Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Sending a message

We are about to vote in the General Election that Theresa May insisted she wasn't going to call.  Here in Scotland the battle is principally between those who support independence for Scotland and those who want Scotland to remain part of the UK.  Indeed both Labour in Scotland and the Tories in Scotland have staked their campaigns on it.

For those who support independence the choice is easy - vote SNP.  For those who support remaining in the UK there are three main choices - Labour, Tory or Liberal Democrat.  However, Ruth Davidson of the Tories has been urging Unionists to vote for her party to 'send a message to Nicola Sturgeon' that 'we don't want another divisive referendum'.

For those who are thinking of voting Tory to show their support for the Unionist cause I would ask you to consider one thing.  When you put your cross against the Tory candidate there is no room for nuance.  That cross means that you are implicitly supporting all Tory policies like massive cuts to welfare benefits, the rape clause, continuing austerity, Trident renewal, support for fracking and hard Brexit.  You are also likely supporting cuts to the NHS in England (which has knock-on effects on the Scottish NHS) and most likely changes to the devolution settlement which will see powers removed from Holyrood.

Now it may be that you are in favour of all these things.  If so, that is a matter between you and your conscience (if you have one).  If, however, that list gave you pause for thought, please rethink your voting choice for tomorrow.  The best option for Scotland is to vote for the SNP, who have Scotland's interests front and foremost.  If you feel you can't do that, please consider voting for Labour or the Liberal Democrats instead.

Let's send a message to Ruth Davidson that her party's appalling programme is not welcome here.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Second place victory

There is a new poll out which shows Labour gaining on the Tories, with the gap between them reduced to 9%..  This would bring the General Election closer to hung parliament territory, which would be in stark contrast to the expected Tory tsunami when Theresa May called it.  The question is why would this be?

The Labour manifesto has been criticised for being uncosted and for reverting back to the 1970s, with talk of renationalising railways and scrapping tuition fees for example.  In general, however, the manifesto is likely to resonate most with young voters.  The Tories would normal be expected to appeal to the grey vote by safeguarding things such as pensions.  Interestingly, however, they are going in quite the opposite direction by removing the triple lock on pensions, removing the winter heating allowance from pensioners and proposals to make pensioners requiring care to now have the value of their house taken into account when valuing their assets, with only £100,000 being protected.  Given that the elderly are most likely to vote, and to vote Tory, why is Theresa May taking this course?

The thought occurs that maybe the Tories don't want to win the election.  Having got the UK into the position of going through with Brexit (and a hard Brexit at that), they are best placed to know just what they are up against in terms of negotiating with the EU.  Wouldn't it just be typical of the Tories who, having made a huge mess, now want someone else to deal with it so that they can attempt to avoid responsibility for what's about to happen?

Maybe this is verging on conspiracy theory territory, but it would not be out of character for the Tories to try something likes this.  In Scotland, in the last two elections, the Tories have come second but have essentially been declared the winners.  Looks like they are trying for something similar for the whole UK this time round.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Gone fishing?

Has Ruth Davidson's PR person gone on holiday?  I ask because she has dropped a couple of real clangers in the past few days.  First there was this

(From the party that brought in the rape clause)

Then there was this

(From the party that has removed disability vehicles from over 50,000 people)

I know we're used to the Tories having a tin ear with regard to their communications with the unwashed masses, but you'd think someone at party HQ might have cast their eye over these and told Ms Davidson to have a word with herself.  I almost dread to think what she'll come up with next.

Mind you, with the rate that senior Conservative officials are resigning at the moment, amid bitter in-fighting within Theresa May's government, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that things like this are allowed to slip through.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

All-in

Theresa May yesterday called for a snap General Election on 8th June.  She has to get a vote of two-thirds of MPs in the Commons to make that happen, but since Jeremy Corbyn has announced that his MPs will be whipped to support it, it's pretty much a racing certainty that it's going to happen.  So why now?  I think there are several reasons.

The first and most obvious one is that polls are showing a strong lead for the Tories, making it the right time to try and get a large majority in Parliament rather than the razor-thin one Ms May has at the moment.  Ms May herself says that she wants to ensure that she has a strong mandate for Brexit,  The right time for an election would therefore be before the economic consequences of that really start to bite.  A large majority would allow her to pass whatever legislation she feels she needs to without any serious opposition.  This should ring alarm bells for anyone who has observed Ms May's authoritarian tendencies in her previous post as Home Secretary.

