Monday, 23 February 2015

Vote SNP And Get...

You know that the pre-election campaign is straining to get to the real battle when what would happen if you vote SNP becomes a talking point among the MacComentariat.  The weekend saw contributions to this argument from both The Observers Andrew Rawnsley and the Sunday Herald’s Iain MacWhirter.  Not surprisingly, both had different ideas.

Lynton Crosby's appropriation of old Australian attack posters didn't quite translate.
Rawnsley’s argument is that a vote for the SNP plays into Cameron’s hands as he would be the beneficiary of the SNP taking scores of seats from “Scottish” Labour.  MacWhirter’s argument is that both the SNP & Labour’s aims are (give or take a nuclear missile or several) not a million miles apart and that they might well be half way up the aisle.  Unfortunately, things are not as simple as has been claimed.

If Cameron were to be the beneficiary of an SNP surge, then who’s fault is that then that this vintage of Labour is not to the Scottish palate?  Lamont’s “Something for Nothing” speeches clearly chimed with Labour in England’s attitude towards cutting the benefits budget.  Not to mention Balls signing up to Osborne’s scorched earth.

In among MacWhirter’s piece about Milliband & wondering how he could be more unpopular that Cameron, these policy positions are forgotten.  I’d also suggest another reason why Milliband is not as popular among Scots as Cameron.  There may be the thought that Milliband, although standing up to Murdoch & the energy companies, is still in a weak position within his own party.

About a year or two ago several commentators (the one that springs to mind is the Independent’s Matthew Norman, then writing for the Torygraph) said that for Milliband to be seen as prime ministerial, he had to get rid of Ed Balls.  I think many people see him, Wee Dougie Alexander and Chukka Umuna at the top of the Labour tree as being evidence that Blairite Progress Groupers still hold a lot of influence at the top of Labour, in spite of Miliband’s slight leftwards turn. It was Balls & Umuna who have been trying to woo business types, and Balls who said at a city speech a couple of years ago that light touch regulation would return.  Reportedly Alexander wanted a UK presence in Syria, fighting on the same side as the New Wahhabists ISIL.

That’s not the only thing MacWhirter seems to have not mentioned.  Whilst mentioning Labour’s various policy agreements with Milliband’s Labour, MacWhirter seems to have not noticed, or does not mention, that relations between the SNP and Milliband’s Scottish outpost are, at best, Frosty.  A better description would be that a state of animosity exists between the two parties.  I don’t know what Milliband thinks of the idea of a deal with the SNP, given that he’s not ruling anything out and is in no position to do so (at this moment).  Were he to indicate that this was a possibility, then I would suspect that “Scottish” Labour would be in open revolt at the idea.

In truth, nobody knows what would happen if the SNP performance matches the current polling.  All that’s really certain is that neither Milliband or Cameron are attractive candidates for the job of Prime Minister and that these “Vote X & get Y” tactics is a surefire way of showing the desperation of the big two.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Just What Is The Point In Voting SNP In May?

Amongst the mountain-out-of-molehillary of the Mhari Black stuff, one thing popped out.  At 20, she might be the youngest MP in the next House of Commons.  Hardly believable, given that wee Douglas Alexander holds the 8th safest Labour seat in Scotland.  If she’s good enough and all that… In the meantime though Sturgeon has been attempting to flesh out her parties pitch to voters come May.

Interestingly, Sturgeon has outlined the approach that I said Labour should adopt back in 2011 of pitching an alternative to Osborne’s “Scorched Earth” austerity programme.  The Sturgeon alternative could see and extra £180bn spent on extra on public services – through 0.5% spending rises, or real terms cuts as some might spin this.  The biggest target of savings would be coming from the UK’s non renewal of Trident.

Of course the unspoken issue with Austerity is that it’s exclusive focus has scared many horses and led to continued drought with regard to the flow of money.  The centrepiece of Thatcherism – trickledown – is not happening as rich people continue to save and salt away their “hard earned” money.  Probably in Switzerland’s branches of HSBC.  Only the rich are spending money, which is why the likes of Tesco, Morrison’s et all are beginning to struggle.  Pro-unionists point to a growing economy.  Where, cause it ain’t here?

Sturgeon’s position is possibly undermined by her (assumed continued) belief in the Laffer Curve which is the bedrock of the SNP policy of lowering corporation taxes.  A read of Richard Murphy’s own blogpost on the subject shows how false this belief is.  Both the SNP (if they support it) and Labour’s position is undermined by the belief in a 50% tax rate at £150,000.  If anything, a higher rate should be starting at £100,000.

So, if the SNP are putting together some welcome bones to their pitch to voters, why the sceptical title?  See, I’m just not convinced that the SNP will have that much influence come after the election.

Jim Fairlie has long argued that the SNP’s policy of only backing Labour in the event of a hung parliament is not tenable as SNP policy.  Indeed in a previous post, Fairlie has hypothesised about a Labour/SNP coalition splitting the SNP.  Certainly the Lib Dems have been poisoned by the experience of coalition with the Tories at Westminster – a much more chastening experience that 8 years in coalition with Labour as part of what laughably was called “The Scottish Executive”.  I completely agree with his analysis, but don’t think the SNP will get a sniff of government.

