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.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Holy Wullie

This weekend is the Liberal Democrats' spring conference, in which we can expect to hear lots of 'SNP bad' and 'we don't want no referendum' (isn't there a song about that?).  This is also the time for their leader, Willie Rennie, to expect some coverage of his views.

Yesterday he had a somewhat disastrous interview with Gary Robertson on Good Morning Scotland, in which he was hard pressed to explain the difference between his idea on having another referendum on EU membership once the exit deal has been negotiated to see if people want to accept it and leave or not and simply having another referendum to see if people still want to leave or not,  I imagine the idea sounded great in his own head.  He was also hard pressed to explain why, if he wants a second referendum on leaving the EU, it's not OK for Scotland to have another referendum on independence given that circumstances have changed dramatically since 2014, when Scots were told that voting No was the only way to guarantee continuing EU membership.

Today Mr Rennie is set to make the 'emotional' case for Scotland to remain in the UK in his conference speech.  It kind of suggests that the LibDems can't muster up any other kind of case for remaining in the UK, which doesn't bode well for the forthcoming Better Together 2.0 campaign.  Certainly it's noticeable that, when arguing the case for Scottish independence on news websites, the British Nationalists are still regurgitating more or less verbatim all the lines from Better Together 1.0.  However, it does take a certain amount of hypocrisy to make the 'emotional' case, given that last time round the Better Together campaign, of which Mr Rennie was part, sneeringly dismissed Scottish nationalists as 'Bravehearts', thinking with their hearts rather than their heads.  How times have changed.


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Here is the news

I'm currently reading 'All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class' by Tim Shipman.  It's an analysis of both the Remain and Leave campaigns and has extensive interviews with many of the backroom people as well as the frontmen from each side.

One chapter deals with the BBC coverage in the purdah period in the 30 days leading up to the referendum and whether its duty is to question the claims by each side or whether it merely has to provide balance.  In it (and I never thought I'd say this) David Mundell has something to say which I think will be very germane to the second independence referendum.  This is an extract from the chapter:
The situation [regarding BBC coverage] ought not to have come as a surprise to David Cameron, who had been warned about how the broadcasting rules would play out in the final four weeks by the Scottish secretary David Mundell, who knew better than most what had happened north of the border in 2014.  In a Remain cabinet meeting held after the deal was done, Mundell told his colleagues that the contest would get difficult when the short campaign began.  He says, 'There was a failure to understand that in the final part of the campaign, which is a regulated media part, you just get a quantitative balance on the television.  George Osborne can pop up with a five-hundred-page document, and the other side just need someone else to turn up and say, 'That's crap.'  And that counts as a debate.  It's not a qualitative debate.'  After the referendum Mundell said, 'That's what the Leave side did much better.  They just had a number of simplistic slogans to use for their two-second clip.  There's no point in saying ' here's a 5,000 page report saying everything's going to go belly-up' when somebody else rocks up and says 'No it's not.  We're taking back control.'
The parallels with the last independence referendum are clear.  The Yes side had the 600-page white paper which set out their case for an independent Scotland.  However, the content was mainly never debated.  Instead the No side stuck to a few simple slogans, such as 'What currency will you use?', 'You'll lose your pension' and 'You'll be out of the EU and will have to join the back of the queue'.  Simple concepts, hammered home time after time, and not questioned by the BBC, who saw their duty as providing balance rather than investigation.

We need to learn from this for the next indyref.  By all means have documents setting out the case for independence in great detail, but as far as television news goes, boil it down to some simple concepts.

We need to take our lessons where we find them, regardless of the source.  After all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Following the rules

Woman deported from UK despite being married to Briton for 27 years

The non-EU workers who'll be deported for earning less than £35,000

Frail pensioner faces deportation after decade in UK to China where she knows no-one

Woman with no hands had her benefits stopped because she couldn't open a letter

DWP head denies sanctions and suicide link

Outrage at claims DWP 'Grinches' are refusing to process appeals before Christmas while pursuing sanctions

What do all these things have in common?  Yes, they are the result of Tory ideology, which prioritises self over collective responsibility, but you can no more blame Tories for that than you can blame a scorpion for stinging.  It's in their nature and we all know it.  However, that's not the thing I'm thinking of.  The thing that they have in common is that someone, somewhere was following the rules.  Not just following the rules, but prioritising the rules over common sense.

Now there can be various reasons for doing this.  A small number of people will do it because they dislike foreigners or benefit 'scroungers' or because they think that disabled people should be left to sink or swim.  Some will do it because they enjoy having power over other people.  The vast majority will do it, however, because those are the rules and not following them could result in losing their job.  This will be a fear especially affecting those working for the DWP, who will be well aware of the cruelties of the system that awaits them if they can't find another job.  So they will comfort themselves by telling themselves that they were 'only doing their job' or 'only following the rules'  What's become known as the 'Superior Orders' defence, and it has never worked out well, historically speaking.

