Nicola has Fun in America: Baggage-free and Palatable

It has been an interesting week in the broad sense of Scottish politics. Monday June 8th was the most potentially stressful day – as part of Nicola Sturgeon’s grand tour of the US (Ok, NYC and DC), she was a guest on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. As confident as you can be in Nicola, that could so easily be a step too far…and yet she did brilliantly. For those of you who have not seen the full 14 minutes, I commend this link: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2tabx8_the-unexpurgated-sturgeon_news which will give you the 7 minutes broadcast, and another 7 shot for web content. The desperation of her political opponents to attack her being such that they relied on saying ‘Stewart compared her to Saddam Hussein’ as their strapline for commentary on her appearance – in other words, they were relying on people not checking the actual show for what was really said, but just take the commentariat’s word for it. It was very clear from the show that Stewart had a great deal of warmth for her as a guest – and far from being misrepresented by the show’s website (which had initially billed her as a comedienne), she was funny…and also promoted Scotland extensively, even announcing that she had secured Jon Stewart’s agreement to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe next year. Even when she is going out there to get grilled on political chatshows, Nicola is still procuring ‘investment’ in Scotland…what an absolute star. Perhaps even funnier was her modest assessment of her performance on the show in her trip diary (published in today’s Sunday Herald): “it seems to go Ok”. Aye…naw bad, hen.

I watched at midday on Tuesday June 9th, as the crowd-funder for the legal case against Alistair Carmichael under the 1983 Representation of the People Act broke through its £60,000 target in just under two weeks. Supported by some 3,900 donors, the campaign launched by 4 Kirkwall residents in Orkney now has the required sum of money to take in a possible series of legal defense teams…although the LibDems are still refusing to say whether they will fund Carmichael’s defense. I find it heartening to see that the new politics in Scotland lives and extends beyond a simple general election – the expansion in support for independence (as well as the SNP) since the Referendum has been that of a Scottish people that takes particular exception to being openly lied to by its politicians – whether through the tissue-thin lie of ‘The Vow’, or through Carmichael happily lying about his involvement in and knowledge of the leak of the ‘FrenchGate’ memo, as a rather transparent strategy to not jeopardize his campaign to retain his Orkney/Shetland seat. Commentators might do well to recognise that this is not an ‘SNP witchhunt’, but something much broader and more publicly-owned. Regardless of what happens with the legal case (and I would cynically expect it to be unsuccessful, simply because of its direct opposition to the Establishment), or even if he secured a win in a rerun by-election, it is hard to see how Carmichael does not come out of this as a major liability for the LibDems – and the Union more broadly: his defense appears to be that his lies were “purely political”, therefore did not reflect on his character, and that he did not lie about when he first heard about the memo, he (wait for it) ‘misdated’ when he heard about it. I love that – hardly a robust opposition to the case, that will renew faith in him as a constituency MP of impeccable character.

That night, I watched Evan Davis interviewing Alex Salmond in the studio, reflecting on Nicola’s tour de force on the Daily Show, Davis putting it to Salmond that Nicola was “less divisive” than he was. I felt that Davis was slightly missing the point – Salmond was forced as party leader and First Minister to be the lightning rod of every anti-independence writer since 2008, and has a lot of baggage directly attached to him from that relentless six year onslaught. Nicola presents an alternative second figure to his – and the ‘second figure’ makes a huge psychological difference to the wide audience. It changes the dynamic (to use an analogy of the white American position during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s) from being either for or against Martin Luther King, to having a choice between King and Malcolm X. People could more easily support King after Malcolm came to the fore, as they could feel that they were still opposing Malcolm by supporting King; before that, they had no such choice, and it was easiest to simply go with mainstream opinion and oppose King. Similarly, Nicola does not have that legacy (yet) of the UK media constantly attacking her for years to build up this attendant baggage – so she becomes the ‘palatable’ option. I think this is demonstrated in a number of ways – not least in the YouGov post election poll, where (as noted by James Kelly in ‘Scot Goes Pop’): “The most intriguing finding is that English respondents are now much more supportive of independence than they were prior to the referendum. Across Britain, support has increased from 19% in mid-September to 30% now, and opposition has slumped from 65% to 51%.” I would suggest that a lot of that has to do with it not being the successfully demonised Salmond that is now the figurehead of Scotland and independence – but it is our equivalent of MLK – the palatable baggage-free alternative.

