Is a 2015 Scottish Labour wipe out on the cards?

Posted on September 29, 2014 by | 3 Comments

The support for ‘Yes’ in some Labour heartlands, togther with the recent success of the SNP, Scottish Greens and SSP in attracting new members has created some exited speculation about the 2015 UK Parliament seeing a collapse in Labour’s Scottish representation at Westminster. For example Kevin McKenna argued in today’s Observer that “Ed Miliband will require all of his 41 Scottish Labour MPs to be returned if he is to have any hope of winning an overall majority at Westminster next year. Yet how many of them would survive a backlash from among the 1.6 million who voted yes and who have effectively renounced the Labour faith?”

So how many would survive?

A Survation opinion poll taken after the referendum shows a major swing to the SNP – going from the 20% it got in the 2010 to 35%, which is a 75% increase it the vote. However the Labour vote is largely unchanged, only down a couple of percent on 2010. The real losers are the Lib Dems, who,it should be remembered were the second biggest party in the 2005 General Election in Scotland, and level pegging with SNP in the 2010 General Election, but who are apparently on only 3% now.

That is why if you plug the figures into the UK Polling Report website’s swingometer it shows that while this increase in SNP vote is predicted to lead to an increase in SNP seats (in this case from 6 to 14) it is likely to mainly come from the Lib Dems. Only Falkirk sees a Labour loss – even Dundee West would stay Labour on a uniform swing. That is because the scale of the existing Labour majorities is so huge that it would take an unprecedented swing to see Labour not win. Where Labour already get more than 50% of the votes, even if the SNP take every non-Labour vote they can’t win. Only when the Labour vote slips behind the SNP vote does the swingometer turn west central Scotland from red to yellow.

What is particularly interesting is the comparison between the tables for Westminster votes and Scottish Parliament votes. While only 35% of those surveyed said that they would vote SNP at Westminster, fully 49% of the same group said they would vote SNP for Holyrood. Some it appears that the split vote may be a very conscious choice. The survey also had an incredibly high number of undecided voters, so it is questionable how accurate a representation of reality it is. However it does show that even a remarkable SNP performance, which is what a 35% vote share would be, will not guarantee a decisive shift in representation (unless there is a dramatic shift in vote distribution across the country, but even the tiny Glasgow subsample still shows Labour leading for Holyrood 55% to 39%).

Rumours of Scottish Labour’s imminent Westminster demise therefore seem exaggerated..

What Winning Looks Like: Photos of Radical Meetings in Edinburgh after the Referendum

Posted on September 26, 2014 by | No Comments

To view a complete slideshow of all the photos click here.


Radical Independence moved their meeting onto the Meadows Park to accommodate over 150 folk coming on Monday.


Last night the Edinburgh Greens had 400 attend in two venues in the city centre…


…groups discussed the legacy of the independence campaign and set priorities for the party.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: on Greens and the referendum

Posted on September 26, 2014 by | 7 Comments

I am a member of the Green Party. In fact, I am a member of two Green Parties – the Scottish Green Party, and the Green Party of England and Wales – the two have long been friends, but independent. Sometimes, the party annoys the hell out of me. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed by it. But I must confess, for the last few months, I’ve been as proud as hell.

The fact that Greens support independence brought a huge amount to the Yes campaign. Greens bring to the movement a credible, forward looking voice which no one can accuse of being petty nationalist and no one thinks is obsessed with independence. When Greens say we are motivated by bringing power closer to people, by removing control from a corporately captured Westminster, people believe it. Because it’s true. When Greens say that independence is about more than the SNP, it’s utterly obvious that this is more than a line.

Of course, these things are true of many other groups too. But the difference is that the Greens have Members of the Scottish Parliament, and so have secured access to at least some of the more official channels – TV debates, and the like. And many people have said to me in recent days that this – whether co-conveners Patrick Harvie or Maggie Chapman on a stage or screen, or Sarah Beattie Smith, staffing the Green Yes TARDIS on Leith Walk 12 hours a day for two weeks, helped to swing them to a yes vote.

But it’s not the Scottish Greens who make me most proud. Supporting independence has been our policy since 1990, and I’d be surprised if the party hadn’t risen to the occasion. What’s really pleased me is the support of the Green Party of England and Wales, and from the European Greens.

Long before many others (though not all) on the British Left started to wake up to why this was such a thrilling opportunity, our southern colleagues backed independence. First, because, as Natalie Bennett put it “we’ve agreed that on issues specifically relating to Scotland, the England and Wales party will take its lead from the Scottish Green Party” and secondly because they saw the opportunities for remaking politics across the UK.