The less publicised reason is, however, that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have told Channel 4 that they have prepared cases against more than 30 individuals for breaching the law on electoral expenses. This includes MPs as well as their election agents.  Since the current Tory majority is only 17 MPs there has to be a possibility of this being reduced, if not lost altogether, if MPs are found guilty.  This would have two consequences.  One is that this would reduce Ms May's ability to force through her Brexit programme.  The other is that there could potentially be a large number of by-elections to be fought.  Best grasp the nettle now would seem to be the thinking.

Another reason for the snap election is, I think, an attempt to thwart Nicola Sturgeon in her push for another referendum on independence once the details of the Brexit deal become clear.  This may seem a bit tangential, but bear with me.

At the moment Ms Sturgeon is pressing Ms May's government for a Section 30 order. which would be required for the result of a second referendum to be recognised as legally binding by Westminster.  So far Ms May has refused to respond to this. So why would a General Election help?

Most obviously Ms May would be hoping that the SNP would lose a large number of the seats they won, mainly from Labour, in 2015.  She could the use this to claim that the SNP do not have popular support for another referendum on independence which would then justify a refusal of the section 30 order.  Less obviously, it is very likely that, in the event of winning by a large majority, the Tories will start to dismantle the devolution settlement, which they have never been in favour of, thus preventing any further attempts to regain Scottish independence.  This would then make their bargaining position with the EU much stronger, as they would be able to use Scottish resources such as fishing and farming as bargaining chips.  Under current circumstances the EU negotiators would simply point out that these things might not be Westminster's to bargain with under current circumstances.

What should Ms Sturgeon do about it?  In my opinion it's time to go for broke.  The SNP should include in their manifesto a pledge that if more than half of the MPs returned by Scotland as a result of the General Election are SNP, this should be taken as a de facto vote in favour of independence.  This would cut through the need to gain 'permission' from Westminster to hold a referendum and would, I think, satisfy bodies such as the EU and UN that the Scottish government has a mandate from the people to declare independence (with the usual disclaimer that I am not a lawyer of course).

We are entering a high-stakes game of poker.  Do we feel lucky?

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Referendum the second

The Scottish parliament yesterday voted for a second independence referendum by a margin of 69-59, after a debate stretching over two days.  I watched some of the final day of the debate and was struck by the tone of the debate coming from the Unionist side.  From Ruth Davidson's 'Sit Down!' directed at the First Minister to so-called jokes about the Greens' 'vegan diets' there was a complete disrespect for fellow MSPs, not to mention an implication that the Unionists were entitled to tell independistas what to do.

The vote shows how the battle lines are now drawn, with the SNP and Greens on one side and the Tories/Labour/LibDems on the other.  It was also interesting to note that the parties on the Unionist side voted against allowing 16- and 17-year olds the vote, presumably because they are likely to vote for independence.  You could argue that the independence-supporting parties wanted them in the electorate for that very reason, but there is another aspect, which is that 16- and 17-years olds are the ones who will have to live longest with the decision, so deserve to have a say.  And before anyone says 'why not 15-year olds then', the answer is that at 16 you can join the army, get married and pay taxes, so that would seem to be a fair cut-off point.

More interesting was the swift response from David Mundell, who said that
We won’t be entering into any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete. Now is the time for the Scottish government to come together with the UK government, work together to get the best possible deal for the UK, and that will mean for Scotland as we leave the EU.
He also indicated that the matter would not be considered until any transitional arrangements are also complete, which could push the date back even further.  This is, of course, an attempt to kick the whole thing into the long grass, to say 'no' without actually saying 'no'.   However, in a leaked copy of a European parliament resolution it appears that any transitional arrangements will not be allowed to last longer than three years, which would mean a date of 2022 for the second referendum.

