Saturday, 16 June 2018

Eyes on the Prize

Last week the SNP announced the results of the election for Depute Leader of the party. which was won by Keith Brown.  The Conservatives in Scotland were moved to tweet this in response:

At first glance, this would seem a nonsensical thing to say.  The Depute Leader of the SNP supports independence for Scotland?  Definitely high on the 'D'uh' scale. If you think about it, though, this reveals a little more than they might have thought.

Let's take the Labour party.  Formed in the late 19th century as the Independent Labour Party, this had its origins in the growing Trade Union movement and had as its aim the representation of working class interests in Parliament.  They formed their first government in 1924, and became the official opposition when not in government after that.  Fast forward to today, and the Tory and Labour parties are almost indistinguishable apart from some tinkering round the edges.  To all intents and purposes the Labour party has been absorbed into the Establishment and the threat they originally posed to the interests of the wealthy and property-owning classes has been essentially neutered.

Evidently the Establishment thought that the strategy that had worked well for Labour would also work for the SNP.  Give them some privileges, show them how things really work and they will soon be at the trough with the rest of them. The Establishment can relax once more, the threat to the their power neutered.

The tweet above reveals, I think, a certain frustration that the strategy doesn't seem to be working.  The SNP need to be very careful that they don't fall for the same tricks that the Labour party fell for and don't get too comfortable with their positions in Westminster and Holyrood.  First and foremost the aim of the SNP is to obtain a return to independence for Scotland, and they need to keep their eyes on this prize and not get too comfortable with the trappings of power as currently constituted.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Wha daur meddle wi' me

Last night the Westminster government essentially drove a coach and horses through the current devolution settlement by only permitting 15 minutes for debate on clause 11 of the EU Withdrawal Bill and filling that time with a speech from David Lidington, a Tory minister.  No Scottish MPs were allowed to speak.  This now means that powers being repatriated from Brussels which are currently within the competence of the devolved parliaments will be instead retained by Westminster.  The government claims that this will be for a period of seven years, after which the powers could be devolved once more.  However, a week is a long time in politics, and it's not as if the major parties have ever reneged on a promise before.  Oh wait...

The SNP's Commons leader, Ian Blackford, is permitted two questions at Prime Minister's Questions and today used one of them to request an immediate vote to hold a new debate on devolution issues connected to Brexit.  This was denied by the Speaker (although the rules permit it) and Mr Blackford was ordered to leave the chamber after refusing to resume his seat despite being told to several times by the Speaker.  He was followed by the entire contingent of SNP MPs.

This will have an interesting consequence.  The mainstream media did not think that the devolution part of the 'debate' last night to be of much interest to their readers, and we were lucky to see as much as a paragraph about it.  However, the SNP walkout has generated headlines, which will bring the matter to the attention of a large section of the population, who might just perceive that the SNP alone are standing up for Scotland's interests.

Another consequence of last night and today is that the SNP have seen a surge in applications to join the party, with almost 1,000 people joining today. Many individuals have tweeted that they have joined, generally saying that last night's sham of a debate was the final straw, and many of them also claiming to have been No voters in 2014 who have realised that they were lied to on 2014.

Also today an interesting post has been circulating regarding the Act of Union 1707 and a possible way in which it could be dissolved by legal means.  I am no lawyer, so cannot speak to whether this is the case or not.  However, it's worth remembering that Nicola Sturgeon was a lawyer before she was a politician.  One wonders whether we may be seeing a plan long in the making coming to fruition.  The case is due to be heard before the Supreme Court in late July, so watch this space.

It certainly seems that the events of the last 24 hours have seen Scotland finally waking up to what is being done to the devolution settlement and many are at last coming to a realisation of just how much we have to lose if the Westminster government is allowed to get away with what it is trying to do. And an awakened Scotland is exactly what the Westminster doesn't want.  Many Scots have come to like the fact that we have our own parliament again, even if it is restricted in what it can do, and would not want it removed.

The Stuart dynasty in Scotland had as a motto 'nemo me impune lacessit', which translates as 'no-one gets away with attacking me'.  The Scots translation is generally 'wha daur meddle wi' me' or, in English 'who dares to meddle with me'.  Scotland is awake and is becoming angry, and that might be all we need to remove ourselves from this very unequal union.   Let's make sure that we tell everyone what is being done to us.  The tide is turning and we need to be ready .