But that in no way encapsulates the enthusiasm expressed by the party’s membership. I’m told that the biggest cheer at the Green Party of England and Wales conference three weeks ago was when it was announced that the yes campaign had (momentarily) taken the lead in the polls. The week of the referendum, Young Greens arrived in Scotland from Slovakia, Catalonia, Germany and France to help campaign for a yes vote – and, in significant numbers, from England. The European Greens – a major group in the European Parliament, issued a statement that they would fight to protect Scotland’s place in the EU.

Throughout the campaign I got fed up with being lectured by some on the British Left about how solidarity requires Scots (though not the Irish or French for some reason) to be ruled by the British State because that will somehow help to challenge its power. And I was hugely moved by the commitment of significant numbers of Greens from across Europe to a movement in a small country on the mountainous top third of an island in the North Atlantic.

Though their commitment wasn’t to Scotland specifically. It was to solidarity. Not the solidarity of the state. Not the solidarity which starts in an MP’s press release and ends in detention camps at Dover. Not the solidarity of a Labour party which supports no strikes but air strikes; which sent police officers to batter down Glaswegian doors and drag toddlers from their beds at 4am because they happened to have been born in a war zone, then locked them up in a privatised prison before lecturing us on the iniquities of borders; not the solidarity mediated through a post-imperial parliament that demands we vote for one of its chosen representatives or the other to define how fast we sell off our institutions of organised justice.

No. I mean real solidarity. The solidarity which knows no borders. The solidarity that came with young people across Europe who dropped everything they were doing for a week because they saw that the front line of their global struggle had moved north for a while. And I must confess that the fact that these young people were Young Greens fills me with pride.

It seems it wasn’t just me. When I joined the Scottish Greens in 2001, we were a small crowd. Our national conferences would have perhaps a hundred people. We had a target of reaching a thousand members. In the past few days, since the referendum, the party has surged from 1,200 or so members to more than 6000.

Last night, I went along to the Edinburgh monthly branch meeting. The committee had moved it to the biggest hall they could find, to accommodate the new members. It wasn’t big enough for the more than 300 people who showed up, so a delegation of 80 or so people went over the road to the normal meeting room too.

As I wandered round the hall at the outset, there were two kinds of faces – those of new members, smiley, chatting, excited – and, occasionally, dotted around the room, those of people who had been around longer, many of whom were, like me, biting back tears of joy. Scottish politics is utterly changed. If Cameron thought he’d put the country back in its box, he has another thing coming – Westminster may well come to regret ‘winning’ the Scottish referendum. And, whatever Scotland’s future has in store, it seems the Green Party will have a significant role to play. If this is what losing looks like…

Why I’ve complained to House of Commons Library

Posted on September 25, 2014 by | 2 Comments

I’ve just written to the House of Commons Library over their recent publication ‘Membership of UK politics parties‘, released on Tuesday. It’s a highly interesting document that myself and other political geeks love to read every year. But there’s a few clonkers in there.
1. They talk about ‘the Green Party’ as if it was a UK thing. They at no point clarify they are talking about the Greens of England and Wales. This skews the membership stats and fails to compare like with like – a massive statistical error.
2. They have very recent SNP membership stats (from this week!) but the latest Green Party stats are from December 2013 – despite it being widely known Green membership in E&W is now over 19,000 – see below (from the members’ site, but it’s all over social media). So they list ‘Green Party’ membership (again implying UK-wide numbers) at 14k, ignoring the recent membership surge.

 

national party

 

3. In doing all this, they completely ignore the highly successful Scottish Green Party, an entirely separate entity, and the Greens of NI (again, separate). This is unfair. The Scottish Greens’ membership has tripled over the past week to over 5,600 – 4000 new members. So UK Green membership is probably nearing 30,000 now. Yet the figures obfuscate this/leave it out entirely.
On another note, they’ve also missed out the Scottish Socialist Party which has also added thousands of members over the past week – something not mentioned while the SNP’s growth is. In both cases, the percentage rate of growth of the SSP and the Scottish Greens is far higher than the SNP (as impressive as it is). Anyway.

If you are annoyed by these glaring mistakes email papers@parliament.uk and authority.enquiries@statistics.gsi.gov.uk

Here’s my email below to the House of Commons Library and the UK Statistics Authority.

