrepresent the SNP MPs Sheppard and Kerevan as descrying Full Fiscal Autonomy, when they were very explicitly criticising the idea that FFA could happen overnight as opposed to being a phased process, and supporting the argument that it would take time to change over. After all, we have just seen how badly botched a rushed constitutional modification can be, with the Smith Commission translating into the limp rag of the Scotland Bill. Nobody would be arguing for FFA of all proposals to happen swiftly, without negotiation…but I digress.

When Alex Salmond says that this Westminster result brings independence closer – of course it does: just not in the way that some of the southern commentariat appear to be thinking, not as part of some plan to achieve it through a devious plot enacted by a Westminster bloc of SNPs orchestrating some dastardly scheme. In a post-election poll, almost 50% said that last month’s Westminster success for the SNP made independence more likely, with 39% saying that it made no difference. It brings independence closer in exactly the same way as the SNP becoming the largest party in Holyrood in 2007 brought independence closer, as it led to them subsequently gaining a majority government in Holyrood in 2011 – which again brought independence closer, as that has (along with their performance in the Referendum) in its turn brought this Westminster landslide. Each of these stages is symptomatic of the people in Scotland placing more representational responsibility with the Scottish National Party as their trust in them slowly grew, in the absence of any credible alternative in the wake of Iraq. Last month was another stage in that growth. After a while, there will be few other ways in which the people in Scotland can invest further trust in the SNP – apart from voting for independence. According to a recent poll, 80.4% of Scots want another Referendum on independence, with 58.6% wanting it within the next ten years. It may not be the EU referendum that provides the ‘material change in circumstances’ that warrants another independence referendum within 5 years rather than 10, but perhaps in that regard Galloway might yet prove to be unexpectedly prescient after all.

 

“I think independence is probably nigh. The only way it could have been stopped is if we had got a Labour government last month and if that Labour government had begun to make a difference. But these next five Tory years are going to be very cold, and the SNP leadership seems to have the ball at their feet and know what to do with it. So I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t another referendum in the course of this next five years, and I’d be very surprised if we managed to repeat the result we got last year. I’d take the same stand that I did last year. But I wouldn’t be expecting to win.” (George Galloway, 14/6/2015)

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InSturgeoncy 2: Watch Any Good Telly Last Night?

Well, how was your night? An early one? Or did you stay up to watch ITV?

I confess that I had to wait and start to see the reports coming in this morning. So I have been (alternately) smiling and laughing throughout the day – with maybe the odd attempt to stifle tears pricking in the eyes with pride, relief, joy…whatever.

You see, apparently Nicola did quite well last night on the live Leaders’ Debate. Up there with Cameron (Conservative, Prime Minister), Miliband (Labour), Clegg (LibDem, Deputy Prime Minister), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Natalie Bennett (Greens)…she apparently did ‘no’ bad’.

The first report that I saw quoted the after show ‘whowunnit?’ polls, with the average of the three main polls (YouGov, ComRes, Guardian/ICM) showing: Sturgeon 21.7%, Cameron 21.0%, Miliband 20.3%, Farage 20.0%, Clegg 9.3%, Bennett 4.3%, Wood 2.7%. Yep – Sturgeon not just beating out the PM, but all the other Westminster party leaders.

That does not mean it was universal – and, indeed, one has to wonder about the difference in the results between the three polls (shades of that mysterious ‘emphatic win for Darling’ first poll that very few people seem to have witnessed on television): ComRes gave victory to Cameron/Miliband/Farage, the Guardian/ICM gave it to Miliband…but YouGov so emphatically gave it to Sturgeon (28%, with Farage 20%, Cameron on 18, Miliband 15, Clegg 10, Green 5, Leanne 4%), and Nicola did well enough in the others, that she still came out on top over the three polls.

The Daily Telegraph also conducted a satisfaction poll, which gave the top places to the three female leaders.

