Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Slow Slow Death Of Scotish Labour

Act in haste, repent at leisure” – proverb

Why, It's The Man Who Saved The Union
If I’m honest, one of the reasons I voted the way I did on Thursday was the speeches given by Gordon Brown in the final 10 days re-iterating the promise of more powers for Holyrood.  With all the, on the face of it, impressive talk of timetables and motions and the liberal sprinkling of touchstone Scottish dates…  I wasn’t alone here in thinking that this was Grade A horseshit from Brown was I?

Well apparently I was, because enough people bought it for to keep their vote firmly in the “no” camp.  Those people will, I suspect, be looking out the receipts for their votes as I type this.  Even more so in the coming months if Cameron’s speech at just after 7am on Friday morning (below) is anything to go by.  Essentially Cameron tied the whole devolution question to the Tories own bugbear – English votes for English People.  It is of course designed to trap Labour, but watching them during the referendum debates willfully walking into bear traps has become something of a forte for Labour politicians and Scottish Labour in particular.

All through 2013 when the Spare Room subsidy was brought in, representatives of the Better Together campaign who were Labour politicians for their day jobs were with stunning regularity ambushed on Scottish current affairs shows by supporters of Independence.  Labour, you see, had no position on the Bedroom Tax so when they were attacked for being in favour of the Bedroom Tax, they couldn’t respond without couching their responses in the terms of being their personal opinion.  Of course when Miliband removed the member of the shadow cabinet who thought there was no economic case to scrapping the bedroom tax (Liam Byrne), he could then change his policy.  By which time the damage had been done and Labour were shown up as being too obsessed about pandering to the swing seats than be genuinely interested in a key supporter group of theirs.

That’s Scottish Labour’s problem in a nutshell.  Since they ousted Wendy Alexander as leader…  no scratch that, since Henry McLeish’s ousting as the leader of Scottish Labour group on the Mound, Scottish Labour have been more focused on the concerns of “Middle Scotland” and not rocking the boat with their Westminster colleagues and have abandoned their raison d’ĂȘtre.  What will have shocked so many people – about 35% of Labour voters if Michael Ashcroft’s polling is correct about those that voted for Independence – is the comfort that Labour politicians felt in spouting Conservative attack lines.

“Too wee, too poor” is the SNP characterization of Scottish Labour’s rebuttal of Independence – something Better Together distanced themselves from which in itself was a tacit confession that the slogan was untruthful.  What was interesting about the whole “Project Fear” episode was that, save for a few tweaks here an there, most of it will be re-run next year by Cameron & the Conservatives trying to repel Milliband from power.  Indeed one wonders what Ian Murray’s thoughts will be if the power companies come out and describe Milliband as some sort of mad Stalinist for having the temerity to stick his oar into the power market – given he thought that companies who advised employees to vote against Independence were indulging in their democratic duty to flag up their concerns.

Cameron, about to put a large spanner in The Brown Plan
Sorry to disappoint Mr Murray and the rest of the “Scottish” Labour mafia, but if that happens I’ll just be laughing at hapless ineptitude and inability to see it a coming around the mountain.

What the Independence referendum showed was that Scottish Labour has become something that it only defines itself in terms of what it is against.  It is against separation and is against the SNP.  That’s about your lot, which for a party who’s biggest success is recasting Thatcher’s three governments as the Bogeyman made flesh says it all.  Fear keeps the troops in line and keeps them voting Labour.  Lamont keeps saying that the SNP have put government on hold, so hopefully now that the referendum is over we will see what policy initiatives Scottish Labour have for both next year’s Westminster Election and the battle for Holyrood in 20 months time.  And that’s the problem.

There are no policy initiatives.  There are no fresh ideas.  Lamont has positioned Scottish Labour to the right of the SNP, so she talks about targeted help but uses crude methods that will only put off those who need aid and assistance from the help they need.  She also falls into the trap of repeating a Daily Mail agenda – hence why the “Something For Nothing” speech was so offensive to many people.  Lamont is a lame duck leader and Scottish Labour is tottering on the precipice on her watch.

I’m not even sure that if Labour actually fulfil their promise to enact their (pitiful) devolution proposals to the Brown timetable that this would save them.  If they didn’t though, it would exacerbate things greatly.  After all only 1,617,989 people voted for Independence.  I’m sure those people can be easily ignored…  er…  So for Milliband to play politics with the Scottish people is disgraceful.

