Monday, 27 April 2015

Entering The Final Lap



Normally at this point in the election campaign there is an inkling that things are either won or lost.  That things are close to being decided.  Like five years ago however, things are not quite decided and that final decisive movement is still to come.

Of course, at this point five years ago Brown’s meltdown in Rochdale that essentially cost him the election was still to happen.  Even so Cameron’s poll ratings were not as far ahead as they wound up being come polling day.  This time there’s just no movement whatsoever. 

Both Labour and the Conservatives are showing as deadlocked on 33% each on the UKPR polling average.  While there is no lead for Labour, the swing hinted at of 3.5% from the Conservatives to Labour would suggest Labour gaining 42 seats from the Conservatives.  This swing would also point to 6 gains for Labour at the expense of the Lib Dems.  Normally this would point to Labour being very firmly in largest party territory and falling just short of an overall majority.  That scenario does rather ignore the bloodbath about to engulf “Scottish” Labour.

I had written about the task facing the ‘45ers’ last autumn just before polling showed a huge shift in voting intention from Labour to the SNP.  Currently the SNP are averaging polling leads roughly in the mid 20’s.  Extrapulated into swing, this is showing a swing from Labour to the SNP of about 22%.  Enough to leave Labour with only 5 seats.  Gone would be Cathy Jamieson, Margaret Curran, Anas Sarwar, Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy.  It’s the potential for the loss of Alexander, and the adoption by the SNP of Mhari Black – who would be the youngest MP to enter Parliament since the 1920’s - as their candidate, that seems to have captured the imagination of the London and international media as we have seen the likes of Michael Crick (Channel 4) Alegra Stratton (Newsnight) Ewan McAskill (the Guardian) and Helen Lewis (of The New Statesman) ventured towards the home town of this blog.  Paisley has never been such an epicenter of political campaigning since...  well the by-election in November 1997 when the SNP's Iain Blackford lost to one Douglas Alexander.

The potential fall of Alexander and election of Black seems to be the fortunes of both parties as microcosm.  Alexander the arch New Labour backroom player who’s own Blairite views have fallen from favour not just in the country but in his own party versus Black who made a name as a ‘Yes’ supporter & campaigner.  If the new political landscape in Scotland threatens Labour in their attempt to win a week on Thursday, well who’s fault is that then that “Scottish” Labour failed to adapt to the new realities.

It’s not just ‘Scottish’ Labour who has failed to adapt.  The Conservatives and the Lib Dems seem intent in making the SNP look like the barbarians at the gate, intent on spending money that would leave us worse off than we are now.  If anything, and as I pointed out when discussing Salmond’s legacy as First Minister, the SNP have been a conservative steady hand on the Scottish Government tiller.  Not the radical reforming force that we maybe need – and was hinted at in 2007 with the willingness to look at Local Government financing before LIT was dropped.  But that’s an argument for 2016.

In the meantime the rise of the SNP has seen them essentially treated as lepers by the Westminster Three.  More than their adoption of Keynesian economics, the thing Westminster has been agitating against is the potential for a second Independence Referendum.  I think that the SNP’s response to questions on a second referendum should be to ask the Westminster Three if they condemn the tactics of the Conservative Party and their cheerleaders in the English media in making Scottish people feel like foreigners in our own country.

As we enter the final full week of campaigning, we are still to see the defining moment.  Cameron is still hanging on in there despite his campaign being seen as at best lacklustre with a couple of disastrous moments in particular – his interview with Paxman and his Q&A on Radio 1.  Miliband is having a better campaign than Cameron, but is still not performing as well as the SNP.  If Milliband does fail to make it to Number 10 purely because of Labour supporters switching to the SNP, I wonder if there will be consequences for ‘Scottish’ Labour who have failed to adapt to the post referendum landscape.  While that particular fallout is still to be played out, there’s just one actor waiting to be cast.  Who is this election’s Gillian Duffy?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Why, Thank You Chuka Umuna



Since the weekend, I seem to have been involved in some sort of raging argument with Paisley’s top comedy character cum Councillor, Terry Kelly.  I say comedy, I mean deeply patronising, rude and all round awful human being.  Oh, and Limmy is funnier…  and that’s really saying something.