 

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am getting in touch regarding you recent publication ‘Membership of UK political parties’. In it, it states that ‘in
December 2013 membership of the Green Party was around 14,000.’ This is misleading, as it is written alongside total UK membership of the other parties – when in fact the 14,000 figure is for the Green Party of England and Wales. The Scottish Green Party and Green Party of Northern Ireland should be listed in the statistics as separate parties. This takes the UK membership of the Greens up significantly.
This is an issue of failing to compare like with like. For example, you write ‘Membership held level just below 13,000 in 2010-2012, before rising slightly to 13,800 members as of 31st December 2013.’ This is the England and Wales party, something not stated. As written below morover, more up to date member figures are available.
The 14,000 figure is not the latest statistic, despite you showing very recent SNP member updates. GPEW now has over 19,000 members in England and Wales, and the separate Scottish Party has over the past week seen a tripling of membership to over 5,600. This is publicly available knowledge.
I am emailing to request that you make these important factual clarifications:
a) With regards to the completely separate nature of the different Green Parties of the UK – there should be separate sections on the Greens in Scotland, Northern Ireland and E&W, and it should be clearly stated that the stats currently used refer to England and Wales.
b) With regards to the latest membership statistics – there are now over 19,000 members of the Green Party in England and Wales. This is publicly available information (although the screenshot attached is from the members’ site). Moreover, such information is widely available regarding the Scottish Party – https://twitter.com/scotgp – but official current figures will be available by contacting the national offices. I suggest you do this.
I hope you can resolve this complaint swiftly.
Yours faithfully,
Josiah Mortimer
Young Greens National Committee

The Queen was not fit to be our Head of State during this debate. But what will we do with the castles?

Posted on September 25, 2014 by | 3 Comments


It’s time to start planning new uses for our Scottish palaces.

Buckingham Palace, which, due to the embarrassing state of Britain is somehow still a relevant institution in this day and age, has always maintained that the Queen was neutral and “above politics”. This has been said repeatedly over the last month.

We know, of course, that a Head of State can never be “above politics”. This is a naïve concept at best and at worst a deeply damaging one. The Queen has also shown that, being as she is, a human being who does make public appearances and interventions, “neutrality” is essentially impossible.

Through various ill-considered incidents during this debate, culminating in this week’s news of the Queen “purring down the phone”, we now know very clearly that the Queen doesn’t want to be the Scottish people’s Head of State, however we choose to organise ourselves: she wants to be the Queen of the United Kingdom.

Support for continuation of the hereditary head of state is assumed to come from a majority of Scots. However insights from the debate may provide us with the tools we need to change this assumption. It seems likely another referendum on independence might not be too far away. If so, we should make it a referendum for a republic.

Based on the clumsy manner of the Queen’s interventions it seems reasonable to assume that Buckingham Palace thought our Scottish debate mostly irrelevant. There have been three incidents of intervention in the last month which are worth considering.

“The Queen is a unionist”

On 7th September the Sunday Times front page (the same page that broke the earthquake 51% Yes poll) carried the headline “Queen is horrified by possible break up of UK, claim palace aids”. In the story we are told “senior royal sources say the Queen is a unionist”, and that “palace aids, minister and MPs close to the royal family said the Queen was a firm unionist and revealed that the prospect of a “yes” vote “horrifies” her household.”

The qualifier, “it is a matter for the Scottish people” is offered, an identical phrasing to that used by the American President earlier in the year. But of course the Queen isn’t a casual by-stander – she the the Queen of Scotland.

What goes very deep for me is the implication, through taking sides in this way, that the Queen would be somehow uncomfortable being head of state of an independent Scotland.

Did her views impacts much on the debate on the ground? Possibly not. But this clearly shows the palace taking sides and as such is a breach of constitutional protocol with damaging ramifications. If we can hear her views on a referendum, why not a General Election? In fact it doesn’t take logic to conclude that if the Queen is a unionist she isn’t much of a Green or SNP supporter. That might not be new information, but the point is we are not supposed to hear from our “neutral” Head of State.

“Think carefully”

On Sunday 14th September the Queen said to a “well-wisher outside church near her Balmoral estate” that “she hopes ‘people will think very carefully about the future’ ahead of the Scottish independence referendum.”

Incredibly, despite the supposedly high profile sources telling us the queen is a unionist, the reporting of this arguably neutral statement received far more coverage than the previous week’s outburst. It was a stage managed attempt to show the Queen actually gave a crap about what people did up here in Scotland, and the press lapped it up.

Purring down the phone

On Tuesday, speaking to the ex-Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, our Prime Minster said the following:

“I think the definition of relief is being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and ringing the Queen and saying “it’s alright, it’s ok.” That was something. She purred down the line. I’ve never heard anyone be so happy.”

There are lots of things that offensive about this incident: the causality with which the Prime Minister reveals private conversations, the images and sounds it conjures up in our minds… I can’t help but be baffled by the revelation that she only knew the result when the Prime Minister personally rang her up. Once again we given a clear illustration that the Queen didn’t want to be the Scottish people’s Head of State, only a United Kingdom would please her.

Today the Prime Minister is due to personally apologise to the Queen for what amounts to saying embarrassing things about her to random statesmen and TV cameras.

But where’s our apology from the Queen?

Planning ahead

Intentionally and by accident the Queen did intervene in this debate and in doing so further reminded us that a human who speaks is not capable of being “neutral” and “above politics”. According to her own standards, the Queen was not fit to be our Head of State during this debate. We might conclude that her job description is was never possible. The post needs a rethink.

