Monday, 31 October 2016

How to Lose Friends and Alienate Key Voters

You know, for all that the Independence referendum was a democratic awakening and a display of grown up politics, there were certain aspects of the debate which left a nasty taste in the mouth.  The biggest running sore being the conduct of Scotland’s largest public service broadcaster,  and the conduct of the more excitable pro-Independence supporters towards the media and specifically that public service broadcaster.  This feud saw it’s most public outpouring in a series of demonstrations outside BBC Scotland’s main offices on Pacific Quay.  Thankfully that referendum is a once in a generational thing and we don’t have to worry about scenes like that again.
A Photo-shopped billboard yesterday...


One of the more depressing sights in recent months, alongside the re-appearance of the ‘You Yes Yet’ hashtag or the more recent meme ‘putting the band back together’ has been the resurfacing of that feud.  Of course, for some people, they genuinely felt – in the face of all evidence mind – cheated out of Independence.  It was terrible media bias you see, led by the Visigoths at Pacific Quay that spread smears and lies about the case of Independence.  Not of course anything to do with the fact that the case for Independence was not as bombproof as it really needed to be, and Salmond & Sturgeon’s bluff & bluster got found out in the end.  Still, consistently bringing up media bias and the notorious Vow does act as a decent deflecting tactic from your own shortcomings, even if it does keep the illogical media bias view going.  Not that the people behind the “Mis-reporting Scotland” banners have ever thought that their position is anything other than logical.

Last week it was reported that the group “Inform Scotland” had raised £7000 from their target figure of £8500 to pay for a series of billboard advertisements to draw attention to the BBC’s… ah… ‘untruthful’ reporting of certain issues.  In attempting to defend the posters, Simon Malzer said that the poster “…is not aimed at the BBC.  It is aimed at people who unquestionably believe everything the BBC tells them”.  That answer in itself is a troubling response – that we know more than you and that you need to be forced to see the truth.  It speaks of a smug superiority that some pro-Indy supporters have (it’s the same smug superiority us lefties had in the 80’s – Thatcher might have been wining elections, but we were right in our convictions to boycott South African goods & not to read The S*n.  Hmmmm).  Malzer’s arguments are undermined with the phrase “We took our time and conducted workshops… and consulted with authorities on BBC bias like G A Ponsonby”.  The same Ponsonby, of course, that doesn’t go very far without plugging his tome on BBC bias – the conspiracy theorist that even other conspiracy theorists think is just a little ‘out there’.

It seems as if this needs to be repeated, but the case for Independence lost in 2014.  For the next referendum, when it comes, to be successful for the pro-Independence side the childish smugness needs to go.  The pro-Independence side need to reach out and talk to people who voted ‘no’, to find out why and create better arguments that will bring those people onboard.  They need to be treated as grown ups who made a decision in 2014 and convinced to change their minds whenever the next referendum will be.  What ‘Yes’ supporters shouldn’t be doing is indulging in condescending cheep stunts like this.  Many ‘no’ supporters view the SNP, and in particular a certain type of Independence supporter with suspicion.  The question that needs to be asked is will this type of talking down to Scottish voters really work?

The big irony in all of this is that the BBC’s own conduct of late has given succor to Malzer and his Inform Scotland cronies.  While I don’t agree that the BBC was deliberately biased during the referendum, there was an unintentional bias within how news stories about the referendum were constructed – all within BBC guidelines.  Guidelines that saw that each party had a say.  Individually.  This meant not one sound bite for each side but a sound bite each for the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems (all on the pro-Union side) and one for the SNP and maybe one for the Scottish Greens.  If pro-Indy supporters wanted to see real bias at work, then a glance at the Anglocentric press would have shown then the difference between the BBC’s poor reporting and real pre-meditated bias.

Their refusal to look into their reporting of the Scottish referendum shows the same smug attitudes as Inform Scotland.  Since then, we’ve had the rise of Corbyn and Labour’s dramatic shift leftwards.  The BBC’s response to this has been disappointing as their correspondents, led by their new Chief Political Correspondent, have been disparaging towards Corbyn’s supporters and have done everything in their power to promote the so called ‘Centraist’ tendency from Labour.  It is not just Labour’s hard right politicians that have been allowed free advertising from the BBC.  There is barely a week that goes by on the BBC’s flagship political discussion show ‘Question Time’ where one of the panel is a representative of that well known English only minority party, UKIP.

This is an unpleasant situation where both sides have to take long looks at themselves in the mirror.  On the BBC’s part, their news gathering and their Scottish output still leaves a lot to be desired, and in many cases falls way behind that of their commercial rival STV in terms of both quality and programming.  The sooner that BBC Scotland stops thinking of itself as a northern outpost and more as an entity in its own right, the quicker it can look at it’s various problems.  Network BBC’s problems are a different kettle of fish, related to both Charter renewal and the sense that the Hall years have not been the best for the BBC.  On the part of pro-Independence supporters, this smacks of not learning from your mistakes.