So when challenging Mr Kelly on “Scottish” Labour’s…  er…  what do you call those things that aren’t policies…  oh, that's right, positioning (and to be fair his love of faith schools which I may previously have expressed an opinion of, being a strident atheist), Kelly came away with the following pearls of wisdom. 

We want to put the minimum and living wages up as much as possible to carry through the campaign we started to bring the standard of living of the poorer sections of society up. The Labour Party have never been in favour of Tory austerity measures or Osborne's scorched earth policy, no matter how often you pedal that particular lie it is not true. There are problems in the NHS we have never said otherwise we would expect nothing else after 8 years of SNP government, 5 of those under the stewardship of the spectacularly incompetent Nicola Sturgeon. “split schooling”?.You mean Catholic schooling don’t you? In keeping with the SNP’s history of anti Irish racism and anti Catholic sectarian bigotry, you people are a blight on Scotland.

Granted, outing myself as not being a fan of faith schools probably tipped Kelly over the edge, though I’d love to see Kelly accuse the British Humanist Association or the Scottish Humanist Society of bigotry.  It was also news, even to me, that I was a member of the SNP, but I suppose Kelly’s never seen my policy disagreements with the SNP – even the ones that made the Paisley Daily Express.  Kelly’s wee tantrum though unearthed an interesting nugget, that Kelly really doesn’t know where his party stands anymore.  Jim Murphy probably knows how he feels after Monday’s events.

If Milliband & Balls didn’t do enough to point out where they stood with trying to gain the badge of economic competence, then Chukka Umuna’s metaphorical sawing off of Jim Murphy’s legs  - “The leader of the Scottish Labour party will not be in charge of the UK budget. The leader of the country, the next Prime Minister, Ed Milliband, will be in charge of the UK budget.” - put us in no doubt where we stand with debt & deficit reduction.  Where the doubt comes in is the fate of “Scottish” Labour.

It is now looking more and more likely that “Scottish” Labour will be suffering a sort of mass extinction event in three weeks – one that surpasses the Conservatives losing half of their seats in 1987 (only to lose the other half 10 years later).  One must be wondering what the thought processes are in London about a part of their party that five years ago delivered their highest amount of votes in an election since 1997.  There must be serious ramifications in the pipeline for a part of a party whose conduct could be seen as a mirror image of Militant Liverpool.   

I wonder as well if those ramifications could lead to “Scottish” Labour adopting (or being forced to adopt) the “Murdo Fraser” plan of splitting but remaining under the umbrella of the main Labour Party – an arms length separate party.  It would give “Scottish” Labour the freedom to set it’s own policies.  On the downside, I’m not entirely sure whether “Scottish” Labour are as full as talent as they were 30 odd years ago.  As I’ve pointed out previously when commenting on their respective chances of leadership – Marra and Dugdale might be the bright young things of “Scottish” Labour but they are only in their first term as sitting MSP’s.

That’s the long term ramifications, the short term ramifications involve “Scottish” Labour’s current leader, Jim Murphy.  One theory went that Murphy’s current position was only a stepping stone to becoming leader if Milliband lost the election – his candidacy for the East Renfrewshire seat maybe adds fuel to this rumour. Umuna’s kneecapping of Murphy could be seen as manoeuvring either as the man who did his own chances of being Millibands successor no harm or as someone who made it easier for someone else (Cooper?  Burnham? Reeves?) to succeed a defeated Milliband by putting Murphy out of the race.