Going into this debate around half of Scots, a clear majority, supported the retaining a Queen as Head of State. Now the referendum debate is over we know that she didn’t want the job, and hasn’t been performing well in her current one either.

If there is, as seems very likely, another referendum on independence within the next decade, we need to be prepared to fight for a better settlement. The job of Head of State is quite important, and shouldn’t be passed down from mother to son. This debate has shown us clearly that the Head of State is always political, and if we are to live in a true democracy, must be chosen by the people.

So we’ll wait for our opportunity. In the mean time we’ve got some planning to do. We have two royal palaces in Scotland and the Balmoral Estate. What should we do with them?

After the sad closure of Leith Water World back in 2012 presumably the most obvious use for Holyrood Palace is as a water park.

But what of Balmoral Castle, and its beautiful 159km2 estate (1)?  A Princess Diana Memorial Theme Park has been proposed (see short film, below) and the palace, beautifully set in the Dee valley, would make an excellent backpackers hostel. Get thinking.

References

1. To read more about the ownership of Balmoral read Andy Wightman’s excellent blog on the subject from 2007.

The Scottish left needs to talk about collaboration, not another party

Posted on September 24, 2014 by | 5 Comments


Greens campaigning in Norwich. Image: Norwich Green Party.

In the last week, thousands of people have joined the Scottish Green Party and the SSP. Tens of thousands have joined the SNP. If it ever was a good idea to build a new left party in Scotland, then the time to launch it was two weeks ago. Now, it seems, that ship has sailed.

There is an obvious case for left yes activists joining the SNP. But it seems likely that they have emerged from the referendum as the natural party of government in Scotland, and it’s going to be they who we will be holding to account in the coming years – politics is about more than winning independence. Likewise, if we are to secure a yes vote in the future, the best way to do it will be to build a hegemonic Yes politics in Scotland – to ensure that the main debate is between two different pro-independence parties. As Scottish Labour wobble above the gap between Scotland’s shifted tectonic plates, that seems more plausible than ever.

The question, then, is, under what banner should the Scottish left rally? I should lay my cards on the table at the outset. I have now been a member of the Scottish Green Party for almost half of my life, but I have no formal role in the party, and speak only for myself. Having said this, I genuinely think most people on the contemporary left reading the Greens recent European election manifesto would find it a descent expression of their politics – just as radical as the demands you’d find from most RIC supporters. The party is democratic, run by its members, and big enough to have prized its way into the public consciousness – now more than ever. It’s important not to underestimate how hard that recognition is. It takes a very long time for someone to feel able to vote for a party. It is very rare in UK politics for a new one to emerge, and immediately get political support.

The usual criticism from the left is that Greens lack an appeal to working class voters, and that’s a criticism that I understand. But it’s the product of a very real problem, and I think any new left party would find itself in a similar position. It’s easiest to explain this by going to Norwich in the period 2003-2010.

In the early Noughties, Greens began winning council seats in Norwich – largely based on the votes of university students, recent graduates, and academics. Once they were elected, however, these councillors then spent their time in the council estates in their wards, supporting working class communities. In 2010, Norwich South was, after Brighton, the second Green target in the country. I spent the last two weeks before the election there.

What we found surprised us. Most people in the middle class streets which had elected our councillors in the first place shifted their vote, tactically, to the Lib Dems. People in the working-class areas, on the other hand, tended to have a different attitude. They weren’t as consumerist in their politics. They understood solidarity, and they knew that it was the Greens who had been fighting shoulder to shoulder with them against Labour’s cuts and privatisations over the last five years. In 2010, council estates of Norwich South turned out in force for the Greens. The middle-class areas, which had put our councillors there in the first place, deserted us.

The point is this. Young, middle-class Guardian/Herald reading muesli belts are the easiest places for newish left-wing parties to win votes. Working-class areas are much less flippant, and much harder to get on board. But once they do, they stick with you.

What does all of this tell us about Scotland now? First, the problem isn’t that Greens are incapable of winning working class votes – as our experience in Norwich shows. Where we have an active presence on the ground, where we talk about how our policies impact on the material circumstances of those most impoverished by the system, we are very capable of mobilising such support.

The difficulty is that, just as Green voters in Norwich were loyal once they’d made the change, working-class voters are more likely to be loyal to Labour than are the middle-class left. In the pressure of elections, political parties are always going to focus on the areas in which our job is easiest. And so Greens have spent a lot of time winning over that low hanging fruit, and honing our messages for that audience.

In post-referendum Scotland, it is absolutely clear that that political reality has changed. There are huge working-class areas who have been alienated by the Labour party, and the left needs to move fast to support people in these areas to continue to be politically active.