Since the demise of the SSP there has been a vacuum on the left in Scottish Politics.  The SNP occupy a sort of centre ground/MacNew Labour position but both the Lib Dem’s and Scottish Labour have vacated the centre left ground.  For Labour, this move has proved disastrous and will prove even more disastrous as the pro-Independence groups look to fill that ready made ground.  At least events like an Independence referendum only happen once in a lifetime…

Except as I’ve already said, I think there will be another referendum.  Cameron’s tying of devolution powers to reform of the House of Commons under the UKIP friendly banner of “English votes for English laws” has made it even more difficult to push through the Brown plan.  Cameron’s speech has I think sown the seeds of discontent that will lead to another referendum within 10 years.  Next years General Election will be another flashpoint – as we see how hopeless Milliband is.  Those people looking to punish New Labour for Thursday really should be formulating a sort of decapitation strategy for next May – target key constituencies - rather than spread resources over 40 odd Labour seats.  Then there’s Holyrood 2016 where the lame duck get’s roasted.

Scottish Labour is in all sorts of trouble.  Not even fighting a referendum covered that particular fig leaf.  I’m not even sure that had we voted for Independence that would have saved Labour – as has been claimed.  All that would have happened is that the Murphy’s, the Alexander’s and the other members of the Compass Group wing that are Scottish would have decamped north.  The Emperor has no clothes and it is our duty to let everyone know about it.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

"The Political Death of Alex Salmond"

You may remember that last year, I had a minor spat with a low rent wannabe Nostradamus in relation to his use of the above phrase.  My bone of contention was that Salmond would survive beyond the referendum because of his…  er… opponents.  The crap nostradamus' opinion was that Salmond would be damaged goods after the referendum.  I’m claiming victory over that one because, though Salmond has resigned, it was at his own choosing and as I previously blogged you can’t really blame just Salmond for the referendum result.  In short, at the moment his stock is still very high.

Scottish Independence Referendum, 18 September 2014 – Final Result

Yes, the pro-independence campaign did make several tactical mistakes – and those could be attributed to Salmond.  But you can’t really blame only him for the result.  Maybe Salmond himself does.  Perhaps with hindsight the “air” campaign looked a bit tired & jaded and slow to respond to the pro-Union claims in the last days of the campaign.  It’s certainly not a criticism you can level at the canvassers.
Will we see this outpouring of political sentiment again?
The criticisms you can make are the one’s I always thought would be decisive – Currency & the Economy – sovereignty (in terms of the EU) just did not appear as an issue.  I’ve blogged long and hard about Sterling zone during the campaign and it appears as if Salmond’s choice of a currency union, the settled will of Westminster not to entertain the idea and Salmond’s non appearance of a “plan B” was a decisive factor among the commuter belts that voted against Independence.  What hasn’t been discussed is how much Sterling zone sucked out of the campaign.  Darling & co went for that issue time and time again, yet Salmond & yes couldn’t formulate a response until the second television debate.  Currency union looks like the big policy mistake, when other more common sense options were available.

The economy is a much less straightforward argument.  Yes Scotland had the better arguments, but again got tied up in a fight – this time in the last weeks over big business making (false) claims regarding increased costs and the moving of headquartered facilities.  There was also the claim that an Independent Scotland would have a deficit on day one of £6 billion.  Whether that was true or not, it went unrebutted – bearing in mind that in 2010 £6 Billion was the amount raised by increasing NI by 1p.

In the post mortem, it’s too easy to gloss over what went right though.  When I made my original prediction two years ago, I thought that it would be a thumping win for the No camp – with Scotland still very much a default pro-union country.  Not any more.  Scotland has changed.

What the Yes supporters have done very…  very well is that they have mobilised a grass roots movement for a fairer, more equal society.  If you hadn’t guessed, last Saturday will live long in these memory banks.  1.6 million voters to leave the union is a remarkable achievement and torpedo’s Cameron’s ludicrous claim that staying in the union is the settled will of the Scottish people.  Salmond would have settled for more powers, and thanks to Westminster repeatedly hitting the panic button last week should get some sort of powers – though still far short of Devo Max.

So why has Salmond gone now.  Possibly he felt as if he had taken the SNP as far as he can & that the referendum was a once in a lifetime opportunity missed (something I don’t agree with…  but that’s for a future post).  Already buoyed by their victory at the polls, the NO camp quietly celebrated the demise of the most able politician in the country, certainly someone that can best Cameron, Clegg, Milliband…  only Brown is perhaps Salmond’s equal.

