Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Come home to Labour

Yesterday the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell gave a speech to the Labour Party Conference in which he said that Scottish voters who are against austerity should 'come home to Labour'.  In support of this he said
Let's be clear, the SNP has now voted against the living wage, against capping rent levels and just last week voted against fair taxes on Scotland to spend on schools.
A damning indictment, one might think.  What more reason would people need to vote Labour?

As ever, the devil is in the detail.  It turns out that the things that the SNP voted against were amendments to motions being debated in the Scottish Parliament, which is not quite the same thing that Mr McDonnell implies.  Evidently he, like Jeremy Corbyn, is being briefed by people from the Scottish branch of the Labour party, most likely Kezia Dugdale and/or Ian Murray.  You'd think they might be realising about now that the information they are being given is not entirely accurate.  The problem they have, however, is the people in Scotland are more aware of such shenanigans than they might have been prior to the referendum.  Which bring us neatly to the second issue.

It's becoming clear that Labour in Scotland has not yet learned the lessons of indyref and the General Election.  They still clearly believe they are entitled to expect votes from the Scottish Electorate without doing anything in particular to persuade people of their case.  While the Labour party might once have been the natural home for Scottish voters because of its support for the working classes, those days are long gone, ever since Tony Blair and the 'New Labour' revolution.  Nowadays Labour is really the party of keeping the chosen few in a well-paid career, whether that's at council, Scottish Parliament or Westminster level.  And worse, it's become obvious to the Scottish electorate that that's the case.

Kezia Dugdale announced at the party conference yesterday that she intends her party to stand on a pro-enterprise platform in the forthcoming Holyrood elections, at the same time that Mr McDonnell was announcing a review of economic policies, including measures to shift the tax burden away from middle and low-earners and a 'Robin Hood' tax on financial transactions.  Clearly Ms Dugdale is sticking with the Blairite model of Labour, while Mr McDonnell is more of an old-fashioned Labour politician. I can't see how the two are going to square that particular circle, and it will be an interesting test of just how autonomous the Scottish branch of Labour will be permitted to be.

If Labour want to avoid another wipeout at the Scottish General Election they are going to have to learn how to actually campaign for votes, rather than just telling the voters to 'come to their senses' and 'come home to Labour' without actually providing a compelling set of reasons to do so.  Mr McDonnell said he was devasted by the results in Scotland back in May.  On current form, he should brace himself for more disappointment next May unless his Scottish branch office up their game considerably.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

A house divided.

Following on from my review of the book 'Project Fear: How an Unlikely Alliance Left a Kingdom United but a Country Divided', I came across this article in the Guardian, which has an in-depth inside story of Jeremy Corbyns leadership campaign.  Reading it, I was very much reminded of the Project Fear campaign, as it appears to have been based on a similar foundation of winging it, chaos and Labour's habit of in-fighting.  Even now, one of the first things that Jeremy Corbyn mentions at the Labour Party conference is that he doesn't intend to be pushed out by his opponents within his own party and fully intends to become Prime Minister at the next election.  Confidence-inspiring it isn't.

Mr Corbyn was on the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC this morning giving an interview, during which he said that the SNP are responsible for privatising Calmac, privatisation of ScotRail, cutting college places and privatising services, all of which claims are expertly demolished by Wings Over Scotland.  Mr Corbyn admits that he doesn't know much about Scottish politics, but it might be a good idea if he didn't rely on Kezia Dugdale for his information, which always boils down to 'SNP Bad', as demonstrated this morning.

Ms Dugdale herself  is blaming the previous four leaders for Labour's troubles in Scotland.  She says that Labour's problem has been that it has listened too much to what the voters wanted but has not translated that listening into action, something which Ms Dugdale intends to remedy during her tenure as leader.  She intends that the party in Scotland should actually make changes that the voters want rather than just listening and doing nothing.  As evidence of this she points to
new conference arrangements giving more say to members, reopening regional candidate selections to bring in fresh talent, and reformed portfolios for her front bench team.
These are all very fine, but they are really of interest to political activists, not your average voter in the High Street.

All this talk of listening and acting is quite reminiscent of Jim Murphy in his 'policy of the day' phase during the General Election campaign.  This resulted in policies such as wanting to change the law which currently band alcohol at football matches and the like.

Really this goes to show that Labour still haven't learned their lesson in Scotland.  Rather than knee-jerk responses and vague sentiments such as
We stand for a Scotland where every young person can get on in life, no matter how much money their parents have. I will change my party so that once again, together, we can change our country.
they really need to start thinking about what they stand for and what policies they therefore need to implement to achieve that.  They also need to sort out their internal politics, whether by putting together policies they can all agree on or by splitting into two parties.

It's said that a house divided against itself falls.   Labour's current status is very much of a house divided against itself, and the fall will not be long in coming unless they can find something to agree on.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Book Review - Project Fear by Joe Pike

I've just finished reading Project Fear: How an Unlikely Alliance Left a Kingdom United but a Country Divided by Joe Pike.  This is Mr Pike's first book, and a very good read it is too.

