Monday, August 3, 2015

What could be more nonsensical than the most sensible part of a ludicrous statement?

Kezia Dugdale in the Guardian -

"I want an elected second chamber for the UK and I believe it has to be based beyond London.

I’ll campaign for it to be based in Glasgow – where better than the biggest city of a nation that has just reaffirmed its commitment to keeping our country together? A yes city."

Is anyone else's head hurting?  It's obviously possible to pretend to misunderstand a statement from a Labour politician to make a mischievous point, but I genuinely had to read that several times before I had the faintest idea what she was talking about.  The first problem is that she uses the words 'nation' and 'country' in the same sentence and somehow expects us to know she means completely different things.  The only clue is the affectionate use of 'our', which is evidently meant to indicate that 'country' is a superior term, referring to Britain.  The inferior Scotland, which clearly 'we' have less emotional investment in, is merely 'a' nation.

Second problem : Glasgow is seemingly the most appropriate host for the UK's second chamber for two reasons - a) it's the largest city in 'a nation' that voted No in the referendum, and b) it's a city that voted Yes in the referendum.  Isn't that a total contradiction?  Or is it the contradiction itself that's supposed to make Glasgow so uniquely suitable?  Heaven only knows.

To get to Kezia's actual point rather than the extraordinary way she tries to explain it, this is the sort of thing that drives me mad about provincial-minded politicians.  Oh yes, she can "campaign" to her heart's content for something she has no power to deliver, and which is completely infeasible anyway.  Then her masters in London will pat her on the head, say no, and add "but isn't it wonderful to have someone so ambitious for Scotland?"

What does this fatuous charade mean or achieve?  If Kezia was making a serious point, she would campaign for the whole seat of parliament to be moved outside London - and probably not to Glasgow, but to somewhere central like Manchester or Newcastle.  At a stroke, that would transform the UK into a healthier nation state, where tens of millions of people are no longer suffering from the illusion that the far south-east corner where they live is basically the whole country.

Is there the slightest chance she will ever make that case?  Of course not.  That really would be getting above her station, and challenging the 'natural state of things'.  Instead, she makes the self-evidently daft proposal that the two chambers of parliament should be several hundred miles apart.  Can you think of any other country with such a ludicrous arrangement? 

Perhaps Kezia should take the advice Labour is forever doling out to the SNP - ie. forget the posturing, and concentrate on the powers she will actually have as Scottish branch office manager.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Euan McColm's examples of the SNP's "Blairism" are mostly policies Jeremy Corbyn agrees with

In a bid to upgrade myself in Euan McColm's mind from "idiot" to "f***ing idiot", I thought I'd take a quick look at his latest Scotland on Sunday column. As you know, I do accept that there's a grain of truth in his notion that the SNP would find itself to the right of a Corbyn-led Labour party (assuming Labour holds together after a Corbyn win, which is doubtful), and that this would at times be uncomfortable and disadvantageous. But his contention that the SNP are a centrist, Blairite party posing as left-wing, and that Corbyn would expose the fiction, is absurd.

Let's just run through some of McColm's specific examples...

1) 'The SNP are centrist because they're opposed to tuition fees, and that's a middle-class preoccupation.' But Corbyn is opposed to tuition fees as well, whereas Blair introduced them in the first place. You were saying, Euan?

2) 'The SNP are centrist because they would slash corporation tax.' The last time I checked, that policy had been abandoned. Unless you have psychic foreknowledge that it is going to be reintroduced, I can only assume that's a bit of a fib, Euan?

3) 'Corbyn is likely to raises taxes on the better-off, but the SNP have refused to use Holyrood's tax-varying powers.' Holyrood's tax-varying power is on the basic rate of income tax only - there's no option for singling out the better-off. More extensive powers are on their way, but they haven't arrived yet. Again, unless you've got psychic foreknowledge that the SNP will choose not to use the new powers when they do arrive, I'm not quite sure what your point is?

* * *

If Labour follow Eric Joyce's advice and withdraw their peers from the House of Lords next year, what would the Tories be forced to do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They would just find it much easier to get their legislation through. As things stand, the Lords is likely to be the more problematic chamber for the government over the next five years (they're way short of a majority there), but a Labour boycott would solve that problem at a stroke. Even if Corbyn becomes leader and adopts the SNP practice of refusing to nominate new peers, that would be mildly helpful to Cameron in resolving his arithmetical challenge.

From a Scottish point of view, there are two ways of getting rid of the Lords. The first is independence, and the second is a UK government committed to abolishing the upper house, or making it elected. The idea that there is a third option of depriving it of legitimacy and then shaming a Tory government into abolishing it is a total non-starter. You can't delegitimise an institution that never had any democratic legitimacy in the first place. It's less than twenty years since all the hereditary peers were still in place, which gave the Tories an obscene and permanent numerical advantage over all other parties combined. Did that lack of legitimacy trouble their consciences? Not in the slightest.