What is not in doubt is that Salmond leaves behind a huge hole in the SNP.  Apart from the Swinney years, Salmond has lead for all but 4 years since 1990.  That’s Ferguson-esque service in the one job.  The favorite to take over will be his deputy Nicola Sturgeon.  She is able and very capable – at times she has outshone Salmond.  My only quibble would be the record of anointed successors in this country is not a happy one.  Certainly Sturgeon was one of the few front line politicians to come out of the referendum campaign with their reputations enhanced.

Friday was not a happy day for pro-Independence supporters, even before the sectarian toned disturbances in Glasgow late on.  It may not look like it now, but Scotland did take a huge step towards cutting it’s ties with the Union.  Cameron’s assertion that Independence is off the table for a generation (quoting Salmond) badly misreads the situation the union finds itself in.  In the meantime, the feeling that pro-Independence supporters have that victory was close is no sort of consolation.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Indyref – It Was The Workers Wot Won It

So with 24 of Scotland’s 32 council’s declared, it looks likely that Scotland has voted to remain in the union.  I’ll post on this more fully later on after the final results are in.  There are a couple of inital thoughts though.

Yes (at 5am) 1,102,788 46%
No (at 5am) 1,305,388 54%

Firstly, by the looks of things it looks like Scotland’s commuter towns have voted for the status quo in their droves.  As at 5am Lothians, Falkirk, Stirling Aberdeen & East Renfrewshire voted no.  All areas that are commuter towns that see people work in Edinburgh & Glasgow.  You only had to look at the turnout in these parts of the country to see that voters have turned out to retain the status quo.

Secondly, It looks as if the Yes campaign lost momentum in the aftermath of the ICM poll 10 days ago.  The poll, which put Yes ahead for the first time, galvanised the No camp.  It looked as if Yes drifted back in the polls at this time, thanks to No stepping up their campaign.  Thanks to the Gordon Brown effect.  Also as well, i don’t think that the Yes camp handled the attacks from big business effectively.  Yes essentially dismissed these attacks as “scaremongering”, but really should have completely and utterly rebutted these claims.  In effect a slight laziness or complacency set in.  Maybe this was campaign fatigue setting in, who knows.

Thirdly, “The Vow” I think turned heads.  I think it caught Yes on the hop, when they should have rebutted this thoroughly.

The campaign overall has been a wonderful display of democracy.  Sadly we now have to put up with the sight of smug Westminster politicians on our television screens over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Any Other Business...

In the tradition of the Five Live show “Fighting Talk” – where the last round tidy’s up any loose ends – this last pre election post tidy’s up all the loose ends that are my final thoughts on the campaign.

Better Together have somehow squandered their arguments & have lost the debate: I have said previously that staying in the Union is…  was the default position of many Scots and that all Better Together had to do was sow enough doubt and show that they had listened to the criticisms made of the Calman proposals.  Instead we have had a relentlessly negative campaign which has certainly alienated me, and maybe others.  The arguments over Sterlingzone is a case in point, where whatever the arguments are have been obscured (in the eyes of the public) by rank bad politics.

“More Powers” Is Still Short of Devo Max:  One of the key arguments Better Together have been putting forward has been that change is coming and that new powers are on their way.  Except that, like Calman, the new promised powers are still short of the powers many Scots want.  Devo-Max was the settled will of the Scottish people, which I describe as full fiscal autonomy with Westminster controlling defence, foreign affairs and relations with the EU.  None of the Westminster parties are offering this and it is extremely disingenuous for them to be claiming that the change we want is what will happen if we vote no.

The Anglocentric Media have been rumbled… : For the past 2 years, there has been a building debate about Scotland’s future.  For most of that time, that debate has been confined to page 28 or the equivalent of most of the so called national titles.  Only now that there is the possibility that Scotland might vote Yes has the debate managed to make the front pages and the comment pages of the national press… and their ignorance and lack of any prep work has shown.  A case in point is Dan Hodges recent column, where he claims Calman was put together by The Scottish Parliament.  An Honourable mention must go to John Harris of the Guardian who has sucessfuly reinvented himself as a commentator on matters such as Britain’s left wing electoral deficit from his role as someone who was very much there at Britpop as a music journalist (for Select magazine I think).

… But I don’t think the BBC are biased in a deliberate way: For the past two years the pro-Indy Yes campaign have been complaining about the perceived bias in the BBC’s reporting.  I’m not sure the bias is deliberate or of the MacKenzie/S*n levels in the 80’s, but the academic reporting from UWS has flagged up issues with the BBC’s reporting of this issue.  And then there is Nick Robinson.  I honestly think that Robinson thought that being the chief political reporter for Britain’s main broadcaster gave him privileges at Salmond’s big press conference last week.  When Salmond treated Robinson like the rest of the press corps, Robinson took umbrage and threw his toys out of the pram. Professional pride bruised, this fuelled his hatchet job.  Unprofessional, yes.  Biased, no.