As someone who did not see the debate (the ITV feed to Beijing must have been down), I was particularly interested by analysis conducted by IPSOS-MORI throughout the actual television programme, noting levels of boos and cheers for each candidate over the two hours. The graph is very pretty – and there is a spiky gold line riding high above all the rest from within ten minutes of the start: Nicola Sturgeon obtained 83% cheers and 17% boos, winning hands-down in both those categories (Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett nearly tied next on 65/35 and 64/36 respectively, with Cameron a clear last on 31/69 – he must be regretting coming out so emphatically to state that he would ‘refuse to work with the SNP’ during the week – gosh, we’re real hurt by that, Dave). What interests me most about the IPSOS-MORI figures, is a consensus between those in the studio, and those polled outside the studio, in terms of how well Nicola comported herself and got the point across. And maybe how much the more general UK public started to understand a little bit about what the ‘Caledonian Spring’ had REALLY been about. In that sense, it is quite telling that another UK-wide poll – Opinium, for The Observer – found 20% of respondents believed Nicola Sturgeon won the debate, compared to 17% David Cameron and 15% Ed Miliband. She was judged to have performed well by 63% of respondents – a higher percentage than for any of the other leaders, and exceeded expectations to a greater degree (51%) than any other leader.

‘Exceeded expectations’ is perhaps the key phrase from Opinium: I don’t want to read too much into the slew of Tweets flying around afterwards (if you want a laugh, then you can go to worse places on your browser than Wings Over Scotland and look up their ‘New Friends’ sample – some crackers in there…) – but they seem to agree with the polls and studio analysis…that basically UK audiences ‘got’ what she was saying. And the myth in the press of the mad-eyed nationalists that eat the first-born from the wrong side of Berwick was left hopelessly exposed for the nonsense that it was. The ‘Othering’ of Scotland, which was so prevalent during the ‘Better Together – as long as you remember your place’ Campaign, has restarted with a vengeance as the polls surge in support for the SNP this year. Not just some of the ignorant (and overtly sexist) portrayals of Nicola, but the presentation of the electoral preferences of this ‘beloved part of the Union’ as making it an alien force to be defeated at all costs – with one misguided journalist even going as far as invoking Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, making it clear that however much they said they did not want us to BECOME foreigners during the Referendum campaign – to them, we already very much are.

Part of me (a small one) is slightly saddened by even the possibility of this renaissance in how the SNP might be viewed down south. It is such a shame that Alex (the outstanding politician of his generation in the UK, bar none – IMHO) did not get the chance to experience it, rather than his most worthy successor. However, that is politics. Maybe he can be somewhat rehabilitated by Nicola’s reflected glory…

And more than slaying some demons that infest the xenophobic media down south, I think it is possible that some progressives last night – particularly down south – might just have started to realize that maybe there IS a way to get an opposition that stands for something worthwhile – that there IS a party that can get enough influence in the forthcoming elections that remembers what Labour used to stand for…that might be able to remind Labour of what it used to stand for, too.

For years before the Referendum, I read plenty of articles that said that Scots were the smartest electorate in Europe, because of how they voted between councils and Westminster…and, latterly, Holyrood. That all seemed to look somewhat pale after the even greater electoral literacy of the Referendum…but if, in particular, the voters in England can see a ‘deal’, provided they vote Labour, and we’ll give them the SNP, then we might have ‘game on’ for May.

If they want to see ‘LabourMax’ (as opposed to ConnyLabour) – then we look awfully like by-and-large refusing to vote for them in Scotland, as long as they vote for Labour in England, giving what seems to be the increasingly preferred option of the Labour-SNP Deal.

What do you say? ‘GameChanger’?

Oh, and not only was what Nicola saying apparently resonating with the general UK audience – the SNP reported 1,200 new members signed up during the broadcast of the programme. Not bad for two hours work, Nicks.

So, if my anxiety attack over the weekend’s conference events was my ‘First Referendum Debate’ wobble, maybe last night brought the equivalent of my ‘Second Referendum Debate’ confidence surge. Although that scenario was always going to be a tug of war backwards and forwards all the way up to Referendum Day, last night was the one opportunity that the electorate outside Scotland are going to get to see Nicola on a par with her Westminster peers.

No’ bad, hen – no’ bad.

 

“The party which can muster the most support in the House of Commons will get first crack at forming a government. That doesn’t mean the largest single party – it means the largest single posse.” (Lesley Riddoch, 26/3/2015)

Counting Pandas and Citadels with Lord Ashcroft: ‘Vote Labour, Get Conservative’, and How We Got Here

During Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to conference on Saturday (which noteably, the BBC did not have any mysterious problems with transmitting, unlike last year’s spring conference), she tried to play down the polls, noting that the SNP have only 6 MPs in Westminster, and “anything over 11 is record-breaking”. Yet it is hard to ignore the Big Numbers. So, I thought it might be worthwhile doing a quick retrospective of all the polls since I took time out just before Xmas, to try and see in one overview how the numbers have changed, in the space of the last 3 months, in particular – but also looking back to its origins.