And then, the week ended yesterday with Jim Murphy’s departure as Labour leader. With his ‘reforms package’ doing nothing to propose autonomy from the London party (just more autonomy from the unions), there is little to say. He came, he failed, he left to make room for the next leader to repeat the same identical cycle in time for Holyrood next year – Labour’s resolute determination to neither listen nor learn is now simply boring. This morning on Andrew Marr’s show, Tessa Jowell, the Labour candidate for London Mayor was describing the London Mayoral Election on 5th May next year as the next real test for the Labour Party recovery. The Scottish Parliament elections are on the same day – but I can kind of see why Tessa and others are not holding their breath for any miracle to take place in that regard for Labour in Scotland in the next 11 months.

 

“The argument [from Labour] is that nationalism has replaced class as the driving force of Scottish politics. But here’s the thing; if that was the case then you wouldn’t expect to see such a close mapping between the size and nature of the swing from Labour to the SNP and the class profile of the seats where those swings were biggest. Put simply, SNP won biggest and most impressively wherever class politics are strongest. So could Labour perhaps at least consider that this is the most class politics-driven election since the 1980s? And should they not dwell on the possibility that they lost Scotland because they gave up on class politics in the Blair years?” (Robin McAlpine, May 8th 2015)

Advertisements

Mad Murph: Last Days on Futility Road

After some weeks of working on manuscripts and application forms while I procrastinated about doing another blog, I’m finally moved to write this evening, after politics has escalated over the last few days.

This is politics in the broadest sense: Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has finally yielded and agreed to go despite winning a vote of confidence from his party – he’s just waiting to put his own spin on the direction Scottish Labour’s recovery should take before he leaves. Appropriately enough, given Murphy’s inability to stop using footballing metaphors, someone equally unassailable – Sepp Blatter – having won his own ‘vote of confidence’ at the weekend, has also just an hour ago announced that he was standing down. I queried the announcement on FaceBook, asking what the reasoning behind such a decision could be, unless perhaps the sponsors Coca Cola and MacDonalds had exerted pressure on him to go – simple, replied a friend of mine: I bribed him to go.

Football, as they say, is a funny old game. As much as Murphy’s tireless football metaphors defined his leadership of Scottish Labour, so the allegations of corruption became synonymous with Sepp Blatter’s leadership of FIFA. It therefore seemed appropriate that Blatter’s departure (I’m goin’ – just no’ straight away) mirrored Murphy’s, ironically after both won their respective ‘votes of confidence.

In the run-up to the General Election last month, Murphy painted a dystopian future, invoking that old chestnut of the volatile oil resource and an accompanying apocalypse, under the rising spectre of an SNP bloc being elected to Westminster…a doomed fantasy which was ultimately less-convincing than George Miller’s current futuristic cinema outing, as far as the electorate was concerned. He campaigned on a series of scare stories that were not only reminiscent of those deployed by his identical backroom crew of MacDougall and McTernan during the Better Together fiasco last year, but also in direct opposition to public opinion on those very issues. Full fiscal autonomy was not a turn-off to the electorate (47% supporting it with only 33% opposed and 19% Don’t Knows), 60% supporting the football offensive behaviour act and 70% supporting the alcohol ban at football matches. 80.4% of Scots want another Referendum, with 58.6% wanting it in the next ten years, so presenting a second referendum as a bogeyman was likely to be similarly unsuccessful in terms of making inroads into the rising SNP powerbase.

And, hardest of all, Jim Murphy was up against Nicola Sturgeon. Never mind her well-recorded popularity in Scotland -during the last week of campaigning, Murphy’s popularity ratingwas at -35 next to Nicola’s +56 – TNS’s poll of 1,200 people in England gave her +33, the highest rating they have EVER recorded for a party leader.