The Tories will, however, be playing the odds that a lot can happen in five years.  One thing that should worry us is the Great Repeal Bill, which is due this week.  This will convert all laws based on EU law to British law.  One thing that has been mooted is that Theresa May will want to have so-called Henry 8th powers included in order to allow ministers to amend with these laws without having to go through parliament.  It does not take much imagination to think that it might be used to get rid of the devolved governments, returning all countries to direct rule from Westminster.  This would allow Westminster to squash any thought of another referendum on Scottish independence.  I hope I'm wrong on this, but the Tories have always been against the devolution settlement and would relish the chance to sweep them away.  Now that really would lead to interesting times.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

Division

In today's Observer Kevin McKenna has an article about the 'divisiveness' of another referendum on Scotland's independence.  It's a word we hear incessantly from the Scottish branches of Labour and the Conservatives, and I must admit it has always puzzled me.  People never agree on anything.  Some like curry, some prefer Chinese food.  Some like to drink alcohol, others don't.  Some prefer to pay low taxes, others prefer to have better public services. Each side will often try to persuade the other side of the merits of their view.  That, in a nutshell, is politics.

Since the nature of politics is to support a particular set of views, it follows that politics is divisive by default.  So why has it suddenly become the word du jour amongst Unionists?  After all, surely they must be used to division of opinion and the art of persuading people to support their particular world view?  Even votes in Westminster are known as 'divisions'.

The answer lies, I think, in the Unionist politicians being jolted out of their comfort zone by the previous referendum on independence.  Until that took place they had a cosy world-view.  Sure, Labour wanted higher taxes for the rich to pay for better public services and the Conservatives wanted low taxes and a minimal state.  But behind those differences they were in agreement that it was best for Scotland to be part of the UK.  Sometimes Labour would be in government, sometimes the Conservatives.  Each would get their turn, so if you lost a General Election, it was only a matter of time before it would be your turn to win.

The SNP and the wider Yes movement have disrupted that.  The SNP have proved that Labour and the Conservatives are not the only choices in Scotland, having proved that they have some competence in managing Scotland.  Of course, the Unionists politicians like to dramatically claim that services are falling apart in Scotland, that the SNP couldn't run a corner shop, let alone a country.  However, for the ordinary Scot, these shrill screams do not chime with their everyday experience of living in Scotland, which is why they continue to vote in SNP governments.

The wider Yes movement has disrupted things by coming very close to winning the independence referendum in 2014.  Suddenly being run by Westminster isn't the only option in town.  And since the Brexit vote in June last year, independence has become more attractive to those voting No last time, meaning that this time the campaign for independence is starting from a position of 50-50 rather than the 28-72 it started from last time.

This is, I think, what is at the root of the cries of 'divisive!'.  Labour and the Conservatives no longer have a monopoly on what's best for Scotland, ie remaining in the Union.  Now they have to produce a case to to persuade the voters on why they should vote to remain in the UK.  In the last referendum they didn't do this, relying instead on scary stories and threats of vengeance.  I don't think that will work nearly as well this time around, since people have seen it all before.  This time they will have to produce a positive case for staying in the Union, and that will take a great deal of hard work.  Better, then, to try and avoid the necessity by demonising the independence movement.  After all, the Unionists have their own careers to think about, and some of them don't fancy being in a small country that doesn't punch above its weight.

I honestly think that no positive case for the Union will be produced.  Instead I suspect that we will get Project Fear Mk 2, this time with the volume cranked up to 11.  However, the independence movement has also learned from 2014, and we will be ready to counter their arguments.  Bring it on.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Brexit deal irony

Yesterday morning Nicola Sturgeon caught Downing Street on the hop by announcing that she would be asking the Scottish Parliament next week to approve a request for a Section 30 order, thus firing the starting pistol on a second independence referendum for Scotland.  This is expected to take place sometime between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, although it could be slightly later, depending on when the details of the Brexit deal become clear.  In any event, it is planned to have the referendum before the UK finally leaves the EU.

Yesterday evening the Bill to trigger Article 50 was once again debated by the House of Lords, specifically on the two amendments proposed by the Lords, that is to protect the status of EU citizens already resident in the UK and to give Parliament of vote on the Brexit deal before it is accepted.  Both amendments were rejected when the Labour Lords sided with the Conservatives to vote them down, so the Bill has now passed unamended.

This leads to a slight irony over the Brexit deal, where MPs and Lords, who are supposed to be running the country, will not get a say in the final Brexit deal.  However the people of Scotland will essentially get a vote on it by voting for independence rather than accept the deal.  Odd the way these things shake out.