It’s not about a Conservative free Scotland:  One of the Pro-Independence campaign’s main slogans has been about getting the governments we vote for and no more Tory governments.  This is incorrect on two fronts.  Firstly, given the direction of travel of the EU, pro-Thatcherite policies are likely to be brought into an Independent Scotland either via EU directives or by treaties like The Lisbon Treaty or the ongoing TIPP negotiations.  Secondly, it is not inconceivable that Scotland could elect a centre right government in the future – though that Government would not be a hard line Thatcherite government more old style “Tory Wet”.  A more accurate description of this line would be that a “Yes” vote would be a vote of no confidence in the cosy Right Wing Westminster consensus.

And can we park the NHS as a referendum issue now?:  One of the main arguments for independence over the past couple of weeks has been the claim that the Scottish NHS will be under threat if we vote no.  Yes health spending is tied to our pocket money from Westminster, however Calman means that some (limited) tax paying powers are on it’s way to Holyrood meaning we can run and finance our NHS.  The underlying issue though relates to the opening up to private operators of the English NHS, with pro-Independence supporters believing that this would put our NHS at risk of being TIPP compliant.  I think though that our NHS would equally be at risk from TIPP through the EU.  That argument, i think is a score draw.

Unrelated is the claim that there is a £450 million shortfall in the Scottish NHS.  This appeared as part of the campaign on Tuesday.  I can understand why but it is not a referendum issue. 

If Yes win, it was the activists wot won it: I don’t know if I said, but I was out and about in Glasgow…  and was impressed by the friendly openness of many of the pro-Independence supporters.  Indeed, if my experience is anything to go by (and by no means am I saying this experience is universal) the pro-independence supporters have been much more willing to answer questions.  The tactic of engaging with voters on the ground is resolutely old school, but seems to have been a contributory factor in the energised feel of the campaign.

But Brown might “Save the union”:  It’s hard to believe that a few weeks ago that the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was such a marginal figure on the political stage.  He had written a book about his Britain that apparently contained a roadmap forward.  Now, thanks to his “Scottish” Labour backed intervention off the back of that poll, Better Together activists can’t get enough of Brown, and pro-Independence supporters suddenly look nervous.  No matter Brown’s past record as Chancellor and Prime Minister, he is still the grand master at speaking to a left of centre audience, whilst burying his opponents in a dense blizzard of statistics. It’s that ability pro-Independence supporters fear, because no one else in “Scottish” Labour, even arguably Labour full stop, comes remotely close.

Though his successor as Prime Minister is the big loser of the Referendum:  I’ve already posted that if there’s a yes vote come Friday, Cameron should be gone.  He has just given the impression that he’s not interested and has not bothered to campaign.  Yes, he’s made two speeches in the past week…  but he’s not been out and about and…  sorry two speeches.  Just two speeches.  At least Milliband’s been out and about, and just for yesterday in the Gyle Centre he has a modicum of respect from me.  He’s survived Paisley too.  Twice.

No, Cameron would rather have conferences with supermarkets and mobile phone companies about the referendum than meet real voters.

One last thought about Sterlingzone:  I have argued that a currency union would not be in the best interests of an Independent Scotland – arguing that the best option would be for a Scottish Pound tacked to Sterling which is as we are.  But I think Sterlingzone will happen & that I think it’s something the market’s will force Westminster into.

Last thought about the campaign:  Overall, this is a complicated campaign about a simple idea.  Who should govern Scotland?  Should we be governed as part of a centuries old union with Wales, Northern Ireland and England, which was successful in the past, or should we govern ourselves with all the risks and opportunities that may bring.  We have argued about the small print for the best part of two years, but that is essentially the issue at the heart of this debate.  And if you’re still undecided after all that, honestly…  you have my every sympathy.

Predictions, predictions… :  The polls are coming together, and it has the look of a tight race.  I’ve previously said that I think Scotland will vote No.  I still think it likely that we will, but a vote for Yes is not the improbable outcome that it was two years ago.  I don’t think the no vote will be as high as Tom Newton Dunn’s prediction on Sky News on Tuesday (of 57%-43%).  If it is a no vote, it won’t be any more than 53%.

And with that, good luck to both sides.