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Never trust a Tory

Today Ruth Davidson has written an article for the Guardian entitled 'My fellow Tories, I'm afraid the crash generation just doesn't trust us'.  It's been written on the back of a YouGov poll on behalf of the Centre for Policy Studies which says that
nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds say that there is zero chance of them ever voting Tory. 
Honestly I'm surprised that it's as high as that, especially as the following sentence says
 Among under-40s as a whole, those who says they are certain to vote Conservative is now less than one in 10.
 So logically it would seem that 18- to 24-year-olds are actually more likely to vote Tory than 25- to 40-year-olds?  She doesn't go into detail on this.

Anyway, not to worry, Ruth is on the case.  She goes on to say
But – after making gains in both the Scottish parliament and Westminster elections in recent years – it’s also something that we know we can change. There are some lessons for the whole party in our experience.
Now there's no denying that there are now more Conservative MPs and MSPs in Scotland than there have been for a generation, so she must be doing something right.  But if we look at the campaigns she ran for the last Holyrood and Westminster elections in Scotland her strategy consisted of 'never mind the policies, we don't want a second independence referendum' and 'vote for the Ruth Davidson party'.    In other words, she appealed to the die-hard Unionists in Scotland and carefully played down any mention of the Conservatives.  It worked for her this time, but one has to think that she has already reached the peak of that particular constituency.

Ruth goes on to say that her success is because
We’ve sought to make an optimistic, positive case about that union
She has?  She kept it very quiet then.  One of the things that Yes supporters have been asking for is a positive case for remaining in the Union, and we don't appear to be any further forward on that score as a result of either of Ruth's campaigns.  Dog-whistles about 'we don't need no stinking second referendum' don't really count as a positive case for anything.

So what's a Scottish Tory leader to do?  Trumpet Conservative values apparently. 
The younger generation, and society at large, is not yearning for a five-year plan of centrally delivered tractor quotas. Instead, we are a society that prizes individual autonomy and freedom of expression, and expects government to help us to achieve our goals, not set them.
Nice dog-whistle in the 'five-year plan' reference, which will quite possibly not work on younger generations, unless they've been studying the history of Soviet Russia.   As for 'prizing individual autonomy and freedom of expression', there's a great big unspoken addendum to that, which is 'as long as you don't expect anything more than lip-service to actual support'.  Tell that to disabled people, whose goals are to live a dignified and happy life, or students from poor backgrounds who don't have family money to rely on to get an education.   Life in Toryland is grand as long as you stand on your own two feet and don't expect any practical support.

Then we get to the meat of the matter.  Ruth is helping to launch a brand new think-tank.
Next week I will help launch Onward, a new think-tank, which will work to offer practical policies to support families across the country, focusing on the under-45s
Focusing on the under-45s presumably because the poll has told them that essentially their natural constituency is older people who have a bad habit of being more likely to die, thus whittling away at Tory support.

The major priorities will be affordable housing and education.  Sounds very laudable.  Who wouldn't want to improve these areas?  But here's the thing, the Tories have been in government at Westminster for a number of years now, and we have a shortage of affordable housing and, in some areas of the UK, the highest student debt ever.  Why should we believe that this time things will change?  Mind you, think-tanks are a perfect way of making it look as if something is being done while changing not very much at all.

I think that Ms Davidson and her cohorts underestimate the younger generation.  They're not stupid, and can see for themselves the utter mess that the current government is making of things. And it's not just the younger generation that don't trust them.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

They walk the line

You can't please all of the people all of the time.  All you can do is try to please as many people as possible most of the time.  This principle applies in all sorts of situations in life, and there's often a fine line to be walked.