So this will be long, but bear with me…

Apparently all this began sometime in the second half of October – but no one is sure precisely when. It was a scenario that no one envisaged after a ‘No’ vote (least of all Labour)…therefore no one was really asking the question too much in polls in the immediate wake of the Referendum.

John Curtice, a psephologist who was no friend to either ‘Yes’ or the SNP, was first to divine the signs from the entrails in an ICM/Guardian online poll published on the 27th December 2014. He broke ICM’s data down into four different categories of seat, showing that Labour’s decline was the most massive where its victory margins had previously been the largest over the SNP (by more than 25 points) – so although Labour’s vote across Scotland dropped by 16 points, in what Curtice referred to as traditional Labour ‘citadels’ in its ‘heartlands’, it fell by 22 points, against an SNP rise of 26. The greater the faith placed, the greater the sense of betrayal, perhaps.

That combination would be sufficient to wipe out majorities that were always assumed to be impregnable, and Scottish Labour’s Westminster caucus would be left shrivelling to just three MPs. “We are prospectively looking at the collapse of citadels that have always been Labour since the 1920s,” said Curtice. “That will seem incredible to some in England, but to those of us who paid close attention to Alex Salmond’s 2011 landslide at Holyrood, it would merely be the next chapter in the political transformation of a nation.”

A PanelBase poll conducted over the 17th and 18th January reported the SNP to Labour percentage share starting to separate at 41% to 31% – mostly the expressed reservations were due to both the oil price and Jim Murphy’s continuing unpopularity as the new leader of Scottish Labour.

Four days later, both Survation and IPSOS/MORI showed the SNP on 52%, with Labour on 24%. Curtice noted that seven polls over the preceding couple of months had shown a 46%/26% split, representing a 21% swing from Labour to SNP since 2010, and his average projections gave SNP 46, Labour 27, Conservative 13, LibDem 5, Scottish Greens 3. Which projected SNP to rise from their current 6 seats to 46, and Labour to fall to 9 from their current 40 Scottish MPs.

80% of Yes voters were apparently planning to vote SNP, and pollsters started noting similar trends for Holyrood 2016 voting intentions: on the 22nd January, an IPSOS/MORI poll for STV had SNP with more than double Labour support for both constituency (53, or +8.4 on 2011 results, to 24, -7.7) and regional (48, +4, to 22, -4.3) vote next year.

But the real bombshells were still to come.

On the 3rd February, Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative peer who seems to spend enormous amounts of money on polling (a thousand people per constituency, rather than a thousand people across Scotland or the whole UK) released a set of results showing a breakdown of the percentage vote of the top parties as Labour 31%, Conservative 31%, LibDem 8%, SNP 4%. It is worth pausing to reflect on that for a moment: UK-wide, the SNP were registering a seismic (given that Scotland has less than 10% of the UK population) 4% of the vote. But the big shock was in his first set of results, looking at sixteen marginal Labour and LibDem constituencies with strong ‘Yes’ votes, to see how much of that might be translating into support for the SNP. His data from 16,000 Scots indicated that 15 would go to the SNP with swings of over 20%, and an overall swing of 25.4%.

The following day, a YouGov poll for The Times seemed to echo this, with the Scotland vote breakdown of SNP 48%, Labour 27%, LibDems 18%, Conservatives 4%, prospectively translating into 48 seats for the SNP, 11 for Labour, and none for anyone else. Interestingly – and often forgotten – the prospective LibDem losses to the SNP in Scotland make the continuation of the current Conservative/LibDem (often referred to as ‘ConDem’ for numerous reasons…) coalition far less likely – although Labour campaigners that argue for tactical voting for LibDems to keep the SNP out (step forward Robert MacNeill) do not seem to care too much about this. The same YouGov poll also indicated that 52% would now vote for independence, with 48% against.

The same day, Peter Kellner, the YouGov President, noted that in January he had predicted a partial comeback for Labour to win 31 of their current 41 seats in Scotland, but given that the polls had refused to shift with Murphy’s appointment, he had reduced his prediction from 31 to 24, and gave this warning to Scottish Labour: “If Murphy cannot trim the SNP’s lead from 20 points to six to eight points, Labour could end up with as few as 10 to 15 seats”.