Soon Scotland will be have an independent welfare system.  I would hope it will be far more humane than the current UK system.  We do not yet have control over immigration, and the signs are that the UK system will become a great deal more harsh in the near future.  Is this really the way that Scots want to go?

I think not.  The time has come for us to leave England to follow her path and to demonstrate that another way is possible.  Westminster will, of course, fight to prevent Scottish independence, and will use any means necessary to do it.  We have seen how harsh the current regime can be,  We need to be strong, gather our courage and vote for independence.  Yes, the initial years after independence will most likely be hard and require some sacrifices.  However, it will be worth it if we can end up with a country where people don't have to follow harsh rules with no leeway for common humanity.  It's an ambition we can all get behind.


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Then you win

There is a famous quote:
First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you then you win.
It's often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although the evidence seems to indicate that isn't the case.  However, it is a neat summing up of the stages that any movement will go through, generally speaking.

It applies quite well to the Scottish independence movement.  From its inception until 1999, the Scottish National Party (SNP) were pretty much ignored by the Establishment as a lunatic fringe movement that would never really trouble the UK or change things in any significant way.

In 1999 The Scottish Parliament was reconvened as a result of Labour's devolution policy,  The idea was that devolution would see off the Scottish independence movement by giving just enough autonomy to satisfy the lunatic fringe but not any sort of significant power, which would be retained at Westminster.  It was a nice theory.

Once people were used to having the Scottish Parliament back, using the limited powers it had been given we started to see the second phase.  It was ridiculed as being a 'wee pretendy Parliament' or 'glorified town council' by those who were British nationalists.  It was seen as giving the Scots too many ideas that might threaten the Westminster hegemony, which could not be countenanced,

In 2007 the SNP were elected to Holyrood as a minority administration, on a platform of, among other things, holding a referendum on Scottish independence in 2010.  In the event they were unable to pass the necessary legislation to hold the referendum.  However, they were re-elected as a majority administration in 2011, again on a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on Scottish independence, and this time were able to pass the legislation to hold the referendum on 18th September 2014.  The campaigning began in 2012, and it was from this time that we saw more and more ridicule used against the idea of Scottish independence.

Scotland was too poor to be able to support itself, despite the fact that Scotland has an embarrassment of natural resources.  It had too small a population to form the sort of tax base required to support an independent country (which will be news to countries like Denmark).  It didn't have politicians who would be able to take the decisions needed to run an independent country (too stupid).  Didn't we know that we were just a comedy region of Greater England, the skirt-wearing, incomprehensible, drunken, blue-faced people who lived on deep-fried anything, to be pointed at and mocked?  Didn't we know that the North Sea oil was running out at any moment?  Why couldn't we understand that we were just ridiculous creatures, not fit to run a piss-up in a brewery?  Get back in your box and be quiet was the contemptuous message.

The outcome of the referendum was a bit too close for comfort for the Establishment.  Indeed, there was sheer panic towards the end, when one survey showed the Yes vote was in the lead, leading to a hastily written vow of more powers, the nearest thing to federalism.

A strange thing happened after the referendum however.  The Yes movement didn't shrivel up and die as expected.  And when the Vow was not fulfilled, to the surprise of no-one in the Yes movement, talk of a second independence referendum began to be heard.  Following the surprise Tory majority in the UK General Election in 2015, a referendum on EU membership became inevitable.  In the 2016 Scottish election the SNP were again returned as a minority administration, this time on a platform of a second independence referendum in the event of a material change in circumstances, the specific example being Scotland being taken out of the EU against the expressed will of the Scottish people.

Guess what?  That was exactly the result of the EU referendum.  Scotland now faces being removed from the EU despite the fact that every region of Scotland voted to stay in.  A second referendum is now almost certainly on the cards.  How is this being received?  The rhetoric is being stepped up.  British nationalists have taken to describing the referendum as 'divisive' and have called on the Westminster government not to grant the necessary Section 30 order required for Westminster to respect the result of a new independence referendum.  Politicians such as Ruth Davidson are starting to describe a new independence campaign in warlike terms, such as saying the SNP 'tried and failed to weaponise Brexit for independence'.  Some Unionist commentators like to bandy about terms like 'Ulsterisation', with all its implications of violence and sectarianism. Kezia Dugdale has pledged to oppose a second referendum on on independence. instead touting the non-starter of federalisation. 

We seem to be moving into the 'then they fight you' phase.  There's only once phase after this.  Then we win.