Any new left party would be under exactly the same pressures as the Green Party is to focus on middle class areas and win over the middle-class left, and, likewise, it is just as important for the Green Party not to fall into this trap as it is for any other party. The Scottish Green Party is a product of what happened to Scottish (and UK) radical politics over the last 30 years or so, and the future Green Party will be a product of what’s happened to it in the last two years or so. The main difference between the Greens and the SSP and any other new party is that the Greens have more infrastructure, have MSPs and councillors across the country, and at least have a chance of supporting thousands of new members.

So, I think you should all join the Scottish Green Party. But I’m pretty sure that, for perfectly good reasons, some of you won’t. And it’s important for Greens to respect that. There are genuine differences between radicals, and these shouldn’t just be swept aside. The next question, then, is how does the radical Yes movement which united pretty successfully for the two years of the referendum navigate the next two years – with both Westminster and Holyrood elections ahead. How do we find ways to express our genuine and honest differences whilst focussing our ire on the real enemies – as I wrote last year, you don’t need to be holding hands in order to avoid treading on each other’s toes.

I think the solution with regards to Westminster isn’t too hard. It would be ambitious to believe that we could win more than two MPs in Scotland, and I think we should aim to do that. Greens have chosen a target candidate and a target seat: Peter McColl in Edinburgh East. Peter is a prominent anti-cuts campaigner, rector of Edinburgh University, which sits at one end of the constituency, a community activist in Portobello at the other, and was the opening speaker at the first Radical Independence Conference. I hope most on the Scottish left would happily rally round him. Greens should be willing to give concessions to both others on the left and also the SNP in exchange for giving him a clear run against Labour MP Sheila Gilmore.

I think it’s also plausible if ambitious that one of the RIC organisers – perhaps Cat Boyd or Jonathon Shafi, though it’s not for me to say – could win a seat in Glasgow. I think we should try to find a way for Greens and the SNP to stand down to give them a clear run – in exchange for the ISG/RIC not running against us (Greens or the SNP) elsewhere. If the SSP are planning on focussing on one particular seat, I would also advocate standing down to give them a clean run in exchange for them doing the same for us in our main seats.

It seems ambitious but plausible that we set as a target for May 2015 two MPs from the radical movements which mobilised so much of the Yes vote, and also that we (those of us to the left of the SNP) hope that the SNP win more seats in Scotland than Labour so that feet can be held to the fire.

The next question is what happens in the 2016 Holyrood elections. In this case, there is more of a problem. Because there aren’t 59 Westminster seats to target, but, in practice, 8 regions. What we discovered in 2007 is that, when lots of small parties run, we all get wiped out. And it’s important that we don’t let that happen again.

I have no neat solutions to suggest here, other than to say this: it must be possible for each of the main radical forces in Scottish politics to somehow express its own identity and distinct politics, and yet not compete against each other in these elections. If we can’t do this on the back of the good will and friendships built up during the referendum, we will never be able to. We don’t have to find the answer now, but we do need to start talking.

A true democracy has no need for a silly slogan like 45%

Posted on September 23, 2014 by | 3 Comments

Let’s not romanticise this lost “Yes” with a slogan like “The 45%”. A Yes No question was always a silly way to settle social issues, it just provided a temporary opportunity much better than anything else going. Independence Yes or No, was a battle picked not by Scottish people but by two centralised neoliberal parties. Now it’s over, it would be ridiculously ironic to settle comfortably into a straightjacket we were only given because of an intra-elite barney between oil money man Salmond and Etonian thug Cameron.

Thinking tactically, these people, our rulers, have just shown us that they can beat us on this ground of their choosing. The sad truth is that we, the people, are not sovereign in the UK and we have to play canny if we want to beat our rulers. 45% wasn’t enough people persuaded when they unusually agreed to an official referendum. We shouldn’t think for a minute that those people are going to put their backs into forcing another referendum, Catalan-style. Even if we’d had 55%, we might have lost the post-Yes settlement to the rich and powerful. What good would 55% have been then?

These campaigns are a good base for change, and they shouldn’t squander themselves on bitterness about a fight they didn’t pick anyway. If we want to build a more economically and socially just society, let’s not return to the fray on their terms but choose our own.

Winning or making

The appeal of 45% is surely about the possibility of winning. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to win? The simplicity and cleanness of this tactical way-point, “Yes”, was unusual and welcome in the messy world of activism. That’s partly why it made for good campaigning material. And right now it feels like we almost won all of those many things we were campaigning for.

But a more just economy and society aren’t going to be “won”. They are not prizes. They need to be built piece by piece. Mainly from the bottom up, though some sympathetic changes from the top can help enormously. We were not 5.3% close to “winning” our goals, and clinging on to an essentially rather silly way of trying to solve society’s problems is not going to get us any closer to them.