In the wake of Ashcroft’s first results, IPSOS/MORI had been busy, and on the 17th February presented their polling regarding prospective electoral deals between Labour and the SNP: 56% of English Labour voters supported the SNP deal, with only 25% opposed. A Survation poll released three days later showed that 35% of Scots wanted a Labour-SNP coalition government, with only 19% wanting a solely Labour one. Amongst the ‘also-rans’, 7% wanted another five years of the ConDem coalition, and a quaint 8% – perhaps rooted in the 1980s – wanted a LabLib coalition. Aw, bless.

At the end of February, Survation repeated their poll from the 19th September – results day for the Referendum – and the comparison was truly fascinating. From the 19th, the figures were Labour 38%, SNP 34%, Conservatives from 15-18% (no, I don’t understand this indecision, either). By the end of February, using the same methods for the same questions, Survation were getting SNP 45%, Labour 27%, Conservatives 13-15% (again – search me…). Interestingly, using the Electoral Calculus website tool on the 19th September figures to represent a resurgent Labour come May 7th, prospectively gave the Conservatives 2-3 seats in Scotland, increasing from their solitary, smaller-than-the-number-of-pandas-in-Scotland 1. ‘Vote Labour, Get Conservative’, apparently – in this scenario, a late swing back to Labour could actually be enough to make a Conservative government MORE likely – although you won’t be seeing that on any Labour election literature…

The second bombshell came on the 5th March, with Ashcroft’s second poll results released, this time of a thousand constituents in eight ‘No’ voting ‘safe’ seats for SNP opponents. All 5 Labour seats showed large swings to the SNP, with only East Renfrewshire’s Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy holding on by 1%. Of the 2 LibDem seats, Charles Kennedy, the former party leader, was projected to go, leaving only Alistair Carmichael as the sole extant LibDem MP in Scotland, up on Orkney and Shetland. The 1 Conservative seat, David Mundell in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale was projected to be a dead heat (Conservatives and SNP both 34%, Labour 18%, LibDems 7%). Overall, this suggested over 50 seats to the SNP. UK-wide Ashcroft’s polling showed LibDems and SNP now tied on 5% of the entire UK vote – but LibDems are contesting 650 seats, and the SNP are only contesting 59…

It is worth noting that arguments have been made that Ashcroft’s polling system may be slightly underestimating SNP support, as it asks the voting intention twice, and only uses the second answer: psephologists posit that the second answer can be used to give an ‘apologetic’ response, through a feeling of having to ‘balance’ the first more honest answer with a different second one. But, even accepting Ashcroft’s data at face value, the New Statesman’s electoral calculator went further with the data, projecting 56/59 seats going to the SNP. Which would leave Alistair Carmichael for the LibDems up in Orkney and Shetland, and Labour with Glasgow NE (Willie Bain) and East Renfrewshire (Jim Murphy), a 25% swing to SNP in West Dunbartonshire taking it from Labour’s Gemma Doyle.

An ICM poll for the Guardian between 13-19/3/2015 showed no sign of this support slipping, with SNP 43%, Labour 27% (+1 since December), Conservatives 14%, UKIP 7%, LibDems 6%, Greens 3%.

And, finally, on the 31st March, a ComRes poll for ITV News of Labour-held constituencies across Scotland showed a 19 point swing from Labour to the SNP since the 2010 General Election – with SNP support in those 40 Labour constituencies now at 43%.

Which all rather begs the simple question – why?

Well, I suspect the answer lies in Ashcroft’s second set of polling data, from across the rest of the UK, predicting a dead heat for Labour and Conservatives on 272 seats, with Labour having fallen from their peak above 40 down to the low 30s, where the Conservatives have been stuck since mid 2012, and the LibDems on below half of their 2010 vote share, with UKIP falling back slightly from their peak at the end of 2014. Polls show 70% of Scottish voters believe that Labour has ‘seriously lost touch with ordinary working people’, and that two thirds believe UKIP is a party for ‘oddballs and extremists’. The LibDems opposed VAT rise and austerity until they were in government, when they supported both, so are little trusted. A leaked memo even shows that the Conservatives are only seriously contesting 2 seats – including the one that they currently hold – and for that David Mundell is avoiding mentioning the fact that he is a Conservative Party candidate on his leaflet, perhaps thinking it is not a vote-winning strategy…

