Monday, 21 October 2013

Why Salmond Is Right... And Why He's Wrong.

The weekend saw the end of the SNP’s autumn conference, their last before the Independence referendum next September.  That the referendum is at the forefront shouldn’t be so surprising, what was surprising is the apparent left turn taken by the SNP leadership.

Promises for central government to subsidise the green levy for household bills sort of falls into the same “something must be done” territory that Labour have gone into with their fuel price freeze, while a promise to renationalise Royal Mail seems to be supported by everyone.  Apart that is from members of the main Westminster parties.

The more you look at things though, this isn’t so much a left turn by the SNP but a re-stating of Scottish values set against the Westminster parties own UKIP influenced right turn.  You could also argue that this underline’s Lamont’s wretched strategic planning by ensuring that there will be no left turn for “Scottish” Labour any time soon.  However, while all this manoeuvring is interesting in terms of 2016, it will not have a bearing on the Independence debate by itself.

In Salmond’s speech, he claimed that the referendum is still wide open & that Independence can still be won.  He is both right and wrong.  He is right because there are still a large number of undecided’s and soft “no” voters that can be won over.  This is why the SNP have looked to have taken a left turn and why the SNP have given serious consideration to the proposals put forward by the Jimmy Reid Foundation under the name of The Common Weal.

Yet, there is still the sense that Scotland will vote to reject Independence next year.  Scotland is just not ready to vote for Independence, the default position for many Scot's is still pro-Union.  A much bigger reason though will be the performance of the SNP hierarchy themselves in the campaign thus far.  The triumvirate of Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney must have had a hand in the decisions that have put the “Yes” camp behind the 8-ball.  All of which make’s Kate “The Burd” Higgins claim that more involvement in “Yes Scotland” by the SNP is a good thing somewhat baffling.

Sturgeon’s insistence that Scotland will remain in the EU was the first sign after that launch that made people think that the “Yes” camp maybe hadn’t put the prep in, or as much prep as they needed.  This is continually compounded by Sturgeon’s (and for that matter, most pro-Independence supporters) insistence that Eurosceptisism is a purely English mindset.  There are no Eurosceptic’s here in Scotland.

A much bigger mistake though has come from Swinney’s policy that I-Scotland would seek to enter a currency union with the rest of the UK.  This policy has enabled the chairman of Better Together, Alistair Darling, to make hay pointing out that this sort of fiscal union clearly works with the Euro.  While the unpopularity of the Euro has clearly had an influence on Swinney’s formulation of this policy, there is a much more common sense approach that has been ignored.  I-Scotland’s new currency should be the currency we have just now.  Our currency is the Scottish Pound, which is tacked to the Pound Sterling.

You could also apply this common sense to the other serious policy issue.  The common sense approach should have been that it is an aspiration for I-Scotland to join the EU, but we will only join if our people want to.  That would have avoided Sturgeon’s show of petulant  inexperience and also we would not have the Winton Paradox, which the SNP still not answered. The Planet Politics blogger Stuart Winton asked the question “Why is it OK for us to leave a small union only for us to join a larger union where we would have less democracy?”  The problem for the SNP here is that there is very little room for that well known political manoeuvre, the reverse ferret. The damage has been done & there’s still no sign of the SNP winning the economic argument (as previously mentioned a key battleground).  It’s for this reason that I think that Salmond is wrong in thinking that the referendum is still winnable from the point of view of the “Yes” camp.

That’s not to say that the result is a foregone conclusion, there are signs of complacency creeping into the Better Together camp, while the climate at Westminster seems to provide conditions that contradicts Better Together’s key arguments.  However in the aftermath of their autumn conference, the SNP are in the curious position of being in good shape for Hollyrood 2016 while relying on snooker’s to pull them back into the referendum campaign.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Red Ed?

One of the strangest by products of conference season has been the claim that Ed Milliband is now proposing to bring Socialism back into British public life.  This claim says more about those making the claim than it does about a leader taking his party 5 millimetres to the left of New Labour.

The claim is based on two policy announcements made during Milliband’s speech.  The announcement of a freeze in energy prices for the first 18 months of the next parliament should Labour win and the taking back of land from owners who do not develop the site after a set period of ownership.  Both policies are claimed to be a return to socialism.  Both policies are not even remotely a return to, as the press have been saying, the dreaded ‘70’s.

With the freeze in energy prices, this is to enable the incoming government to restructure the energy market.  There has been unproven claims of a cartel between the energy companies for years now, this restructuring is designed to shake up this market.  Yet polling evidence suggests that the British public would like to see the political parties go further to help consumers. The big problem with Milliband’s policy is that this policy is likely to be unworkable thanks to green subsidies.  Miliband’s other policy was originally proposed by that well known leftie, Boris Johnson.

Yet if you looked at the press in this country, they have reacted in horror to Milliband’s proposals – dubbing Milliband’s proposals a return to ‘70’s style socialism.  Yet not a word has been raised regarding the Energy companies bullying tones regarding the lights going out or the popularity of this proposal.  Of course, most of the anglocentric print media seems to support Cameron’s Conservatives.  The rubbishing of Milliband’s policies clearly falls into this narrative.  While it’s one thing for the press to be aghast at the return of what they see as socialism and for Cameron to fall into this trap, it’s another for one of the Anglocentric print media to…   ah…  play the man and not the ball.