Us and them

Thirdly, it’s just offensive to imply that 55% of voters voted No for bad reasons. For the Yes campaigns, the whole point was that we live in a country where we have very very little control over our lives and our communities. You can absolutely subscribe to that point of view, and want better, and believe we can do it – and still think it was too bloody big a risk to let the SNP and the Tories battle out our constitutional future for two years before an election. I didn’t, on balance.

Many people did. Don’t call them stupid, or dupes of the corporate media, or traitors. Especially if you want to work with them. Disturbing and dangerous is the clarity of the line with which this 45% slogan draws an us and a them. This is not a good path to go down. For starters it is playing into the hands of Cameron, who wants to whip up English resentment and chauvinism to help him see off UKIP and Labour. If we’re going to be canny we won’t play this predictable game.

Some 45%-ers want to send shivers down the spine of the establishment. Forget John Lewis, some of what is being said under the banner of 45% sends shivers of horror down mine. That some people think 1745 is good historical resonance, forgetting it was when Scottish elites and a drunken Italian gambled with ordinary Scottish people and culture and sold them into death, penance and exile when the intra-elite conflict of their day failed to come off. The boycott threats against Standard Life, John Lewis, the BBC, Sainsbury’s, the Daily Record, etc, etc, which are a total distraction from the issues and threats to social justice in Scotland and the UK right now. The Yes campaigns didn’t attract 44.7% of the vote by using aggressive tactics and bellowing, bullying language. A campaign about corporate attempts to control public opinion would be great but bawling threats over twitter is not it.

It is powerful open-heartedness that inspires devotion to the cause of social change – please, let us not loose it to bitterness. The last thing we want to do is to play this game. We need to keep our heads, keep talking about the real issues to real people, and not get drawn into this game of soldiers that only the rich will win.

A messy time

Which ever way the vote had gone, right now was always going to be a messier time, now that there isn’t a convenient point up to which so many people can be fellow travellers. There will be many who want to press on and will use any tactic to try and make us “stick together” so they can keep up the illusion of the “win”. There will also be many who need to step back, figure out what they want, what to do next.

This 45% stuff is a mostly well meant attempt to keep a movement together. But we should have the confidence that it doesn’t need to be kept together by empty sloganeering. People should be allowed the time and space to shape these movements for themselves.

Darren McGarvey says it very well when he points out that a lot of campaigns have grown very fast with one clear goal in mind, and now we need time to reflect and make sure they can be strong and democratic as campaigners before diving straight into the next thing. This means lots of voices and listening to disagreement. This is healthy. Campaigns that don’t make time for this will fail their members, and squander all their knowledge and passion. Those who can stomach a proper conversation will come out the most strong and vibrant. Collaborative discussion, doubt, messiness for a period, will be the big bold act of confidence and creativity that everyone needs right now.

“Why further powers for Scotland won’t happen” or “How Labour sleepwalked into a fatal Tory trap”

Posted on September 22, 2014 by | 11 Comments

In the end it was Mark Ballard who called it right. “With a couple of weeks to go there’ll be a poll putting Yes in front, then Cameron will come to Scotland and offer more powers” he predicted at the beginning of August. I objected: “there’s no way Cameron could offer more powers without ensuring ‘English votes on English matters’, and there was no way Labour could agree to that”. Surely Labour would have to veto this.

English Vote for English Matters is important for several reasons. Firstly, it seems unjust that Scottish MPs get to vote on matters that don’t directly affect their constituents. As former West Lothian MP, Tam Dalyell put it: “why should I be able to vote on matters that affect people in Blackburn, Lancashire, while I am unable to vote on matters that affect people in Blackburn, West Lothian.” This has had important impacts. The imposition of £3,000 a year fees for students only passed with votes from Scottish Labour MPs. Had it been an England-only vote, fees would have been defeated.

It’s also important because of the way spending is worked out for Scotland. The Barnett formula, which determines how much money the Scottish Government gets in its block grant is worked out on the basis of spending in England. So if Scottish MPs are barred from voting on English matters, they have no say on the funding coming to Scotland. Which would also be unfair. I can’t think of a single bill passed at Westminster since 2010 that wouldn’t have changed the block grant for Scotland.

Since the Conservatives lost more than half their 21 Scottish Westminster seats in 1987, Conservatives have lost any electoral stake in Scotland. They’ve largely given up on winning significant numbers of Westminster seats. This has become even more marked since the 1997 Conservative wipeout. At the 2001, 2005 and 2010 elections Conservatives won a single seat each time. Meanwhile Labour won 41 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies in 2010, taking them close to the Conservative total. This means they can play with a free hand against Scotland. It has lead to a stoking of tensions about senior Labour ministers from Scotland and the vagaries of the Barnett formula.