Of course, those scenarios do assume that Milliband will emerge defeated from this election.  What is unfolding before our eyes is that Milliband is having a much better election than we thought.  He had the better of the Paxman interviews.   He bested Cameron & Clegg in the seven way debate and there is a sense, but no tangible polling evidence, that he has some momentum.  Having only seen the STV debate and the Sunday Politics stramash, Murphy looks like he only has one card to play even if it is a deeply flawed card.  Unquestionably Milliband is having a much better election than Murphy, underlined by Murphy going distinctively off message during that Sunday Politics debate.

The editor of Better Nation, James MacKenzie asked if the Labour Shadow cabinet hate Murphy so much that they’d hang him out to dry.  I’d suspect that the more Blairite members of Milliband’s cabinet maybe think Murphy has gone native up here and saw the ideal opportunity to dispose of a potential future leadership rival (He had claimed that the proceeds of the proposed Mansion Tax would be spent here - not just the Barnet consequentials).  Before the repercussions kick in, we have the election and if Scottish votes do deprive Milliband of an outright majority, the only people to blame are those within the Labour party and it’s still Scottish branch office.

Monday, 13 April 2015

FFA FFS...



You know, it’s taken a while for the big three Westminster parties to find some sort of Kryptonite for the SNP, but like a dog with a bone they’re not letting go.  Except that particular bone is nothing of the sort.

The Kryptonite in particular revolves around the proposals for Full Fiscal Autonomy, pro Independence supporter’s nominated consolation prize and if I’m being honest something I would have voted for over full Independence – had Cameron not torpedoed the two question referendum. 

Fiscal Autonomy essentially involves the devolution of all tax raising powers to Holyrood.  It would be the next logical step for Scotland in terms of both further devolution and also as well in solving Scottish issues with Scottish solutions.  It would also, I would assume given the position of the Scottish electorate & our parties, consolidate the move away of Scottish politics from the obsession with the Anglo-American economic model and cement the move towards the Scandinavian economic model and hopefully help towards Scandinavian levels of quality of life.  No bad thing.  So what’s the problem.

Well, the recent release of last years GERS figures has got the… do we still call them pro-Unionist…  Westminster Three up in arms as they show that there would be a deficit in the public finances. This current financial year, the deficit is estimated to be £7.6 billion with it projected to go up to £8 billion.  Such Mystic Meggery should not really be a concern to the SNP for two reasons.

Firstly, and more obviously, we do not have Fiscal Autonomy as we stand at the moment.  And there is currently no plan for it to happen.  That calculus may change come the aftermath of the election, but in the meantime such political whataboutery should really be dismissed without looking disdainful.  Well…. except that Sturgeon looks somewhat trapped back on her crease (to use cricketing terminology) whenever Murphy brings it up.  Instead, Sturgeon should probably ask Murphy what would be in Labour’s 2018 budget…  or something like that to show up the sheer stupidity of trying to second guess a fiscal decision that is unlikely to happen for another four years if at all.

The second reason is that those figures are predicated on the assumption that the fiscal levers will remain as they are at the moment.  They will not as the Tories have pledged to cut taxes while Labour are campaigning on a tax raising ticket – the SNP have already said that they agree with Labour’s 50% rate though there’s nothing on the 10% starter rate or the scrapping of the rules regarding Non Domicile residents (or Non-Doms).

As I’ve said this shouldn’t really trouble the SNP or the FM, but in the television appearances that I’ve seen Sturgeon has been in a modicum of trouble over FFA.  Today on Sunday Politics Scotland she didn’t look as surefooted until the subject moved away from Fiscal Autonomy – though being barracked by the three other party leaders would make anyone less than surefooted.

This is entirely about being seen to be the Anti-Austerity party in the eyes of the Scottish electorate.  Labour cannot be seen as that, given Balls has already signed up to Osborne’s scorched earth.  Their aim is then to paint the SNP as being less than truthful about their aims.  The problem with that is that Sturgeon has developed a genuinely Keynsian roadmap away from austerity with the below inflation spending increases – something Labour would have done pre-Blair. So once again Sturgeon has an answer to those Labour attacks.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Yet Another ITV Gameshow...