It continues to oscillate tightly backwards and forwards, on the UK-scale: after the leader’s had their non-debate (the ‘battle of the TV interviews’) last Thursday, Labour had a 4% lead on the Sunday – then Ashcroft’s polling the following day gave the Conservatives a 2% lead. In terms of seat forecasts, ‘Elections Etc’ and ‘Election Forecast’ have generally had the Conservatives 6-8 seats ahead of Labour, with ‘May 2015’ and The Guardian putting the lead at slightly less, at 4-5. Polling gives Conservatives 276-286 seats, with Labour on 271-280 seats, and the LibDems on 22-26 – so if the SNP can muster 40 seats in Scotland, it makes it electorally impossible for the Conservatives to gain power, even with the LibDems help. With a vote for the SNP, it avoids the dangers of Labour swinging even further to the right once in government, as happened so tragically under Tony Blair.

So Sturgeon made it very clear that she would not be supporting the Conservatives under any circumstance whatsoever in November. As the polls had yet to leap up to their current levels, nobody paid a blind bit of notice – until last weekend when Alex Salmond reiterated the same point, and that the SNP would vote down a Conservative Government, and uproar hit the right wing tabloid press down south. But it looks as though neither Labour nor the Conservatives are going to get much more than 33% of the vote (is it worth pointing out that ‘Yes’ managed significantly better than that in Scotland?…). With such a widely-promoted tie below majority government level, perhaps, just for once, Scots know that their votes would not just be making up the numbers, but actually for ONCE have a chance of making a difference to the political landscape of Scotland – and even the rest of the UK.

There is also less of a sense that one just has to accept whatever London hands down anymore, and that there are no alternatives and no way out: a recent study by the University of Edinburgh indicated 69% of Scottish voters believe that Scotland WILL become independent (although, coyly, no timeframe was offered or asked for…). And with this self-belief, this sense of empowerment, perhaps there also comes a desire to flex those muscles…and just once try voting for something different from the consensus, at the one time when it really might make a difference.

So, Glasgow NE and East Renfrewshire as Labour’s remaining seats…that means that there would be as many Labour MPs as pandas, in Scotland? Now, there would be a thing…

 

“the most important thing for the SNP in every Westminster election is to achieve the thing we failed to achieve since 1974 and that’s to achieve relevance in a Westminster election. And listen, folks: nobody can say we are anything other than relevant to this election campaign.” (Alex Salmond, 29/3/2015)

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)

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)

(Still) Living in Interesting Times: Reinventing 2014 And All That?

I have taken some unintended time out since the last post – a couple of writing deadlines that got in the way while I was stuck out in China, and only really getting my head back above water now I am back in Scotland, at the time of the Chinese New Year.

This means that I will have missed both new year in Scotland and in China, which was not exactly my intention. The truth is, that when I was planning my 2014, I had not intended to be in China for Xmas. As with many – although not in any way regarding a Yes victory as a foregone conclusion – I had thought about the sort of Hogmanay that we would have had as one huge ‘New Yes 2015’ party, ringing out joyously across a land set for a new beginning. When the result came in, it was clear that not only was that not going to happen, but the reality of the poverty of the smaller regular celebrations in contrast to what could have been, would be a somewhat sad celebration to witness.

My friend Antonio stopped me with a grin as I was in mid-flow in Kunming at the start of February, trying to explain something to him about new year in Scotland: “Hey, Man – c’mon – you guys voted to be English, remember?” I hesitate, then grin back – it is hard not to agree with his perspective. It reminded me of my friend, who joined the SNP after the Referendum, as the only party with any chance of making a real difference: ‘I was there the day the strength of Albannach failed…’, he proclaimed on the 19th. (As a scientist, he has since left the SNP because of the issue of creationism teaching.)

That said, although the days of the festive season passed fairly anonymously in China, it was not entirely possible to avoid the reality of what was happening in the outside world. The shops more and more gear up for Xmas, just like any western city, and for two weeks beforehand, the university where I work was playing an arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on the tannoy. Naturally, they knew nothing of the roots of the music – ‘it is Scottish? We know the title as something like ‘The Snowflower’….’. Well, I guess Scots was never going to be that easy to translate into Mandarin.