From the Labour point of view, the SNP are trouble.  They represent a throwback, anarchy and worse.  In their heartlands (that’ll be here then), where they weight votes, they are the enemy.  An irritating enemy that stops them from focusing on the real enemy – the Tories – but still the enemy. I can’t believe that having gotten so much wrong about the referendum, and been consistently been barracked about it, that they’re going to be as accommodating as Sturgeon thinks they’ll be.

If anything if things go wrong, and the Tories end up in bed with Clegg and his Orange Bookers again, I think Labour will blame the SNP for it.  After all they blamed Clegg for not wanting to talk to Labour when Reid and Harris pushed them into Cameron’s loving arms 5 years ago – though admittedly it does take two to tango as Clegg wanted Brown out of the way first…

If Labour somehow end up as largest party though and get second dibs at forming a government…  then I still think Labour will conspire to freeze out the ‘nationalist bloc’ from any potential coalition.  I just can’t see Labour passing up the opportunity to deliberately marginalize the influence of the SNP – and that’s even if the SNP somehow win upwards of 30 seats.

As has been said before, neither Milliband or Cameron lead parties that look like government’s in waiting – hence the rise in small parties.  Whether the SNP have broken the Labour hegemony remains to be seen.  What will happen without question will be that the views of Scotland will be sidelined, whatever happens and in spite of the claims of Sturgeon and the SNP.

Monday, 9 February 2015

In Defence of Mhari Black

So, you are looking to be elected as the prospective parliamentary candidate for a seat where your chances of winning would normally be described as between slim to non existent.  Your parties equivalent to the men in grey suits asks you about any skeletons in the cupboard and you reply by saying that you once thought about head butting some councillors that were goading you and that you had tweeted some stuff about not liking Scotland’s biggest football teams and there may be morning after the night before stuff.  I’d have thought that, given this information, the men in grey suits will have been not exactly over the moon but fairly happy with what they had.  After all they would have seen and heard of worse.

The comments that have garnered the most flack from wannabe Cybertwats has been the comments (made in a speech at one of Jim Sillars Hope over Fear events at George Square) have been the ones where she said that when she was goaded by pro-Union Renfrewshire councillors at the referendum count at the Lagoon in Paisley, she confessed that “It took everything, every fibre in my being, not to put the nut in one of them.”

Of course, we should condemn violence… when it happens.  It did not here.  There was no violence, just that the thought had crossed her mind.  These comments are not exactly inflammatory either.  Other people have made similar comments without so much as a whimper from “Scottish” Labour. 

Most recently the former Tory MP Jerry Hayes said that the former Lib Dem peer Matthew Oakshott had a “face that is invitingly smackable”?  Did Lamont invade the airwaves beseeching Iain Dale to sack Hayes from his blogging platform?  Did Renfrewshire councillors burden Scottish based tabloids with their disgust at this attack on such an impeachable figure?  Well, no.  And the silence was deafening too when John O’Farrell’s “Things Can Only Get Better” book came out.  In among the pathos of Labour’s 18 years of opposition was a tale from when O’Farrell, as assistant to the newly ousted Battersea MP Alf Dubbs, said in his book “On the steps of our building was a small group of young Conservatives cheering and waving their blue flags… It was so provocative and I hated them so much for what they had done that I wanted to go and punch them in the face

Again no condemnation and again the “threat” came to nothing.  As O’Farrell admits, there were three of the podgy rugger buggers and they were bigger.  So why are the Daily Record intent on making this molehill into a mountain?

The tweets about Celtic look more problematic from a certain point of view.  Then again any non old firm fan will have points where they hate Celtic and their fans.  It’s not personal, but when your team is losing badly and the Celtic fans strike up one of their… ah… family favourites… Celtic and their fans will be going down as badly as the proverbial bucket of cold sick.  And if we must go down the sectarian route, which councillor Jackie Henry is just gagging to take this down, would it be remiss to point out that Black is supposedly a Partick Thistle fan and that they don’t hold a torch for any of Scottish Football’s bigot brothers.  Most St Mirren fans don’t hold any love in their hearts for any of Scottish Footballs ugly sisters either.

The reason why the Record are indulging in this smear campaign can be traced to last weeks Ashcroft polls.  Mhari Black is the SNP’s candidate for Paisley & Renfrewshire South, and Ashcrofts poll has shown that she could unseat the shadow Foreign Secretary Douglass Alexander.  Alexander would not be the only big name to fall, but his is the biggest in Labour circles.  The usual caveats apply that this is just a snapshot etc etc…  and in any case I’ve already said that I think that there will be movement back to Labour before election day.  It’s just getting more and more difficult to see that movement happening.  Desperate stuff like this really doesn’t help “Scottish” Labour’s cause, especially given the lack of traction the burning of the Smith Commission garnered.