So five years on from their experimental game show “Who Want’s To be Prime Minister”, ITV showed the follow up & expanded the format.  Tonight’s contestants were Dave from Whitney, Edward from Northampton, Nick from Sheffield, Nicola from Irvine, Leanne from the Rhondda and Natalie from Australia.

Yip it’s ITV, so it had that cheesy gameshow vibe from five years ago.  And it had Julie Etchingham rocking a homage to Anne Robinson style look.

The winner though was Nicola from Irvine.  Now, we’ve known Sturgeon for years, I remember her from being a regular on STV’s Trial By Night in the mid 90’s (with Bernard Ponsonby, the best interviewer the BBC never had) when she was the SNP candidate up against Mohammed Sarwar.  And after her demolition job on Michael Moore, his successor as Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and the Deputy Leader of “Scottish Labour” Anas Sarwar, during last years referendum we knew exactly what she was capable of.  Except I’m not sure that she was as dominant as she was then.

With six other participants, there wasn’t the space for Sturgeon to dominate as she has done.  However there are two other points that came out of the debate that was apparent to me.  First was that I think Sturgeon has now supplanted Salmond in the minds of English viewers (and the Anglocentric Media) and announced herself to those people as the SNP leader.  And secondly, I think she is very obviously the Alpha leader among the “progressive” alliance group of parties.  Both Wood & Bennett were clearly a level below Stugreon (not surprising as Bennett has never been involved in a debate like this & I would suspect that Wood is nowhere near as experienced in these type of debates as Sturgeon either), but did contribute to the debate and made a very positive impact.  It was Plaid Cymru’s Wood that tackled Farage over his HIV comments.  Surprisingly (and possibly correctly), Bennett attacked Sturgeon for arguing for immigration in purely numbers and economic terms.  Having said that, neither Wood or Bennett had the utter shocker that Farage had.

He had had one of his crazy moments earlier in the debate when he started shouting over Wood, and had a moment where we shouted for everybody to calm down.  What has made his comments about migrants with HIV is his continued defence of them.  It might be a worthy idea economically, but shows a black… black hearted lack of humanity at the heart of UKIP.  I think it was Sturgeon that wondered if there was anything Farage wouldn’t blame of forigners, whoever it was they were spot on.

Of the three main party leaders, Cameron didn’t have the best debate but will be happy that it was nowhere near as bad as the Paxman interview last week.  He kind of looked like an actor playing an old Etonian Prime Minister, patriarchal bordering on the patronising  - some of his looks towards Sturgeon were akin to him saying ‘go away and play with your toys, this is big boys stuff’.  Essentially he survived the debate.

Clegg didn’t repise his role from five years ago, essentially because Sturgeon had already bagsied that role.  His position in government came constantly under fire from the ‘Progressives’, he did manage to land a blow on Cameron at the start over blocking one of the Tories plans & did land a serious blow on Miliband on their failure to accept responsibility for the recession.

Milliband had the best debate of the three main leaders, however he did not land a killer blow on Cameron.  His arguments were fluid, clear and concise.  He came across well…  but could not land a blow on Cameron.  There were times where I thought that Milliband should have looked at how Harold Wilson make jokes and seeded the image of another old Etonian Prime Minister, Alec Douglas Hume, and adopted those tactics against Cameron.  Yet, while Milliband had a good debate, he wasn’t as good as Sturgeon.  As a result, his Scottish…  er… branch office will have done badly.  It could be that Milliband wasn’t briefed on how to tackle Sturgeon.  An alternative view would be that Milliband doesn’t rate his Scottish colleagues and is embarrassed either by their rightwing positions on certain policies or their conduct.  If he was, he’d be right.

Returning to Sturgeon, what marked her out from Salmond was that her performance was grounded – there was no showboating.  Oh and I wonder if Salmond, the old oil economist and pal of the bankers, would have been as enthusiastic a Keynsian as Sturgeon was.  Six months as SNP Leader and First Minister of Scotland, I think we can now say that Sturgeon has arrived.