The Daily Mail’s opinion piece on Milliband’s father – with the strap line “The Man Who Hated Britain” – was an utterly low blow and showed the desperation of the Mail.  Even more despicable was the defence put up by journalists working for the Mail.  Their editor Paul “double see you next Tuesday” Dacre justified it with Milliband’s constant referencing of his father in his speeches.  Except that, as I have said, Milliband’s speech wasn’t particularly socialist which kind of torpedo’s the Mail’s argument straight away.

The interesting thing though is that the whole “Red Ed” tag has been really shown up with the current referendum debate.  The CommonWeal proposals caught the attention of the “Yes” campaigners.  The proposals – with the aim of bringing in Nordic quality of life to Scotland – are infinitely more left wing that anything circulating around the British Labour party.  Yet it’s only in the last couple of weeks that “Scottish” Labour has thought of looking at the Common Weal proposals.  In the meantime, the main UK Labour party runs away from any policies that could be construed as being socialist.  Red Ed?  More like Pink Ed to me.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Some Thoughts on Conference Season 2013

With the conference season now at a close for the main UK parties (The SNP’s autumn conference takes place in two weeks) there have been a few things that have emerged that are worthy of comment.

1) The Scottish Independence Referendum is the great“Move Along… there’s nothing to see” Moment of our times.

It is now apparent that while the media here in Scotland is full of stories about and pieces discussing the Independence referendum, this story hasn’t quite taken hold in the rest of the UK.  Nick Clegg’s main set piece speech was even scheduled (and overshadowed here) on the one year to polling date.

It’s the other two leaders though that has shown their distain for the whole process.  Milliband’s speech included a section where he equated Independence to the break up of the NHS.  Had he even bothered to dip into the campaign, he would have know that one of the key arguments employed by Yes Scotland is that Independence would protect the Scottish health services from the sort of creeping privatisation that has gone on within the English part of the NHS since, well pretty much Thatcher.  As we will see, Miliband’s incursion north was the only black mark in what looks very much like a key speech on the road to May 2015.

Cameron’s speech set out the argument for a no vote thus.  We want you to stay… er…  that’s really it.  Last year I bemoaned the cursory mention for the debate raging across Scotland., this year it seems as if the Westminster parties have failed to grasp that the debate has moved on.  The debate now encompasses how to get the public services and safety nets we need, which is a difficult debate to have when the Westminster parties all supported the Spare Room Subsidy & privatisation of the Royal Mail.

It is this intransigence that really should be hurting the No camp, while Cameron’s attitude to a proposed debate with Alex Salmond is frankly baffling and reminiscent of a defender who has just hacked down a skilful forward holding his hands up to say “nothing to do with me…”.  The headline debate should be between the elected head of the UK government and the elected head of the Scottish government.

2) The Orange-Bookers have regained the upper hand in the Lib Dems, to the detriment of their poll ratings

The first of the main conferences was the Lib Dem conference just up the road in Glasgow.  Nick Clegg will be very pleased about how the conference went from a personal point of view.  He looks to be now firmly in control of his party, the only note of dissent came in a vote over the notorious “Bedroom Tax”. Meanwhile the darling of the Social Liberal wing “St” Vince Cable had a disasterous conference – all encapsulated with his initial refusal to take part in a debate on the economy before deciding to take part.

The paradox in all of this is that while Clegg looks more secure in his position, the more the Lib Dems look more ignorant of the disaster that is on its way in May 2015.  While their strategy seems to be vote for us & we’ll curb the excesses of the Tories & Labour, they now have a record to defend.  It rather unfortunately is a record of being the personal doormat of the Tories.

3) “Action Man” Milliband’s Speech has put Labour back in the Election Race

While I still think that the Tories will win in 2015 (if anything, they look as if they could be the beneficiaries of a Lib Dem collapse – more than Labour), Miliband’s party has now put forward policies.  However it’s the policy to reform the energy market – with a freeze in the price of energy while these reforms are constructed – that has caught the zeitgeist.

This policy is the centrepiece of what looks to be the Labour’s campaign for the next Westminster election  - a campaign attacking the parlous drop in living standards since the last election.  There are votes to be had in this argument.

Yet, Labour still have to recover from waiting for 6 months before committing to scrapping the bedroom tax while I’m sure there is capital from Labour’s refusal to torpedo the privatisation of the Royal Mail. 

4) The Nasty Party Is Back

Last year, I posted that the Tories had taken a right turn, influenced by the rise of UKIP.  Well this year, that lurch to the right has become further entrenched with the announcement of the proposed removal of the right to benefits for under 25’s.  Coupled with the attacks on the poor & low paid, this conference saw the Tories return to their nasty party roots.

All of this should, in theory, completely undermine their pisspoor pleas for Scotland to stay in the Union.  After all what incentive is there for people to stay in a country where they and not those who caused the credit crunch/recession are blamed.  What it does say is that the Tories are spooked.  To the right, UKIP are gathering votes apace from disaffected tories while Miliband’s fuel cap policy seems to have put a bit more solidity into their poll lead. With the news that serial rent-a-quote MP Adam Afriyie wants to try and force an early EU referendum – taking place next year – there are signs that the Tories are not in the good shape that their conference suggests.