The stoking of tensions around Scotland’s deal in the Union creates a huge opportunity for the Conservatives: they can portray Labour as the party of Scotland. Because Labour has made such a play of how important it was to ensure that Scotland vote ‘no’ and to do so acting in ‘solidarity’ with anti-Conservative voters in England, this argument has considerable resonance. Labour relies on Scotland not for majorities, but for working majorities. Scotland is vital for a strong Labour government like those lead by Tony Blair.

I was astonished that, when the 51:49 poll came along, Labour were so blinded by the panic over losing Scotland, they didn’t ensure that English votes on English matters was off the table. Ed Miliband joined with David Cameron to make a ‘vow’ to ensure more powers for the Scottish Parliament. It swung the vote back to a ‘no’. But, as we are now discovering, it was a Conservative trap.

And a trap out of which Labour will find it difficult to get. That’s because the Conservatives have no interest in allowing more powers for Scotland: they have no votes to lose. But they can make huge gains in England by attacking Labour’s desire to hold on to the votes of their Scottish MPs on English matters. Door-to-door Labour will be presented across England as a party of Scotland, not one for English people. So Labour will have to sacrifice either the votes of their Scottish MPs or Labour will have to sacrifice their ‘vow’ on more powers for Scotland. That’s why Cameron’s first demand on Friday morning was English votes on English matters.

Either way Labour loses. Reneging on their ‘vow’ will make the seats of their Scottish MPs very difficult to hold. Allowing English votes on English matters will prevent Labour from governing on a whole range of reserved issues, even if they achieve a UK-wide majority. Labour may even have to concede a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs and a ban on Scottish Ministers serving outside departments where the Scottish Parliament has no power. So much for solidarity.

There is no reason whatsoever for Cameron to honour the ‘vow’. By not doing so he makes Labour’s position untenable. Either untenable in England because they are still insisting on more powers for Scotland while Scottish MPs continue to vote on English matters. Or it will be untenable in Scotland because Labour failed to deliver more powers in exchange for Scotland voting ‘No’. He will be entirely unconcerned by SNP or others taking Labour seats in Scotland. And with a stick to beat Labour with on the doorstep in England, Cameron will fancy his chances of winning the 2015 election.

Devo-Max was a perfect example of rotten Westminster politics

Posted on September 20, 2014 by | 12 Comments

The referendum is over, and the no’s have won. With Cameron and Miliband trying to decide exactly what the no’s have won, now is a good time to very briefly take stock and think a little about what has happened over the last few weeks since that poll that put Yes in front, before ploughing on and trying to make the most out of any constitutional crisis.

This was a campaign of multiple dichotomies – not just between independence and the union but between idealists and pragmatists, between interventionism and internationalism, between different identities, between two radically different concepts of nationalism. But I think very significantly there was also a dichotomy between two very distinct styles of political activity.

The yes side, particularly the left wing of the yes side, was characterised by a highly participative style of politics. There were public meetings every night up and down the country where members of the public weren’t just spoken at, but where they instead actively took part. Radical Independence held two enormous conferences bringing together thousands of activists who otherwise would have never sat in the same room, and groups were invited to run workshops and capture discussion. RIC in Edinburgh held fortnightly planning meetings so everyone could decide on the future of the campaign. Yes stalls and events across the country were characterised by ‘wish trees’ – washing lines that the public adorned with their hopes for how an independent Scotland could be different. Yes voters were transformed relatively easily into yes campaigners through their signing of the declaration, and that shows! Yes campaigners far outnumbered no campaigners at every turn. Yes Scotland itself was run in an incredibly decentralised way – local campaigns were organised locally with material support from the centre. And that’s not even to mention the hundreds of autonomously organised campaign groups from National Collective through to English Scots for Yes and People With Third Nipples For Yes (probably). Ordinary people drove the campaign, and ordinary people drove the narrative of the campaign. If Alex Salmond had for some reason wanted to stop the campaign, he couldn’t have done it.

A wish tree. Photo from http://nationalcollective.com/2013/06/03/project-wish-tree/

Although it may not have been conscious, this was a reaction to Westminster politics. The no campaign was run not at all unlike a parliamentary election campaign. It was driven and controlled largely from the centre and as a result there was a much reduced number of campaigners out on the streets. I got 5 leaflets through my door from the no campaign during the past 2 years, and three of them were from mailshots. At my flat we got 3 yes canvassers and none from no. Better Together were hiring people to do tasks which volunteers were queueing up to do for Yes Scotland. The no campaign consisted largely of orchestrated media set pieces. Week after week, news stories were put into a friendly media, and a lot of them were simply announcements by ministers, or by businesses closely linked to the Westminster establishment. This was a technocratic campaign largely conducted from the top, using connections in the media to get a polished message out. It was run in exactly the same way politics is run in Westminster.