The traditional New Year question holds true, in any language: what, if anything, has changed, as 2014 recedes? Where do we stand now in this Year of the Goat or the Sheep (depending which region of China you are in)?

There were many ‘Review of the Year’ articles that I looked over at the end of 2014, that attempted as usual to answer just that question, all of which had some degree of resonance to them. But the most striking for me was a short paragraph by Stuart Campbell – still the press’s favourite ‘demon of choice’ in the absence of Alex Salmond – which I reproduce in full as my ‘quote du jour’ below: “As far as the wider goal of independence goes, we’re persuaded by the argument that Yes had to lose this time round.” Whoa. Really? The ‘Great Satan of Unionism’ says that?

The ‘need to lose’ seems a harsh conclusion from Campbell…were we the example to the others who come after our own struggle – so that they could see how we were bullied and lied to, as a warning that they might experience the same if they foolishly trusted their establishment governments? I would like to think that our example has thus encouraged the vote for Syriza, maybe even boosted Podemos support, through our sacrifice – going first, like the elder sibling, to endure the worst travails, so that the younger siblings can follow them in an easier trodden path.

That doesn’t mean that I would not prefer that we had reaped the rewards of that struggle ourselves, rather than merely serving as a cautionary tale to others.

I am not denying that I can see some benefits to the movement for Scottish self-determination in losing – as predicted, ‘Yes’ turned into the smug movement of ‘I told you so’ (The Party of I Told You So, or ‘Too Late to the Party’), as the Smith Commission unveiled its feeble offerings, with the usual suspects being pushed into the limelight to assert that the Vow had been delivered, and that being able to redesign the speed limit signs on Scottish roads had been EXACTLY the sort of sweeping new powers that the majority of the electorate had been seeking.

The wake of the result has of course seen SNP support (for both parliaments) and membership rise to fever-dream levels, with a combination of Yes voters becoming politicised into traditional activism, and I suspect more than a few Hangover and Conditional No voters becoming annoyed that they were so arrogantly and blatantly deceived. (Well, we did warn you…) This means that the base of agreement for independence has risen, with support for independence polling at its largest levels ever (up to 60%) – I am aware of course that people feel comfortable saying that now, when there is no threat of another Referendum, but bear in mind that is also true for the vast majority of the figures on support for independence going back to 1978 with IPSOS-MORI, so these numbers today are still perfectly valid and comparable.

In contrast, if we had scraped a win, the communications that have surfaced since the end of the campaign from Whitehall about Scottish independence not being allowed regardless of the result, play to the paranoid conspiracist in me – that we would not have been permitted, despite the vote, to achieve statehood. The oil prices (regardless of how irrelevant they are, as a mere sweetener to the Scottish economy that makes it healthier than the UK’s, and as something that could well have recovered by March 2016) would have been an excellent basis for a black media campaign – yup, even worse than the last one – designed to destabilise the Scottish Government. And if all else failed, and opinion polls started to see a waivering in public support…well, did we just avoid a repeat of January 1919, when the Westminster government sent in tanks to Glasgow and closed the local barracks?

Yeah, I know – hysteria on a par with ‘but you CAN’T have the pound!!’ – but as we appear to be such an invaluable resource, and Britain has a (contemporary) habit of sending in armies to countries with oil, I do not think that the scenario is too unthinkable, even (or especially) in this day and age.

I remember grimly deciding a few months before the vote that we would need a win of at least 5% – knowing the media odds were stacked against us, we could have added an effective additional 5-10% on to our ‘natural’ support base, once the propaganda campaign stopped after the vote. Except, of course – as we have seen – the propaganda would not have stopped – it would just have stepped up. Uncertain people would have had barrel loads of anxiety heaped upon them – they would have felt that ‘Yes’ had strongarmed the nation into a decision before it was ‘really’ ready to do so, and agree to any policy from Westminster that would have headed off the responsibility of independence. As Eddi Reader pointed out, everybody has to make their own journey themselves to get to the conclusion that self-determination will be what makes the difference.