Other than the big, policy related, mistakes the SNP leadership made, the attempt to turn the BBC into the bogeyman did not help the Independence cause.  The demonstrations against the BBC hindered the Independence cause and energy was wasted fighting against an enemy that simply was not there.  That energy would have been better expanded reaching out to potential voters rather than reacting within their own echo chamber.  Rather than make the mistake of succumbing to voices from more excitable wing of Independence supporters.  Again.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

We Need To Talk About Regrexit...

During one of the pre-referendum posts I put out, I’d made the point that post referendum, the political atmosphere would be dominated by the fallout and the acrimony surrounding the vote. Whilst acknowledging that it wouldn’t have taken a political genius to point this out, I seem to be the only person to have spotted this.  And lo, this is precisely what has happened.

Tusk, Shultz & Junker hatch a cunning plan...
It didn’t really take the ‘Remain’ side very long to refuse to come to terms with the result, by consistently claiming that ‘Brexit’ voters were duped into voting to leave.  The reasons cited by Remainers being the claims that we were sending £350m per month/week/year (whatever it was, and to be honest it had been debunked as an argument almost straight away so does it matter if it’s not going to happen) to the EU and that this could be spent on the NHS.  The other claim being ridiculed being the claim that we were ‘Taking back control’ – especially in the light of the dramatic fall in value of the pound and the list of businesses drawing up plans to leave the UK.  What doesn’t help the situation is the ‘Brexiteers’ child like insistence in calling those people ‘Remoaners’.  It’s as if Stuart “Wings” Campbell is advising these people on tact and diplomacy.

Of course, the Pound has fallen in value in the currency markets, that’s what happens when uncertain events happen.  The gods of money don’t react well to uncertainty, which is why they commissioned countless polls to tell them what’s going to happen.  Polling that turned out to be false mind…   which accounted for the crash post Referendum result.  The point should be made that the new Government’s handling of the situation is perhaps exacerbating the situation regarding the value of the pound, with the May government openly discussing a so called ‘Hard Brexit’ – ie total withdrawal from the EU and the single market – much to the dismay of the more moderate devolved governments. 

It perhaps should also be pointed out that something similar would have happened had Scotland voted to leave the UK in 2014.  The pound would have crashed in the face of an unexpected result that provided uncertainty.  This is why I’d come to the conclusion that while Sterlingzone would have been a bad policy for the nascent Independent Scotland, the currency markets would have forced the UK government to the negotiating table and to a Sterlingzone settlement.  It is strange of pro-Union politicians not to point this out.  Maybe it’s embarrassment that it’s happened here and now.

It is also not true that it is only the UK government that is seeking a so called ‘Hard Brexit’.  The pronouncements from the EU leaders, principally Jean Claude Junker, have made clear that this is their favoured outcome.  It could, and should,  be argued that the heated debate about immigration has completely obscured Junker and Shultz’s collective failures in what, if we were being kind we would call a shambles.  Both Junker and Shultz have adopted the “crisis, what crisis” line as an economically important member has decided to leave.  Make no mistake, the European project is in danger of unravelling.  People across Europe are coming to the conclusion that ‘ever closer union’ is not working.  You only had to look at the European Parliament elections from two years ago to see this with anti-EU (admittedly Right wing) parties making big gains.  If Junker & co think that punishing the UK for having the temerity to vote to leave their cozy little club is the way to keep other countries in line, they’ll be shortly in for a rude awakening.

The one thing I do regret is that my vote has been hijacked as an excuse to be more racist towards people not from this country.  However the official ‘Remain’ side really should have a long hard look at themselves regarding their part in our slide towards the gutter.  It seems to be a hangover of ‘Third Way’ politics that our parties are now reactive towards voters rather than proactive.  It is this reactivity that has caused this descent towards…  well wherever it is we are heading.

If you remember, the Remain campaign spent an inordinate amount of time on what they thought the economic case for staying in the EU was – trade figures, cheaper goods, stable economy etc etc. The problem with the Remain campaign though – and ultimately why they lost was for three reasons.  The first is that their economic case was built around the failed tactics of Project Fear from 2014’s Independence Referendum.  You know, the campaign that conceded 25% from the start of the campaign to polling day 2 and a quarter years later. 