Is Ian Murray's triumphant tenure as Shadow Scottish Secretary drawing to a close?

I suggested semi-facetiously the other week that if Liz Kendall won the Labour leadership, she'd probably ennoble John "the Gardener" McTernan and make him Shadow Scottish Secretary. But in truth, I think we've all been assuming that Ian Murray has a guaranteed job until either the 2020 general election or Scottish independence (whichever comes soonest). As with so many other assumptions, that's been abruptly called into question by the Jeremy Corbyn surge. A couple of days ago, Murray made an extraordinarily rude and ageist comment about Corbyn (who is eighteen months younger than the current frontrunner for US President). He certainly didn't sound like a man gearing up to be the Islington MP's loyal Scottish lieutenant after the leadership contest is over.

It could be that he's just lazily assuming that the Labour party will, in McTernan's phrase, "come to its senses" in time for September. If so, he might see things differently in the event of Corbyn actually winning. But would he already have burnt his bridges by then? With almost any other leader, the answer would be yes, but Corbyn does seem to be remarkably magnanimous and free of grudges. The snag is, though, that Corbyn is also the only candidate proposing to reintroduce elections for the Shadow Cabinet, and with the best will in the world, it's very hard to imagine Murray being favoured by his parliamentary colleagues in a beauty contest of that sort. If the system works as it used to, the leader will be able to add a couple of unelected members (a bit like captain's picks in the Ryder Cup), but why would Corbyn waste his wildcards on Murray when he could use them to bring in allies like John McDonnell and Diane Abbott?

My guess is that a Corbyn win would trigger Murray's exit from the Shadow Cabinet, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Labour might then take a leaf out of Tim Farron's book and decide that having an elected party leader at Scottish level is sufficient, and that the post of Shadow Scottish Secretary is superfluous. At most, Murray might continue in a downgraded spokesperson role, if only to ensure there is someone to face David Mundell at Scottish Questions.

* * *

Is anyone else gutted that the Sunday Times has named eight Shadow Cabinet members who would refuse to serve under Corbyn, and Rachel Reeves isn't one of them? What does it actually take to get shot of her?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Blairites seem keen to erase from history Jeremy Corbyn's willingness to serve under Tony Blair

Apologies if this blog is giving the impression of turning into a pro-Corbyn site, because from a hard-headed tactical point of view I'm inclined to think it would be much better for the SNP if Labour elect Continuity Miliband and proceed with their slow, intensely boring descent into irrelevance. But some of the nonsense being spouted by panic-stricken Blairites really deserves to be called out. There's a downright offensive article in Labour Uncut today by Paul Richards, who with no trace of irony refers to rank-and-file Labour members who diverged from the leadership line in the 1980s as "non-entities", but then whinges about a trade unionist who referred to Blairism as "a virus" that needs to be stamped out. Here's a thought - if the Blairites disapproved of any threats to harmonious camaraderie, wouldn't it have been better not to give their own faction of the party a specific name, and then boast about that faction's triumph over the left by plastering the name over every Labour manifesto and conference backdrop while Blair was leader? Wouldn't it have been better not to make the total exclusion of the left from the cabinet or Shadow Cabinet a test of 'sanity' and ideological cleanliness, as Liz Kendall did in one of the recent televised leadership debates?

Richards also says this -

"There’s Jeremy Corbyn himself, obviously, who has been a hardcore Bennite for 30 years...never sullying his political purity with a single minute on the front bench."

It's true that Corbyn has never been on the front bench, but the snide implication is that this was through personal choice, rather than because of the disinclination of others to give him a job. A quick glance at the records of Shadow Cabinet elections in the mid-90s gives the lie to that notion, however. Corbyn stood in 1994, finishing 49th out of 52 candidates (believe it or not, among the three MPs who finished even lower was Rhodri Morgan, the future First Minister of Wales). He stood again in 1996, finishing 26th out of 26. Extremely unimpressive results, but the fact remains that simply by standing, he was making himself available to serve as a Shadow Cabinet member under Tony Blair. You can't get much more ecumenical than that.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Don't Mone, m'lady

I've no idea whether anyone was really daft enough to vote No last year simply because Michelle Mone didn't like the idea of independence, or because she kept making nasty comments about the SNP. But what I do know is that if she makes similar "contributions to the debate" in future, her credibility will be shot to pieces if it's true that she's about to be made a Tory peer - not a Labour or crossbench peer but a TORY peer - as a direct "reward" for her interventions during the referendum. People will also be bound to wonder whether other celebrities and public figures are only coming out against independence because they've been promised a peerage, or a bauble from the Queen.