The book covers both the Better Together campaign from the referendum and the General Election campaign which took place between the referendum and May 2015.  It features material taken from interviews with many of the key players in both campaigns and provides a fascinating insight into the shambles that was the Better Together campaign and the election campaigns of Labour, the Libdems and the Tories in Scotland for the General Election.

The overriding impression left by the section on the Better Together campaign is that it won the referendum more by good luck than anything else.  The organisation appears to have been akin to herding cats, with people like Gordon Brown insisting on doing their own thing regardless of what the Better Together campaign as a whole wanted to do.  To be honest it doesn't tell us anything we hadn't already inferred about the campaign, bur it is interesting to see how it was viewed by the participants. 

There was one anecdote about how, when the going got tough, Jackie Baillie would send out for an order of 60 cakes from a local bakery to cheer everyone up.  On reading this, the first thought that popped into my head was 'I wonder how many people she was buying them for?'.  Does that make me a bad person?

The Better Together campaign seemed to be to be overly reliant on focus groups, polls and spin doctors,  pretty much overlooking the grassroots campaigning that was the hallmark of the Yes campaign.  They won on the day, but not by nearly as big a margin as they had expected.  I think this is at the root of their constant calls for reassurance that there will not be another indyref any time soon.  It was too close for comfort, and subsequent events have made another win for the Unionist side look iffy to say the least.

The second part of the book covers Jim Murphy's disastrous spell as Labour leader in the period from the end of 2014 to May 2014.  To be fair to Mr Murphy, he did have an uphill struggle to deal with, and the fact that he failed is not entirely of his own making.  However, the book does demonstrate that Labour in Scotland were in deep denial about the erosion of their support since 2011, hence their utter shock when they lost 40 of their 41 seats in the General Election.  Even now, I think that many of the senior Labour faces are still in denial, and employ phrases such as 'when the voters come to their senses'.  This is, I think related to the fact that many of them had grown so used to people voting Labour by default over the years, they had no idea how to run a campaign and instead relied on the fact that they had spent so much time being the local MP.  Many of them had no plan for losing their job.  Margaret Curran had a plan apparently - she said she wanted to open a gay bar on Ibiza named 'Margaritas'.  Be interesting to see if she actually does it.

Overall I very much enjoyed reading this.  There was a hint of schadenfreude, but it was also fascinating to see that many of the things that Yes side had inferred about the campaign were true, and sometimes were even worse that we thought.

Highly recommended.  I would be very interested in a similar book about the Yes side.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

And they're off

Judging by the latest announcements, the race for the Scottish General Election next May has begun.  Yesterday Kezia Dugdale announced that The Labour Party in Scotland should have a discussion about whether Labour MPs and MSPs should be free to campaign for independence in the event of another indyref.  Then, today, Willie Rennie has said that senior Liberal Democrat MPs will be free to campaign for independence next time around.

It's an interesting move from both.  Last time around both parties were heavily involved in the Better Together campaign, on the basis that they supported the Union.  Where does this latest move leave them?  One would think it will be very confusing for their supporters if some of them are campaigning for indy and some are campaigning for the Union, never mind for the public at large.

It's a very interesting move.  They have evidently been paying attention to the recent polls, some of which have shown a slight majority in favour of independence if another indyref was to take place tomorrow.  There have also been polls that show that a majority of Scots want another indyref within 5-10 years.  Taken together, Labour and the LibDems can clearly see which way the wind is blowing and want to hop aboard the bandwagon in the hope of avoiding another embarrassing wipeout next May.

Meanwhile the SNP are following a rather interesting strategy.  Nicola Sturgeon has been actively pushing for Scotland to take Syrian refugees, to the point where some refugees, when asked which countries are likely to help them, names Scotland amongst others.  The SNP have also called for Scotland to have its own representation within Europe, something that is not likely to be looked upon with favour in Westminster.  Evidently one of the lessons learned from the last indyref was that in the international arena, Scotland was not well-understood to be a country in its own right rather than just a region of the UK.  This, of course, puts an entirely different light on the situation in comparison with, say, Catalonia.  By raising Scotland's profile as a country, the SNP appear to be aiming to get better international support the next time around.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Hope Over Fear Rally 19/09/2015

Fantastic day, met many old friends, enjoyed the speakers and the bands.  The atmosphere was joyous and friendly, lots of happy smiling faces.

Some pics from the event:

These were taken around 12 noon.  Even then, there were a few more than the 1500 claimed by the BBC

A selection of flags were flown...

...including two Union flags, which you can just about see at the back of this picture.  They wilted in the face of mass saltires being waved at them.

People came in all shapes and sizes

The fashion for traffic cone headgear is becoming a thing amongst Glasgow statues

And the prize for best placard of the day goes to...