I am always wary of reinvention – sometimes that psychological need to reprocess and represent seems more like pathological denial, a form of callus to grow over an open wound: your heart may be broken, and your mind is thrashing around, desperately trying to find factors about which it can say ‘ah, y’know? We’d never have worked out anyway…’ Sometimes it is too easy to give in to that as a justification for failure – to persuade yourself that you never really wanted to succeed in that after all – and you just had a narrow escape. The thing that makes me fear that I am doing that, is that I am unsure that we will ever be ‘permitted’ a second referendum – and that was almost certainly our one chance (which we were never supposed to have in the first place)…so subsequently building voter support in such a scenario becomes meaningless. Were we politically educated enough before as a people to see through the transparent fiction of the Vow? Is that embittering experience what it takes to build the consensual move forward towards a new Scotland – the recent memory of being blatantly lied to like children? Perhaps…and to an extent, I hope that that is really the case, as it is hard to otherwise find a silver lining from the cloud of September 19th.

So, ‘Kung hei fat choi’ – and we continue to live in ‘Interesting Times’. I myself am somewhat comforted by the words of one correspondent: “It will all be OK in the end. If it’s not OK it’s not the end.”

 

“As far as the wider goal of independence goes, we’re persuaded by the argument that Yes had to lose this time round. A 51% victory followed by the collapse in the oil price – irrelevant as it actually is, as the factors causing it won’t be applicable by the time Scotland would actually have been independent – would have unleashed unholy chaos and the prospect of some truly dark events. As it stands, things are set fair for the subject to be revisited sooner than anyone would have thought this time last year.” (Rev Stuart Campbell, 31/12/2014)

The Queen’s Buried Rules: When the Impartiality of the Monarch is Strained (The Death of Scotland’s Post-War Dream, Part 1)

I read yesterday of a rumour that the Queen is due to step down at Christmas. This seems to be doing the rounds (in the wake of her royal household’s faux pas in referring to Nicola Sturgeon as the First Minister of the long defunct Scottish Executive) at the same time as the revelation that – far from being impartial during the Referendum, as she had often stated she would be, according to the rules of her position – she was given a specific script in order to act on David Cameron’s request to make an intervention, which she duly recited for the benefit of journalists. Alan Cochrane relates the story in his recent egocentric memoir of apparently being the secret leader of the ‘No’ campaign as Scottish editor of the Daily Telegraph. While many parts of this work are risible (the remarks attributed to Mark Carney have already been completely and forcefully refuted by his office), his description of the journalists unusually being encouraged to approach the Queen after her Sunday church visit (instead of being kept back, so that she could speak in private, as normal, with other parishioners), and told to listen to anything that she might say, has been independently confirmed. Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary supposedly worked on the wording of her statement (he is also reputed to have worked with Gordon Brown in the wording of ‘The Vow’) that Scots ‘should think very very carefully’. [In this light, it seems deeply ironic that Cameron was criticised for being overheard reporting the Queen’s alleged ‘purring’ response to the Referendum result, after he had specifically engineered her being deliberately overheard reciting his commissioned script. However…] And it should be remembered that the monarchy is far from aloof in terms of getting involved in politics, no matter what the press might tell you: the Queen and Prince Charles have used the royal veto over parliament 39 times – e.g. to curtail Tam Dalyell’s private member’s bill, as it was attempting to transfer authorisation of military strikes from the monarchy to parliament. Again, this was fairly important issue – yet royalty was happy to get involved and nip the democratic process in the bud.

This leads on to a question of just how much the Queen might have had an impact on the Referendum result – regardless of Cameron’s clear belief that it would, as shown by his use of her in an effort to pull out all the stops and recover the lost ground in that last week. It has been detectable for some time that politically Scots have a very distinct approach to a large number of matters, compared to the rest of the UK, and the monarchy is no exception. Although Alex Salmond’s strategy for presenting an independence package that sounded remarkably like DevoMax included keeping the Queen, it is certainly the case that amongst the SNP and ‘Yes’ in general are a large number of republicans – and that is also a reflection of broader Scottish society.

I can remember a chaotic bunfest of a live TV programme back in January 1997 – ‘Monarchy: The Nation Decides’ – in which a live show with an audience of 3,000 herded into the Birmingham NEC attempted to ‘debate’ whether or not to retain the monarchy. Because it was live, they had 14,000 telephone lines for people to vote, as the cat-calling and heckling got louder and louder, as though the audience had all been locked in the Green Room for an hour before showtime. I remember arch-royalist Freddie Forsyth getting particularly irritated and looking angry for much of the time…and then the results of the vote were announced. The Mail and Express the next day ran with shocked stories that 34% of those who voted did not want to retain the monarchy – but the regional variations were perhaps the most interesting, if also ignored by those particular publications.