James Forsyth speculated rather optimistically the other day that David Cameron was becoming better-informed on events in Scotland due to having to face Angus Robertson at PMQs every week, and that this would help to save the Union. It's probably true that he is slightly better-informed than he was before, but knowledge isn't much use if you have no instinctive sense of how your own decisions will impact upon public opinion and thus shape future events. The crassness of the Mone decision suggests we have very little to worry about.

The McColm accolade

I at last have the badge of honour of being called an "idiot" by Euan McColm, although I was a tad disappointed to fall short of "f***ing idiot". It was because I took issue with this tweet -

"those who were angry about "intrusion" after the bin lorry crash might now understand why so many questions were being asked."

First of all, the antics of Sky News and others on the day of the tragedy had nothing to do with searching for the facts - they were about emotional intrusion into the trauma of passers-by. If the suggestion is that journalists should have been permitted to intrude into the life of the driver in the days and weeks after the crash, that is entirely wrong as well - it could not possibly have assisted the official investigation, which to the evident astonishment of Mr McColm appears to have arrived at the facts without any journalistic assistance. There was no excuse whatever for the media doing anything other than giving the benefit of the doubt to a man who had just been at the centre of an unimaginable horror, and allowing him the space and privacy necessary to begin to come to terms with his role in what had happened.

* * *

From the BBC -

"Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said Ms Sturgeon had promised less than a year ago that the referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

He said: "People will rightly be concerned that the first minister appears ready to break that promise.""

For my money, people will be rather more concerned that Murray is lying through his teeth about a "promise" that he knows perfectly well was never made. Sturgeon did use the phrase "once in a lifetime opportunity" to build excitement about a Yes vote - that is not even close to a promise that the SNP would never propose another referendum, let alone a promise that they would actively thwart the Scottish people if it became clear they want another referendum.

Without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own

I think this is possibly my favourite ever headline in the Independent -

"How to see the rare lunar event tonight"

The rare lunar event tonight is a blue moon, which is indeed a rare event, as we all know from the expression "once in a blue moon".  It is, however, simply a full moon.  It's called a blue moon if there has been more than one full moon in the same calendar month.

By some distance, then, the easiest way of seeing a blue moon is to look at the moon.

Astounding Aberdeen by-elections suggest the SNP's position may have strengthened further since May

There were a couple of local by-elections for Aberdeen City Council yesterday, both caused by sitting SNP councillors becoming MPs.

Kincorth, Nigg & Cove by-election result (30th July) :

SNP 61.0% (+26.9)
Labour 19.1% (-18.8)
Conservatives 9.8% (+4.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.5% (-1.6)
Greens 3.6% (n/a)

Hilton, Woodside & Stockethill by-election result (30th July) :

SNP 55.1% (+19.6)
Labour 25.1% (-19.9)
Conservatives 11.4% (+6.0)
Greens 4.2% (+1.6)
Liberal Democrats 4.1% (+0.2)

As ever, I've done the calculations myself to be on the safe side, because it's amazing how often reports on Twitter of percentage changes and swing turn out to be wildly inaccurate (probably because of the complexities of the STV system).

The swing from Labour to SNP in the two wards averages out at just over 21%, which is a touch lower than the 25% seen at the Thorniewood by-election a few weeks ago - but that's hardly surprising, because 25% was almost off the scale. Remember that swings in local by-elections are measured from the 2012 result, in which the SNP were already 1% ahead of Labour nationally. So a 21% swing is roughly equivalent to a 32% or a 33% swing in the general election, when the SNP were starting from a much lower baseline. The actual swings in Aberdeen in May were considerably smaller than that, so it could be that the SNP are now performing even better - which would certainly be in line with what the opinion polls have been telling us recently.

We also have Scottish subsample figures from a new GB-wide ComRes poll : SNP 54%, Conservatives 19%, Labour 14%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 3%, UKIP 3%, BNP 2%.

At the moment it looks as if any Corbyn bounce for Scottish Labour isn't likely to come along until and unless he is actually elected leader, and even then there are no guarantees.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why has disgraced MP Alistair Carmichael just been appointed the Lib Dems' Shadow Home Secretary?

Labour's current Shadow Home Secretary is Yvette Cooper.  Imagine it became clear that she had been guilty of serious wrongdoing, and she reacted by saying : "This incident would have required my resignation if I'd been the actual Home Secretary, but as it is I'm just going to carry on as if nothing has happened."  Do you think that would have been considered tenable?  Of course not.  If you're not a fit and proper person to be a Cabinet minister, then you're not a fit and proper person to be a Shadow Cabinet member.