Murphy had a mountain of trust to recover in around 5 months before last month’s Westminster routing, and although – as Andrew Tickell noted – he was probably the wrong man to work that particular miracle over that time frame, prospects seem little easier in the run-up to May 2016’s Holyrood election, with the likelihood of Sturgeon still being in post, and more limited funds than Scottish Labour has been used to in almost a century, to support their forthcoming campaign. Not only from the reduced party membership in Scotland: SNP’s Trade Union Group membership at over 15,000 now exceeds the total claimed membership of Labour in Scotland, and the unions are finally making noises about withdrawing their unconditional support for a party that has not looked remotely like protecting working people whilst in government since the 1970s. UNITE is the Labour Party’s biggest funder, with £1 million, UNISON the second, donating half that amount. There are now moves within UNITE to devolve its structure, and thus make separate (devolved) decisions over whom it supports politically, which could have repercussions for Labour’s campaign for Holyrood, given moves within Scottish members of the union to distance themselves from Jim Murphy and Scottish Labour. The motion is coming up to UNITE’s conference in July, proposing the concept of ‘Home Rule for Scotland’s Unions’, and in the absence of Scottish Labour looking like returning to its roots enough to appease union activists, it will be interesting to see what support this idea has without Murphy’s presence to effectively goad it along. Labour is no longer the party of working people in Scotland (although we can debate how long that might have actually been true for, or otherwise), and it is by default that the SNP have quietly picked up that discarded mantle, as part and parcel of becoming the party of Scotland. The SNP appears to have worked the trick of becoming the party of everyone in Scotland – primarily through the combination of the Referendum and the wondrously catastrophic mismanagement of the result by the Union parties, which revealed a more common cause than had been suspected, uniting us (50.2% of the electorate is no mean feat) as never before.

Once again you have to feel for whomsoever Jim’s replacement will be. Does Ken Macintosh really want to stand for the Scottish Labour leadership against deputy leader Kezia Dugdale right now, bearing in mind his constituency as an Eastwood MSP overlaps significantly with Jim Murphy’s ultimately fatal East Renfrewshire Westminster constituency? A second sipper from that bitter Eastwood chalice, if he is not careful…but it is hard to see how anyone would be keen to be piloting another turbocharged Pursuit Special down Scottish Labour’s futility road to yet another polling station again any time soon.

Murphy has espoused the need to guide the reassessment of the party prior to the conference at which he will resign – an offer which seems to be being resisted in some sectors of the Scottish Labour executive – but if they have the same mantra of ‘we have listened, we have learned, we have changed’ as they always had in their many leaders over the last few years, then one feels that it is fairly certain that they will have done nothing of the sort. I think it was Paul Kavanagh that noted: “It’s time the party stopped confusing a ‘period of reflection’ with looking at itself in the mirror and thinking it is gorgeous.”

Anything short of a break from Labour’s Brewer’s Green headquarters in London will not be enough to satisfy their former electorate in Scotland, especially as the party of the south summons its energies for yet another determined jump to the right again, almost as though it wanted to spite its former Scottish members. There is a mockingly hollow quality to the self-styled ‘party of devolution’ title that the Labour party once claimed for itself these days – but Labour has to devolve its Scottish branch if it wants to have any chance of becoming credible in Scotland again.

Scottish politics needs an opposition – but whether Labour can make itself fit for that role (the Scottish Conservatives voteshare dropping last month, despite what is generally agreed to be a good campaign by Ruth Davidson) by next May remains to be seen.

 

“But the evidence is mounting: for Scottish Labour, Murphy is the wrong man, with the wrong message, at the wrong time.” (Lallands Peat Worrier, Andrew Tickell)

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)

 

 

‘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)

Tactical Voting in a Desert: Waiting for the tide to turn….back

Anyone remember the 1992 Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon dark political satire ‘Bob Roberts’? It featured Robbins as a Republican candidate that wrote and played reactionary US country songs. One that sticks in the memory from that film was the parody of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A’Changing’: ‘Times Are Changing Back’.