Of course, telephone voting is not exactly scientific as a method of ‘polling’, people complained about not getting through, others were on automatic redial….but given that that would be the case across the UK, the variations might still be considered to be instructive. Whereas Northern Ireland and Wales were more or less split (Wales marginally voting in favour of retention) and England was predictably supportive, Scotland was the only area that voted clearly (56%) against retaining the monarchy. This was in 1997 – before Blair’s election, the consequent establishment of the long-awaited Scottish Parliament, and the beginning of a sense of ‘reaccumulating’ self-identity in Scotland as a state.

Fast forward to last year in August, and 63% of Scots wanted a ballot on whether or not to retain the monarchy in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, with only 22% saying that the royals should be retained without question. As Margo MacDonald noted at the time, no talks on a new constitution (post-‘Yes’) could possibly take place without a decision on who the head of state would be.

True, there are other pragmatic considerations for disposing of the monarchy. As Carolyn Leckie notes, it fundamentally legitimises inequality in society. Is it the best use of public money? The Royal Family costs £333 million a year (£33 million for the thousand staff), which is said to be good for tourism…but probably not that much outwith London itself. MacDonald again noted the outcry in England in the wake of Diana’s death, when the Queen retreated to Balmoral with the two boys who had just lost their mother – as though she had gone off to the Bahamas, it was not as though it was a ‘real’ part of her realm…like London, perhaps.

I suspect that Scotland’s perception (perhaps shared by England) of being ‘adrift’ from the UK is more of a reflection of a growing alienation from the monarchy – and, indeed, the identity of ‘Britain’ – in the post-war years. It is fair to say that, the Queen’s accession to the throne was the kickstart to the long modern campaign for Scottish independence: in February 1952 on the death of her father she took the title Elizabeth the Second of the United Kingdom – in spite of the fact that she was the first one of Scotland, thus could be seen to be diminishing her Scottish role as subsidiary to her English one (this lead to the prolonged campaign of vandalism – even involving explosives – against the pillar boxes bearing ‘EIIR’, until after 1953 new post boxes in Scotland carried only the Crown of Scotland image, the EIIR one being retained elsewhere in the UK and its territories); in June 1953 there was determinedly no official crowning with the Scottish honours – which she held, wearing an ordinary hat and coat on the advice of her ministers, momentarily before they were returned to their case (three weeks earlier had been the glitz and showbiz event in London’s Westminster Abbey), and, again, the message of subsidiarity was clear.

Prior to her accession to the throne, the Scottish Covenant (a petition for a Home Rule Scottish parliament) had been launched in October 1949, gathering over 2 million signatures (the population in Scotland according to the 1951 census was 5.1 million) before being summarily dismissed by the Labour government in May 1950. Perhaps it was this high-handedness that led to the band of Glasgow University students descending on Westminster Abbey during Christmas 1950 for as audacious a piece of repatriation of cultural heritage as one could imagine. Although Elizabeth’s royal positioning could be seen as responses to both of those actions, they were probably overreactions: many seemed to have thought of the student heist as little more than a ‘jolly good wheeze’ at the time, and would not normally have linked the monarchy to the question of a request for devolved government. However, the rebranding and repackaging of the monarchy at this time and in this way (and with television expanding into the home, this was the first mass media coronation) provoked a slightly more stunned reaction: a Glasgow University student prank was one thing – but this was the establishment, under guidance from the government, sending a provocative message…and it was not about the ‘Union of equals’ that Scots had been raised to understand and believe in.

In that sense – inasmuch as ‘her madge’ seems to have been carefully controlled and steered in what happened with her accession to the throne, so she seems to have been just another stooge this time (much like Gordon Brown…or any of the other Scottish Labour MPs that you care to mention) – with what may have been one of her last interventions in office…if ‘that rumour’ is true.

 

“The Queen is just a piece of historical baggage that Scotland needs to be rid off – although I doubt that she would like to be referred to as a piece of baggage…” (Edinburgh University Students’ Association President JJ Liston, The Scotsman, ‘Move Over Ma’am’, September 3rd 1991)