When Alistair Carmichael admitted knowingly lying over the "Frenchgate" affair, he carefully attempted to draw a distinction between his role as an MP and as an ex-Cabinet minister.  He insisted that the matter did not require his resignation as an MP, but acknowledged that it would have required his resignation as a Cabinet minister had he still been in office.  Conveniently, his position in the Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet did not arise, as it appears that no such body existed at the time.

But it exists now.  Tim Farron unveiled his list of spokespeople yesterday, and Alistair Carmichael has been given the Home Affairs brief.  He is, effectively, the Liberal Democrats' Shadow Home Secretary, just weeks after acknowledging that he could not possibly have carried on as Scottish Secretary.  How does that work exactly?  OK, we know that the Lib Dems are "the party of rehabilitation", but surely to goodness they haven't completed his rehabilitation already?

If only they were this quick when it comes to delivering federalism and electoral reform.

* * *

Meanwhile, Lib Dem Voice have continued to burnish their credentials as one of Britain's leading comedy websites, by describing Farron's new line-up as "the most diverse shadow cabinet team in the party’s history". As Sophia Pangloss pointed out on Twitter, the team actually includes more Baronesses (eight) than elected MPs (six). But don't be cynical - the Lib Dems have a really diverse range of Baronesses.

And at least they're making us feel nostalgic - this is the first time in several decades that any party's Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet has been drawn primarily from the unelected House of Lords. It's just like the good old days with Lord Palmerston.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What would a Corbyn win mean for the SNP?

I've just noticed an extraordinary New Statesman article from a couple of days ago, in which Stephen Bush reveals that extensive discussions with insiders have left him "more convinced than ever" that the polls are right, and that Jeremy Corbyn will become Labour leader in September.  We should probably take that assessment seriously, as Bush wasn't wise after the event in respect of the general election - he warned before May 7th that the polls might be misleading, in which case the most likely outcome was a Tory-led government (albeit he thought the coalition with the Lib Dems would have to be renewed).  My only quibble in this case is that the current polls aren't actually showing that Corbyn is the nailed-on winner - he has an enormous lead on first preferences, but all that matters is whether he is still ahead in the final run-off, and on that measure his lead is wafer-thin.  Assuming the private poll we saw last night was legitimate, that should actually be regarded as a statistical tie between Corbyn and Yvette Cooper.

However, if Bush is correct that the polls aren't wildly inaccurate, it's clearly the case that Corbyn at least has an excellent chance.  If he wins, it will turn the political world upside down, and the SNP will be affected just like everyone else.  Here are a few potential implications -

1) Left-wingers who turned to the independence movement because the Britain of Attlee, Bevan and Benn seemed to be gone forever may start to have second thoughts.  I know the counter-argument is that it will shortly be demonstrated that Corbyn is unelectable in the south, but in truth I wouldn't be at all surprised if he enjoys a prolonged honeymoon period in the polls.  Even Michael Foot enjoyed a poll lead over Mrs Thatcher at times.   If that happens, it will fuel a (possibly misplaced) sense in the Scottish left that all is not lost at UK level after all.

2) The SNP will, without changing any of their own policies, sometimes find themselves criticising Labour "from the right" for the first time in decades.  Corbyn will probably propose some nationalisations that the SNP think are a step too far, and he may also be more radical on taxation.  Unless Corbyn compromises with the mainstream Labour view on defence and foreign affairs, the SNP may end up defending NATO against a Labour party that wants Britain to withdraw from the alliance.  Speaking personally, I would find that incredibly disorientating, although admittedly it's a less important issue than Trident, on which Labour and the SNP would suddenly be on exactly the same page.

3) We won't have to worry any more about tactical unionist voting (or at least not to any great extent) - the choice between Labour and the Tories will become more polarised than at any time since the 1980s, and supporters of each side won't be lending each other votes to stop the SNP.  In some cases, Tory voters may even revert to seeing the SNP as a legitimate 'moderate' tactical option for thwarting Labour.  Admittedly, though, tactical voting was never really likely to be a major factor in the Holyrood election.

4) The SNP might find it harder to retain their overall majority next year.  The "good" news is that politics is very personality-driven these days, and I suspect voters will still look at the choice between Sturgeon and Dugdale and conclude that it's a no-brainer.  But the Corbyn factor could chip away at the working-class vote that defected to the SNP en masse in May, allowing Labour to lose less badly than they otherwise would have done.  That could make all the difference if the SNP are seeking a mandate for an independence referendum (regardless of whether the proposal is conditional on Brexit or not).

Of course, all of this assumes that the Labour parliamentary party would accept a Corbyn win, which they may well not do.  If there's a major breakaway, the SNP could end up being helped rather than harmed.  It would be fascinating to see which way the Labour group at Holyrood would jump if they had to choose between two rival parties.