We should be judging Ms Black on her policy positions, on how she sees how she’d work at Westminster and whether she’s fond of quoting the closeted UKIPer Wings, not on tweets from a normal 20 year old.  The Record is not helping the democratic process and is, in itself, treating Scottish voters with sneering contempt.  Worse than that though, in what is already a nasty spiteful campaign it has fatally undermined any (legitimate) complaint Labour might have with smears from papers owned by the Dirty Digger, Britain’s pornographer in Chief (Desmond), Rothermere and the Barclay’s.  Any complaint from Labour about smearing and us Scots can point at the Record’s po faced and disgusting behaviour.  As a foot shooting exercise, the Daily Record claim gold for Labour.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Crisis... What Crisis?

So Scottish Labour have ditched Lamont, elected one of the young bright things as deputy leader and a Westminster player as leader.  And still their poll ratings are tanking.  So what gives?

Well for starters there is still the bubbling resentment at the wasted Blair years.  Yup, there was a huge programme of rebuilding schools and hospitals but the cost of that programme is now public knowledge with the “off sheet” PFI repayments putting the English NHS heavily in the red.  Year on year.  Up here, there was only a hospital in Edinburgh, but the Education system is indebted to the PFI industry.  Four years ago, it was estimated that the total PFI repayments for the 32 local authorities was £400 million.  It felt that New Labour’s working class orientated policies were either crumbs or did not sort out an issue.

A case in point being the low pay subsidy that was Tax Credits.  Brown’s heart was possibly in the right place, though his head and younger self should have cautioned against it. A government less… er… “business friendly” would have known how to tackle low pay without getting the backs up of the militant wing of the CBI.  Blair though saw being “business friendly” as a key requisite to being PM.

Seats (FPTP)
11 June 1987 (WM)
9 April 1992 (WM)
1 May 1997 (WM)
6 May 1999 (SP)
7 June 2001 (WM)
1 May 2003 (SP)
5 May 2005 (WM)
3 May 2007 (SP)
6 May 2010 (WM)
5 May 2011 (SP)
Out of 71 except * - out of 59

As you can see above, Labour has been in decline in Scotland since 1997.  From the Blair landslide of ’97, the only election where their vote went up was the last Westminster election.  So much for Blair being popular here in Scotland.  It is with this backdrop that “Scottish” Labour lost power at Holyrood in 2007 and instantly went into a collective huff.

The funny thing is that since Murphy took over, Scottish Labour have been broadly been doing “the right things”.  They’ve been attacking the SNP from the left by questioning waiting times in hospitals and also the reputed £440 million in “savings” that emerged pre referendum.  They’re asking the right sort of questions of the SNP, the sort of questions Grey & Lamont did not ask.  They’ve even taken up popular causes, like campaigning for the scrapping of a woman’s prison in Greenock.  That Labour then attempted to hijack this campaign for their own publicity (not a new thing for Murphy) shows that they’ve still got a way to go, but their thought processes were at least pointing the right way.  The problem they have is two fold coming up to Westminster 2015.

The first problem is that Milliband and co are not really offering anything different to Cameron.  Balls signed up to Scorched Earth as far back as 2011, while the flagship 50% tax rate policy is the same policy that didn’t go far enough when Darling set it up in 2009.  Rather than starting at £150,000, the 50% rate clearly should be starting around the £100,000 mark.  It reminds so much of the last election, where the only fiscal difference we were told about was the 1% rise in NI that Labour proposed, the projected value of which was £6bn.  Is it any wonder that Milliband’s popularity has soared to be… umm… behind Cameron in the Scottish polls.  For all of the pleading not to vote SNP, Labour simply do not look like the alternative government in waiting.

The second problem is that Labour are still suffering from a sort of hangover from being ejected from power, a hangover where their policy positions are still coming back to haunt them.  They’ve so far avoided the dreaded phrase “means testing”, which probably means it will cross Murphy’s mind next Friday, but there’s plenty of ghosts still haunting Scottish Labour.  "Something for nothing" appears to have been banished though. Good. While there is still the impulse that anything anyone from the SNP says is instantly bad, this needs to be curbed if Labour are to look reasonable.  On the other hand the broken “vow” has undoubtedly scunnered so many people, even more so when Labour types claim that the vow has been delivered when it patiently has not (and we come back to the “Renfrewshire 4” having a point in burning the Smith Commission).  This probably explains the re-newed “Vow Plus”, which as an exercise in shutting the door after the horse has bolted might be doomed to failure…  like the original Vow.  We’ll see…

If pushed, I’d say that I don’t think the SNP will sweep the board with Scottish seats.  The Lib Dems could lose half of their 11 seats to the SNP, but I suspect that the SNP won’t get more than 20 seats.  If the polls stay the same come, say,  mid March though, then the possibility of the SNP performing as the polls suggest becomes more of a reality and the calculus changes.  Remember that in 2011 the polls did not move towards the final result until mid March.  Until them, I’m keeping my scepticism close.  In the meantime the thing Murphy needs to focus on is rectifying the sins of the fathers.