The history of the Labour party is a good example of this.  It was originally formed out of the trade union movement, with the intention of representing the interests of the working class in politics and fighting for changes that would benefit the working man.  People would vote for it, especially in Scotland, trusting in their representatives to do their best for them.  However, gradually the party began to see working class votes as an entitlement which would enable the political class to get into power/remain in power - a means to an end, if you will.  This has led the the situation where the Labour party in Scotland has no idea how to campaign, because for many years they could rely on the working class voting for them by default without having to have too much in the way of policies to attract them.  Nowadays we hear a repeated cry of 'come home to Labour' aimed at voters in Scotland who are now voting for the SNP.  The Labour party in Scotland has not yet lost its sense of entitlement to votes.

The SNP, the main rivals to Labour in Scotland, would do well to learn from this example.  Following the referendum in 2014 they saw a massive increase in membership, mainly from supporters of independence who see the SNP as the main way in which this goal will be achieved.  Four years on, however, the SNP are in danger of falling into the same trap as Labour.  At branch level they seem to be seeing the massive increase in membership as a resource to be leveraged in order to get the SNP into power at all levels from local councils upwards.  In the process they appear to be losing sight of the bigger picture, the reason why many of the new members joined.

Most of the new members did not join in order to become embroiled in the local minutiae of bus routes, community councils and budgets. They joined in order to fight for Scottish independence and are not particularly interested in schools or waste collections.  There is a danger that, in losing sight of the bigger picture, the SNP leadership risk losing many of their new members, who will be quite happy to move on to some other group if they offer a more direct fight for independence.

The SNP as the Scottish government have concentrated on the past few years in offering decent governance, which is important in demonstrating that there is no reason why Scots can't run their own affairs competently.  However, at the moment the SNP seem to be forgetting their core reason for being, and would do well to bring it back into focus.

There will never be a time when the fight for independence will be without some risk.  No major change has ever come about without it.  The time is fast approaching where the SNP will either have to offer leadership in the struggle for independence or move over to allow other groups to take the lead, in the process becoming just like all the other political parties in Scotland.  Let's hope they opt for the former.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Divisive

'Shall we have a second referendum on Scottish independence?'

'No!  Divisive!' comes the loud reply from supporters of the Union.

Divisive.  The reflex answer, without much thought going into it, parroted time and time again.  But what does that actually mean?

The dictionary definition of  'divisive' is 'tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people'.  On the surface I think both sides of the independence debate could agree on the 'cause disagreement' part.  The hostility seems to me to come more from the Unionist side, but I'm pretty sure they would argue that it mainly comes from the independista side.  Certainly it is always deployed by the Unionist side as a reason not to have another referendum, but I don't believe I've ever heard the independence side use it in any context.

If we dig a little deeper though, and look at the derivation of the term we find
Mid 16th century (as a noun denoting something that divides or separates): from late Latin divisivus, from Latin dividere (see divide).
Isn't division the very reason we have politics in the first place?  You're never going to get an issue that 100% of the population agrees on, so there are always going to be sides, and therefore division no matter what the particular issue under discussion is.  If you have an election, there are going to be two or more sides competing for the votes of the electorate in any democracy, and they may have wildly differing views on how best to run the country.  So why aren't General Elections viewed as divisive? To take another example, the Brexit referendum was a very close run thing, far more so than the one on independence.  Yet, when it's suggested that there should be another one before we actually leave the EU, you don't hear cries of 'divisive!' from the leavers or remainers.  Rather you hear from the leavers that the will of the people has been expressed and is therefore inviolate.

What makes the issue of Scottish independence uniquely 'divisive' then?

Some Unionists have argued that the previous referendum on independence resulted in fallings-out between friends and family members, causing wounds that have barely begun to heal.  I have to say that neither I nor anyone else I know has found themselves in the position of not talking to friends or family because they voted different ways.  Indeed, my experience was that, where opinions differed, there was a lot of friendly banter, but nothing serious.  This is not to say that this never happened, but I think it's not nearly as common as the Unionist side are claiming.  The same could also be said of the Brexit referendum.  At best this is a superficial reason.