Finally, with a roar like a primordial beast that echoed round the Square, Bikers for Yes

Friday, 18 September 2015

Happy Yesmas!

One year on.  It doesn't feel like it, not for the Yes supporters.

I remember the excitement I felt this time last year.  Voting day was finally here!  I had been going to meetings, taking part in online discussions and even taken part in some events, such as the Margomobile tour.  I felt involved.

The day before the referendum felt like Christmas Eve.  There was an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement, and all for a political event.  Scotland was changing.

The day of the referendum was foggy and damp, but the mood of the campaigners was buoyant.  I spent fifteen hours that day representing the Yes campaign outside a couple of polling stations.  By the end of it my feet and back were aching, but I still felt great.  We had had so much positive response from voters I was convinced that we would win.  When the results started to come in, I felt crushed.  How could we have lost?  How could my feeling that we would win have been so wrong?  Were there really people who didn't want their country to rule itself?  I couldn't understand it.

The next day was awful.  There were tears, I'm not ashamed to say.  But that day a small flame of defiance came into being.  Yes, we lost, but not by much.  And we had the experience of the referendum to learn from.  We will learn the lessons, and next time we will win.

The Unionists won, and responded by instigating a riot in George Square.  There was that note of triumphalism so often shown by the British Establishment.  A saltire was ripped from the hands of two young girls by grown men.  The flame of defiance grew.

One year on, and the Unionists may have won the referendum, but they have lost the political fight.  Their greatest fear is of another referendum, judging by the column inches and broadcast time spent calling for Nicola Sturgeon to confirm that she will not instigate another referendum.  That is not the behaviour of the winning side.  That is the behaviour of the side who won the battle but who can see they are losing the war.  A side who are not confident they can win another battle.

The flame of defiance still burns, even more fiercely than before.  I believe I will see Scottish independence in my lifetime, and I will work to see that it happens.

Happy Yesmas!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Victorian values

Yesterday Queen Elizabeth became the longest reigning monarch in UK history, surpassing the previous record set by Queen Victoria.  Cue outpourings of a sycophantic nature, general flag-waving and hurrahs all round.  Personally I find the monarchy of no relevance whatsoever, but I appear to be in the minority on that one.

So, how are we Elizabethans doing compared with our Victorian ancestors?  To be honest it looks pretty comparable.  In Victorian times we had the concept of 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor.  The 'deserving' poor were the 'poor but honest' people, with a respectable reputation.  The 'undeserving' were the feckless, the lazy, the drunkards.  Sound familiar?  Iain Duncan Smith is doing his level best to put anyone claiming benefits into the 'undeserving' category, even those who have a long-term illness or disability.  There he diverges from the Victorian view that the sick and disabled were in the 'deserving' category, and helping them was seen as a religious duty.  IDS seems to be bent on returning us to long before Victoria's reign to the Middle Ages.  He forgets, however, that in the Middle Ages there was no income tax to support the political class.  Does that make him a benefit scrounger too?

What about the role of women?  Surely we have moved far beyond the Victorian ideal of the little woman, confined to hearth and home and concerning herself with running a household?  Sure, women can now have a career if they want one, expect to get maternity leave if they want a family and face no barriers to the professions.  Progress indeed.  However, there is a more subtle psychology at play.

The ideal Victorian woman was a fragile creature, unable to cope with the hurly-burly of the outside world and in need of special protection.  Oddly enough, we seem to be reverting back to this view.  What is the purpose of all-female shortlists for political positions if not an implicit statement that women can't compete with men in the world of politics and need special treatment.  It doesn't bode well for the female candidates.  How will they cope with Westminster or Holyrood?  Will they require all-female debates?

This week I also received an invitation to a women's social/political event, consisting of various stalls and talks by female MPs.  The stalls consist of jewellery, clothes, chocolate, candles, a nail bar, a weight-loss company and some sort of dietary supplement sellers.  Really?  All you need are stalls selling pink dye and shoes and you pretty much have the complete set of cliches about women's tastes.  And note the irony of having both a chocolate stall and a weight-loss stall at the same event.

I'm a child of the sixties, who grew up with feminism.  Now being a feminist appears to be to pander to self-indulgence, to police your body shape and to avoid men altogether.  Where finding a wealthy man to marry (eg a WAG) is seen as a valid lifestyle choice, if that's what you want to do with your life.  Where judging another woman is seen as oppressive.  Where all women are supposed to think the same as each other, and to avoid anything challenging.  It's as if Germaine Greer or Naomi Wolf needn't have bothered.

Well, I'm judging.  It's time to move away from Victorian values, which were predicated on a rigid class system and knowing your place.  It's time to get away from telling people that whatever they choose to do with their life is empowering, even if that choice to is be an exotic dancer or a kept woman.  Does that make me old-fashioned?  Probably.  But not nearly as old-fashioned as the society we seem to be becoming.