I was thinking of this in connection with yet another PanelBase poll for the Sunday Times at the weekend, that showed further increases since their last poll (which was conducted maybe 30 seconds earlier – with poll density reaching saturation levels, who can recall clearly anymore?), with SNP on 48% (+3), Labour 27% (-2) Conservatives on 16% (+2) LibDems no change on 4%, UKIP on 3% (-1) and Greens no change on 2%. Can you imagine Labour’s Scottish headquarters? ‘Its not great…but next time, guys…I feel we are making REAL inroads – we might even get a kickback from Kaye Adams giving Jim a hard time and making him sound vulnerable on BBC live radio this morning…’ And then the next poll DOES comes out: TNS says SNP on 54% with Labour on 22%, giving the biggest lead yet to the SNP…’the next poll, lads – I can feel it, the countersurge is coming…’.

Of course, to a certain degree, you have to remember that they are right: those figures are only for those who say they have made their decision, and there are still a third of voters undecided – as much as 39% in Glasgow, according to TNS.

Of course, the responders may simply be shy (so why are they signed up to a political polling company, then?), may genuinely not have decided…or may feel sorry for Labour as ‘the new underdogs’ at the last minute. Or maybe they will join the happy band of tactical voters.

This has been increasingly espoused online as a strategy by pro-Union sites on a ‘keep the SNP out’ basis – but, bizarrely, the innate tribalism of those same parties does not seem to be allowing the same happy Union that it did during the Referendum campaign. Tactical voting wheels and guides have been circulated (despite the fact that advocating votes for other candidates is strictly against the conditions of membership of both Labour and LibDems), but suspicion has fallen on many as to just how ‘impartial’ they are with their counter-SNP recommendations.

For example, leaflets printed outside Scotland purporting to represent ‘Scotlands Big Voice’ (ah, don’t you just love those hoax grass roots campaigns, just like last year?) to ‘protect Scotland and maintain unity’ advocate who to vote for with the best chance of keeping the SNP out. Yet mysteriously they are advocating voting against sitting Labour and LibDem MPs, which would seem to benefit one party only…because it is the Conservatives that they are advocating voting for. Just as in the Referendum, it appears that the Conservatives are happily getting the followers of other parties (this time their voters, rather than their MPs and activists) to do their work for them. One tactical voting site over the weekend bitterly advised everyone to discount the voting guides as they had already been “contaminated” by SNP activists…and it is true that some tactical voting guides have appeared that are entirely coloured gold, and say ‘Vote SNP’ for every single seat (sometimes I love the Scottish sense of humour so much!! 😀 ).

But, aside from the innate tribalism, there are more fundamental problems with such a strategy, as noted recently by psephologist John Curtice. Curtice noted the 40:40:20 rule for the ideal tactical voting scenario, where two parties polling around 40% of the vote have a third party on around 20% – in this scenario, there is a reasonable chance of persuading significant enough numbers (it is pretty much likely to be a minority of their support) of the third party to support the second party, and swing the result. However, as Curtice notes, in post-Referendum Scotland it is now rarely clear what the logical choice second candidate to transfer to would be, given the radically changed voting patterns – and there is a lack of large enough feeder parties to provide significant transfers: support for the LibDems is 2% in many areas, and less than 10% in many for the Conservatives.

Notwithstanding Nick Clegg telling his above-noted 2% of voters to vote tactically to keep the SNP out, these attempts at coordinated pro-Union machinations are not helped by the pronouncements of party leaders – despite Ed and Dave’s readiness to regularly and repeatedly accuse each other of ‘supporting the SNP’. When David Cameron was in Glasgow on 16th April to launch the Conservative manifesto, he was emphatically urging supporters NOT to vote tactically to keep the SNP out. He could, of course, have been kidding on, but…that doesn’t help some voters swithering over whether or not to vote tactically at all. Similarly, the recent London slapdown of Jim Murphy by Labour’s leadership was seen by some as not about presenting a strong (and determinedly not ‘pro-Scottish’ for those coveted south east of England voters) front, but as a very clear tactical decision by Labour Central Office in a Scottish context: they realise that they can only win a few more Scottish seats, and actually, it would suit them better to have the solid block of SNP to facilitate their entrance to Downing Street. Ergo – best to slap down Jim, and encourage more Labour voters to feel comfortable voting for the SNP instead.