Let's dig a little deeper.  Here in the UK we have two major parties and a number of minor parties who take part in Westminster General Elections.  The major parties are the Conservatives (Tories) and Labour.  During most of the twentieth century the Conservatives represented the interests of the property-owning classes, while Labour represented the interests of the working classes and had close ties to the trade unions.  Conservatives believe in minimal governmental regulation while Labour believed in more governmental regulation to prevent exploitation of the majority of the populace by the property-owning classes. In the 1990s, however, Labour under Tony Blair became much more 'business-friendly' and much less tied to the trade unions.  Nowadays the Conservatives and Labour have very similar core values, with some tinkering at the edges of governmental regulation, Labour being more inclined to have it and the Conservatives not as far as business is concerned, while both are becoming ever more draconian in their attempts to control what ordinary people do.  There is a third UK party, the Liberal Democrats, but most people would be hard-pressed to say how they differ from the Conservatives and Labour.  All three parties have in common that they support the status quo in the form of the monarchy and control by the Westminster parliament.

In Scotland the SNP have existed for seventy years, and for most of that time they were very much a tiny, special-interest party, held of no account by the Establishment.  However, since devolution in 1999 the SNP have seen a meteoric rise, resulting in the first independence referendum in 2014.  At that point the UK parties woke up to the fact that there was a real threat to the comfortable status quo where each of them had a turn at power to one degree or another and were free to do whatever they liked with Scottish resources.  The independence referendum made many people realise that there might just be an opportunity to run things differently from the UK model.

Here, I think, is the real root of the cry of 'divisive'.  The division is between those who are comfortable with the status quo and resent/fear being made to think about it and those who dare to dream that things could be very different. The fear from the Unionist side shows in their desperation not to have another referendum, since the last result was far closer than was anticipated and there is no guarantee that they would win another one.

So, next time the idea of a second independence referendum is met with the clarion cry of 'divisive', perhaps we should push right back and ask why division is a uniquely bad thing in the context of Scottish independence.  I think the Unionist side will be hard-pressed to explain it.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Alea iacta est

There continues to be a huge debate about the timing of a second Scottish independence referendum, although it would appear that most supporters of Scottish independence would prefer it to take place before the next Scottish elections in 2021.  However, it remains to be seen whether the Scottish government will do so, especially with stalwarts of the Yes movement like Jim Sillars proclaiming very stringent conditions to be met before calling one.

Nicola Sturgeon has proved herself an excellent administrator and statesman, as have others in her government.  This is not a bad thing at this stage, as it has given people a sense that Scots are more than capable of running their own affairs (albeit currently in a limited way), as well as a politics quite different from that elsewhere in the UK.  The Unionists will, of course, sneer that everything isn't perfect under the SNP, conveniently forgetting that everything hasn't been perfect under their parties of choice either.  Nevertheless, people who are not tied to a particular party will likely now have some confidence in our abilities to do things for ourselves.

How does this relate to the second independence referendum?  Essentially because I don't get a sense from Nicola Sturgeon that she has the bold streak that will be required to go for it.  Let's face it, there will never be certainty.  There are too many people who will decide on the day which way to vote.

Imagine the scene.  Julius Caesar and his generals approach the Rubicon, knowing that to cross it will start a civil war.  They cannot be certain that they will win it.  Nevertheless, Caesar crosses the Rubicon and utters the phrase 'alea iacta est' (let the die be cast).  He can't be certain of victory, but is willing to play the odds with the information he has.

Imagine the scene.  Robert the Bruce is contemplating a battle with the English at Bannockburn.  He almost calls it off, but is told that morale in the English army is poor, so decides to go ahead with it.  He can't be certain he will win, but thinks that his chances are good enough to at least try.

Imagine the scene.  Henry V is at Agincourt, about to face a much larger French army.  He believes his Welsh archers will give him the advantage, but he cannot be certain of victory.  Nevertheless, he is sufficiently confident that he can win the day to go ahead with the battle anyway.

As far as another indyref, we can never be certain we can win it.  The best we can do is start with as much support as possible and try as best we can to convince enough floating voters to our side.  It requires, however, a leader with a certain boldness, willing to go all-in if they were a poker player.  This I am not certain the current leadership has.

What if we lose?  We don't give up.  It may be the next generation that has to take on the fight.  Fear of losing should not prevent us from trying however.  The lesson of history is quite clear on this, and we would do well to heed it.


Sunday, 8 April 2018

Ready, steady...