Secondly, like the claims about Sterlingzone in that Independence referendum, those scare stories simply did not translate into real life experiences.  We might be £4,500 (a figure too round and had the whiff of being thought up, like the figure Osborne quoted during the Indyref) worse off if we left the EU, but when you see people come here and ‘take British jobs’ – as the perception went, unchallenged – and you see living standards drop then those claims lost a lot of potency in its translation.  As I said at the time of the Independence Referendum, if you have very little money to begin with then figures quoting losses in the thousands just won’t be relevant, real or work.

Thirdly and probably most importantly, Immigration.  Let’s not forget that for many people, freedom of movement is a one way street where people seem to come here to work and doesn’t appear to apply to them.  This is why Immigration blunted so much of the economic argument and indeed for many Leave voters became an economic argument in its own right.  However UKIP’s consistent conflation of Immigration and Freedom of Movement should never have gone unchecked for so long and become so much conventional wisdom.  This is what I mean by our Third Way politics being far too reactionary and not nearly proactive enough.

It is not just UKIP’s conflation of Immigration and freedom of movement that should have been comprehensively dismantled by the Remain campaign, though this failure seems to have carried on and not been learned if speeches by Rachel Reeves are to go by.  The whole ideal of helping the huddled masses of the world is now up for debate.  Our decency as a country is now being put at risk by the sort of people who used to exist at the very margins of UK politics, all emboldened by the antics of a man who was a Fascist sympathiser at school.  I honestly don’t know what is worse, UKIP or our mainstream political parties’ appeasement of their politics.

Where Remain failed is in tackling the UKIP cancer straight on – calling out their anti Immigration rhetoric.  By saying that their circumstances are not the fault of migrants but a symptom of something else – though this would mean saying their policies are wrong – and by talking up immigration as something positive in all of our lives.  Instead, Remain ran away from the subject… and are still running.  Constantly giving ground to the UKIP tendency which has now contaminated the Westminster parties.

Not that us Scot’s should feel so smug.  True, our referendum experience was a different one, with the SNP talking up immigration as something positive.  Like the English campaign though, both sides sidelined the real issues with the EU.  The SNP have taken the 62% vote as a vindication of their stance and have used it to launch another attempt for Independence.  As I’ve said previously, I don’t think that of the 62%, that they are all ardent EU enthusiasts.  I’d suspect that a lot of those voters would either be people with no love of the EU but repulsed by the UKIP style campaign of Leave or Eurosceptics who held their noses to vote to Remain to spike Tory led Hard Brexit, prompted by the writings of Owen Jones & Paul Mason.  Certainly, for the SNP to successfully push the “dragged out of the EU against our will” line, I thought they needed the Scottish remain vote to be at least 65%.  This should have been attainable given the near unanimously pro-EU stance of the Scottish political classes.

I suspect that in spite of the rush to spin the events during the summer, we will not know for certain whether leaving the EU will be the right thing to do or not.  The only thing that is certain is that every politician, and the Eurocrats, have been utterly blindsided by the referendum and are struggling to come to terms with the new political landscape.  Even our Scottish Government have, I think, misread the signals with Brexit being used as an excuse to start Indyref 2 proceedings.  However, all the uselessness of the pro-Brexit government and the vile nastiness of the cancerous UKIP-ification of English politics and the English based media has completely obscured the entirely justifiable reasons for voting to exit the EU.  If you need any further reasons to leave, just watch the reactions of Tusk and Junker if the CETA trade deal collapses, torpedoed by…  well the Belgian equivalent to Scotland.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Normally at the end of Conference season, I do a post outlining the thoughts and key themes of each conference.  However there appears to be one overarching theme linking the conferences of all of the main parties.  It is that of reacting to the referendum vote in June and talk of learning lessons, of reaching out and of policy shifts.

When conference speeches go wrong: Amber Rudd delivering her
now notorious conference speech
The biggest example of reaching out comes from the Prime Minister.  Mirroring her post inauguration speech in July, May’s conference speech was a return to attempting to woo blue collar voters with promises to help people get on and promises to curb the excesses of casino-capitalism.  These policy shifts are problematic for several reasons, not that this has occurred to the more excitable elements of Progress who are, frankly, bricking it from May parking her tanks on their policy lawn.

For starters, May is essentially flying in the face of many in her party who want a return to the red meat of right wing rule.  Many of them are pleased at the vote in June, as this – their logic dictates – will lead to a low regulation, low ‘overheads’ and highly flexible UK out with the EU which will (apparently) attract inward investment.  We saw this with the keynote speeches from Fox, Johnson and from Davies.  We’ve also seen it from the various media appearances from Duncan Smith – a man who went to Easterhouse and left wanting to make the residents life more difficult.