It wasn’t always this way. Political parties used to create the demographics which voted for them, they convinced people that they were right, they politicised people, they were the parliamentary representation of political movements, connected to real people. But the last time a political party did any of these things effectively at Westminster was probably when Thatcher brought in Right to Buy and created a generation of people whose material interests were tied up with hers. Now people are treated like diners at a terrible buffet, forced to choose between options they don’t like which barely differ from one another, and with little opportunity to make anything new themselves. It’s exactly this alienation that Jimmy Reid spoke of in his famous rectorial address, an alienation which led to the referendum in the first place.

Devo-max was the ultimate example of translating the failed Westminster model of politics onto Scotland. Facing a choice between the option of staying within the union or becoming independent, the three unionist parties examined the polls and all dove into the middle ground, they all triangulated. (The SNP did it too, leading to three of what I consider the major weaknesses of the Yes Campaign’s strategy – their proposal to keep the monarchy and the pound, and to maintain their membership of NATO.) Devo-Max was a particularly half-arsed proposal, vaguely defined, poorly thought through, proposed in a way which meant no one could scrutinise it and, as we’ve seen since the result of the referendum, not even agreed upon by the leaders of the major parties, never mind their MP’s. Even its name is terrible, a new-fangled hyphenated contraction where ‘Home Rule’ would have done just fine. No doubt it was concocted in a focus group.

Treating the electorate in this way, like consumers rather than participants, is the model of politics which brought about UKIP, the Alternative Vote referendum and Labour’s proposal for £6k fees. Now it’s forced the Westminster parties to promise something they can’t deliver, and once again alienate a huge proportion of people in Scotland.

Some thoughts on the independence referendum

Posted on September 19, 2014 by | 5 Comments

With due apologies for the click bait style of this post, being awake for too much of the past 2 days makes coherent blogging difficult!

1. The results sure that it’s material concerns that influenced how people vote. Older and wealthier people voted no in the largest numbers. They suffer least from austerity and the rolling back of the state. Meanwhile 16 and 17 year olds and people in poorer areas voted overwhelmingly for independence.

2. Further powers is a difficult thing to deliver for the UK government. Already the First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland are demanding a part of the changes. This makes it much more difficult to manage expectations that the powers Scotland might get will be a good thing.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones is especially keen to see Scotland’s funding decreased. It’s unclear how Westminster will manage this process, and it seems like the ‘timetable’ is slipping already. The complexity makes it very difficult to see a resolution any time soon, and given that it will take 9 years from inception to enactment to devolve power over stamp duty, landfill tax and air guns the chances of this process getting bogged down are very high.

3. I’m still unsure how the Westminster parties square the circle of more tax raising powers for Scotland with their claims that they won’t end the Barnett formula, which is based on spending in the rest of the UK. Either you have a block grant based on spending or you raise your own taxes. Unless substantial borrowing powers are also devolved (which no one has proposed and is very unlikely) this settlement will result in a great deal of instability in government income in Scotland. Which may be aim of the Westminster parties keen to make Holyrood make difficult decisions. But it may also blow a hole in any settlement at the next recession as tax incomes and private spending drop and borrowing is required to make up the shortfall through counter cyclical spending.

4. A price must be paid for Holyrood’s temerity in challenging Westminster. We shot at the King and we missed. It’s likely to be the poor and possibly the old that bear the brunt of this. There is no way that the Westminster parties will forgive the Scottish people for making them crawl with the offer of more powers. This price will come in the form of cuts to benefits for older people (currently untouched by austerity) and more cuts to social security for the working poor and those out of work. With huge tranches of austerity still to come there will have to be cuts in different areas of public expenditure. Sadly this could have been avoided with independence, but it wasn’t to be.

5. It’s almost certain that the ‘solidarity’ argument will be destroyed by Conservatives curtailing the right of Scottish MPs to vote on ‘English matters’. Many arguments against independence focused on keeping Westminster MPs to ‘save the north of England’. But the Conservatives have a very obvious way to circumvent this. By defining what is an ‘English issue’ very broadly, Scottish MPs will be reduced to voting on finance bills and little else. That really would build in a permanent Conservative majority at Westminster. Especially if the number of Scottish MPs is reduced in light of their reduced role. 

This will be so popular with an English electorate that already feels disenfranchised and occasionally vengeful towards Scotland that Labour will find it very difficult to oppose.

6. It shows movement politics can work. In contrast with point 1, it seems that the opportunity to create a new politics motivated people like no other issue. The ability of the Radical Independence Campaign, Common Weal, National Collective and Green Yes to create mass engagement was unprecedented. It shows that we need to work hard on our vision of a new politics to engage people.

And that engagement needs to start now. 

Where some thought we were sovereign between 7am and 10pm on the 18th September, we’ve been sovereign for over 2 years. We need to keep that sovereignty alive though our mass movement. The struggle continues: our day will come.

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