Realistically, it would probably be the smartest long-term policy for Labour to rebuild in Scotland – accept the nihilist requirement that in order to build, you must first destroy everything – or allow someone else to destroy it for you.

 

“For too long there have been Scottish Labour politicians at local government level and at Westminster who have been resentful, and even contemptuous, of the Scottish Parliament. That behaviour needs to stop now if we are to have any chance of regaining ground.” (The late Labour MSP Tom McCabe, after Wendy Alexander’s resignation as Labour Party leader in Scotland)

Ruthie Says ‘No Thanks’, while (Jim) Frankie (Murphy) struggles to Say ‘Yes’

Michelle Stanistreet, the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, last week criticised the proliferation of stage-managed political events where members of the public are kept away from politicians. This has become the norm for party leaders, as indicated by Jim Murphy’s recent ‘dawn raid’ events, where his early starts for his pretend ‘public rallies’ in front of his own activists are designed to help control access, as well as photo-opportunities.

But before the age of such managed rallies, there was an earlier iteration of this form of controlled photo opportunity. This was where, rather than spend a lot of campaign money on a series of posters around a constituency, the campaign would instead have one poster made up and put on a billboard, with the appropriate party candidate standing smiling in front of it. The idea being that rather than produce many hundreds of ads with the huge associated costs of renting the advertising space, one picture in a newspaper would achieve a far greater effect. I saw a promotional photograph from just such a Scottish Conservative event recently. Ruth Davidson was standing grinning in front of a new billboard poster with the Referendum campaign’s ‘No Thanks’ poster sitting below a ‘do a deal with the SNP?’ text. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was either an ill-thought out idea – or something consummately brilliant.

The image is designed to resurrect the key ‘No’ emblem from the last months of the Referendum campaign, when the ‘No’ campaign had decided that ‘Better Together’ was not working as a brand identity slogan. So instead (and perhaps to rebrand themselves as polite, rather than somewhat thuggish and bullying, as they had been increasingly appearing) along came ‘No Thanks’. It seems a slightly odd move – is Ruth trying to convince the Scottish electorate that the Conservatives were opposed to the SNP and wanted to keep the Union – therefore vote for them again? I am not exactly sure that that was something that the electorate would ever have got confused about – until comparatively recently, the Conservatives were the only political party that carped on about the Union, wrapping themselves in flags at every opportunity to boast about involvement in any military conflict they could barge their way into. In short, I do not think that their position viz a viz the Union would have been forgotten.

And yet – conversely – think of the key ‘No’ party in the Referendum campaign – the one that did all the work: Cameron’s little helpers who were at the forefront of ‘No’ recently tried to rebrand themselves as a party of ‘Yes’ with their short-lived ‘Yes for Labour’ campaign – before it was ridiculed widely in the press, and quietly taken outside to a distant paddock and disposed off. They were clearly very far from being a ‘Yes’ party during the Referendum, and indeed were happy to tell everyone that…until after the vote, when the polls started moving away from them at a rate of knots. Now, they certainly seem convinced that they have to somehow distance themselves from their leading role last year, as their best damage limitation strategy.

And yet not so Ruth and her Conservatives: happy, and very much at home with the message that they were a part of that campaign. More than that – by embracing the logo, they take OWNERSHIP of the ‘No’ campaign – and remind everyone for whom Scottish Labour were working throughout that campaign. I think that ‘No Thanks’ poster sends exactly the right message – the close association with a Conservative campaign, kind of underlines who the ‘No’ vote was really for.

But to whom? In that sense, I wonder how much Ruth’s photo opportunity – and her big cheesy grin – are actually aimed at the Scottish public, as opposed to Scottish Labour. The ‘No Thanks’ image sends a very clear message from the Conservatives, to Jim Murphy’s mob: ‘we owned you – and you fell for it.’

As long as the Scottish public don’t get the impression that that message is aimed at them, I think she could do quite well out of this election.

 

“Ever since the modern SNP was created, around 1974, opinion polls have shown that Scottish people have a positive view of the SNP. They think the SNP stand up for Scotland’s interests. The Labour Party doesn’t understand that.” (Gerry Hassan)