Part of that desire to re-establish a right wing government in the UK comes from the perception that Labour are out contention for the next UK Westminster Election (at least) and partly from the perception that UKIP will now be a busted flush – their aim of ‘an Independent UK’ now on course to be reality.  In the case of Labour’s (self inflicted, due in no small measure to the Blairite Progress Fifth Column) incapacitation as an electoral force, this has fueled May’s desire to adopt so called ‘centrist’ policies.  UKIP’s problems has also fueled policy grabs - witness Amber Rudd’s embarrassing conference speech (above) and rank bad foreigners list policy.

Whether May actually will enact those ‘centrist’ policies will be a mute point.  The thing that marks UK politics is the ability of our leaders to talk left but to act right.  Blair and Brown got away with it as Labour politicians because of the New Labour assumption that real left wing policies were not popular.  Cameron and May might receive envious glances from Progress wingers, but ultimately won’t get away with it.  Cameron, because he wasn’t clever enough to get away from the perception that he was ultimately too clever by half.  May because, I think, triangulation and swiping of centrist policies won’t be her priorities.

Labour have been trying to reach out too… across no mans land to each wing of the party.  After a bitter and divisive leadership election campaign won by Corbyn, we now have the bitter and divisive fall out from said election campaign.  There hasn’t really been very much new in terms of policy coming from Corbyn’s Labour party, partly because any policy announcements would be the start of another big fall out.  For both the Momentum and the Progress factions within Labour, the time for talking is almost over.  Either they find a way to pull together for the sake of their party…  or they both take their share in the near inevitable slaughter currently scheduled for May 2020.

If we are watching the break-up of the Labour party, it’s main beneficiaries here in Scotland seem ideally placed to slip into their shoes. Especially in the key test of sounding more radical than you are stakes.  It seems to be forgotten among the heat generated by the First Ministers announcement that preparations for the Bill to pass to enable a second Independence referendum are to begin this week that the SNP backed proposals for a third runway at Heathrow.  That Heathrow’s owners paid for a stall at last weeks conference is, of course, entirely coincidental and was in no way an influence on the SNP government.  However, allied to the conservative manifesto for May’s Holyrood election, the SNP do find themselves in a quandary with a noisy left wing contingent at Westminster and a centrist at best, sitting Holyrood government.  Then again, Independence and the attainment of it is turning into a rather handy fig leaf for, if not the SNP hierarchy then certainly the online supporters and the pro-Indy… er… blogs (surely “News Websites”? – Ed).

Indeed, to Sturgeon’s credit, she or the Scottish Government haven’t gone down the route that the more excitable pro-Indy supporters have gone down of not criticising the party for fear of handing ammunition to the hated “Yoons”.  While her opening conference speech on Thursday morning concerned itself with the EU referendum fallout and that Indyref 2 announcement, Saturday’s Keynote speech concerned itself with domestic issues.  That and a call for inclusion.

It’s not been the first time Sturgeon has made a call to be inclusive and to be respectful of ‘No’ voters in the Independence referendum, though it’s the first time this call has been made through the prism of the EU referendum.  It is a call that has gone unheeded on the MacTwittersphere as people still insist on using the phrase “Yoons”, the hashtag #youyesyet and other such things insinuating that ‘we’ told you so.  Personally, I find that all tiresome and disrespectful of the pro-Union voter.  After all, it’s not as if the case for Independence was bombproof.  Much more annoying is the disrespect shown to those people (including myself) that voted to leave the EU.

A million Scots voted Leave in June, I’d imagine that a hefty proportion of them voted because of the EU’s “Ever closer union” doctrine which sees consistent land grabs of power from sovereign states around the EU or because of the EU’s failure to deal with the aftermath of the Credit Crunch and subsequent banking crisis.  For those people (as it does for me) immigration figures (if it does) way down the list of reasons to leave the EU.  Instead, those voters are treated with distain and like closet Tories.  If the SNP Government genuinely wanted to be inclusive, they’d take our criticisms of the EU on board and not dismiss them as “we know the EU is not perfect, but…”. 

But then again, the SNP have their own agenda with the EU, wishing to do things that will placate the EU, which they hope will smooth the path for an Independent Scotland to join the EU.  It is the only explanation I have for their na├»ve attitude towards the EU and their unquestioning adoption of European directives like with the outsourcing of Ferry routes or the contract for Scotrail being given to companies (or the national rail network of the Netherlands in the case of Abbelo).

It is a sure sign that the political landscape is still in flux that all of the big parties held conservative conferences that played to their own supporter’s core values but talked big on issues out with their comfort zones. While Labour are still trying to find their way out of their self inflicted wilderness, both the Tories and the SNP made claims and policy statements designed to keep their electoral attractiveness in difficult times.  The problem with that is that talk is cheep and governments are judged on actions, not warm fuzzy words.  Just ask the man whose stock since leaving office is still plummeting, David Cameron.