Recently there has been a big debate going on in the indy-supporting community as to the timing of a second referendum on Scottish independence.  This has been sparked by Pete Wishart MP, who urges caution on holding a second independence referendum unless it's all but certain it will be won.  This has provoked a strong reaction from people who believe that the mandate that the SNP and Greens won at the last Scottish Parliamentary Elections to hold another independence referendum in the event of a material change in circumstances should be honoured in the course of the current Scottish parliament, on the basis that the fact that Scotland voted to stay in the EU but it being taken out of it anyway constitutes that material change.

I am one of the many people who joined the SNP in the wake of the 2014 referendum.  Why?  Because, like it or not, the SNP are going to be the main vehicle that gets us to independence.  There are many other groups which support Scottish independence, each with their own agenda once we get there, and all have their part to play, but the SNP are the biggest group by far.  It therefore falls to Nicola Sturgeon, as leader of the SNP, to determine when the next independence referendum will be.


Initially Ms Sturgeon made all the right noises in the wake of the Brexit referendum result, which saw Scotland being taken out of the EU at the behest of the voters in England and Wales, even though every Scottish council district had voted to stay in.  However, many people feel that she has rowed back on that commitment (see here for example, from about six minutes in)

To a degree this is understandable.  Ms Sturgeon and her government have to walk a fine line between standing up for what Scotland voted for and not scaring the currently Unionist-voting people.

The current SNP strategy appears to be to show competence in government, whether that's at Westminster by standing up to the Tory government, both on behalf on Scotland and on wider UK matters, or at Holyrood by proving that they can run a country successfully using the powers they have (such as they are) to improve the lives of Scots.  In this they have been pretty successful, and Nicola Sturgeon in particular has shown real statesmanlike qualities.

However, those of Peter Wishart's belief tend to come across as being comfortable with the status quo and unwilling to upset the applecart, whether they mean to or not.  Pete Wishart's argument is that in his constituency he has had many people who voted for him tell him that they would favour the Tories in another election, and that this therefore implies falling support for independence or at least no guarantee that another independence referendum would be winnable, and that another referendum defeat would end the independence movement and mean that future generations would never forgive us.

With respect to Mr Wishart, however, Perth cannot be considered typical of everywhere in Scotland.  Perth and the surrounding area were represented at Westminster by Nicholas Fairbairn from 1974 to 1995, an arch-Tory if ever there was one.  This would tend to imply a vein of Toryism running through the electorate in Perth, which you are unlikely to find in other areas of Scotland.

The other side of the debate thinks that the Scottish government should hold a second independence referendum, certainly before the next Scottish parliamentary elections and for some before Brexit actually takes place.  There is some merit to this argument.  Nicola Sturgeon wants to wait until the terms of Brexit are crystal-clear, countered by the argument that we are already seeing the effects of Brexit on the UK and that things are not going to improve once Brexit actually takes place.  If anything they will be much, much worse.

If another independence referendum were called tomorrow, we would be starting off from a much better position than in the last one.  Current polling suggests that support for independence is holding steady at around 46%, compared with around 22% at the beginning of the last indyref campaign.  However, getting that extra 5% will take a lot of work in persuading previous No voters that Scottish independence will not make their lives worse and will conceivably make it considerably better, this in the face of a concerted campaign from the British Establishment to keep us in the UK.

Where do I stand on this? Discretion is often the better part of valour, and I can see where the SNP are coming from with their 'steady as she goes' philosophy.  However,  major changes like Scottish independence are not won by being cautious. There comes a time when you just have to cross the Rubicon and deal with whatever the outcome is. Pete Wishart's view is that future generations will never forgive us if we try again and lose. However, I don't think we should be held back by what future generations might possibly think. We can't tell what the future will be, we can only deal with what we have now. We are starting from a much better position than we were in 2014, and Brexit will, I think, give us additional support from people who believed in 2014 that remaining in the Union was the only way to retain EU membership. I do understand that some Yessers don't support EU membership, so it's important to make it clear that an indyref isn't tied to EU membership, which can be decided (possibly by another referendum) after independence is obtained. The SNP have their mandate for another indyref, and it would be unforgivable to refuse to use that mandate because you are afraid that you might not win. 

Faint heart never won fair maiden, as they say.