Thursday, July 2, 2015

If EVEL is about "fairness", Mr Cameron, I presume we'll be getting all of the following...

1) The Scottish Parliament will be granted the power to unilaterally abolish the Westminster Parliament, as long as 61% of MSPs vote in favour of doing so.  This equalises the current situation whereby 326 out of 533 English MPs (61%) can unilaterally abolish the Scottish Parliament at any time, even if every single Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MP votes against.  If it makes the London press feel any happier, we can always put a meaningless platitude into the legislation about how "it is recognised that the Westminster Parliament is a permanent part of England's constitutional arrangements, as long as we stay in a good mood".

2) The Scottish Parliament will be granted the power to veto any constitutional changes affecting England, provided that 61% of MSPs vote for the veto.  Loud cheering is strongly encouraged.  This equalises the current situation whereby English MPs were able to veto Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland on Monday night, even though 95% of Scottish MPs voted in favour of it.

3) An English Affairs Select Committee shall be set up as a hybrid Holyrood/Westminster body.  The majority of the members will be MSPs, but don't worry - a substantial minority will be English MPs, one of whom will be allowed to be chairman as a special treat.  There will naturally be just as many SNP MSPs as there are English Tory MPs.  This equalises the current situation whereby just FOUR of the ELEVEN members of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee will actually be Scottish MPs (all of the other seven represent English constituencies), and whereby there will be as many English Tory MPs among the members as SNP MPs.

4) The Scottish Parliament will be allowed to influence the levels of public spending in England.  This equalises the proposed EVEL scenario whereby English-only votes will be permitted on legislation that alters the amount of public spending going to Scotland, via the Barnett Formula.

5) There will be a U-turn on the rejection of a "double majority" system for the upcoming EU referendum, ensuring that Scotland cannot be overruled and dragged out of the EU against its will.  This equalises the current situation whereby Mr Cameron feels that it is intolerable that England should be "overruled" by a UK-wide majority.  It seems that double majority arrangements are not incompatible with living in a "glorious United Kingdom" after all.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

VOTE : Which is the SNP's "A-Team" now?

When the Scottish Parliament was founded in 1999, the SNP took great pride in being the only one of the three parties with Scottish parliamentary representation to send their "A-Team" to Holyrood.  All of the SNP's six sitting MPs made the switch across, compared to only a small minority of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs (although to be fair the party leaders Donald Dewar and Jim Wallace did both make the move).  As the SNP's numbers in the Scottish Parliament swelled after the 2007 and 2011 elections, it seemed obvious that almost every last drop of the cream of the crop was in the Edinburgh chamber.

But all of a sudden, it doesn't seem quite so clear-cut.  The referendum drew a large number of very talented people to the SNP for the first time, and some of them now represent the party at Westminster.  Many of them have dazzled the most seasoned of London political observers with classy maiden speeches over the last few weeks.

So I thought I'd put it to the vote.  Which is the SNP's "A-Team" in 2015?  Is it Team Holyrood, or Team Westminster?  Here are some of the leading lights in each camp...

TEAM HOLYROOD : Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Alex Salmond, Humza Yousaf, Richard Lochhead, Roseanna Cunningham, Angela Constance, Fiona Hyslop, Joan McAlpine, Kenny MacAskill, Alex Neil, Shona Robison, Linda Fabiani, Derek Mackay, Keith Brown, Michael Matheson.

TEAM WESTMINSTER : Angus Robertson, Stewart Hosie, Alex Salmond, Pete Wishart, Angus Brendan MacNeil, Philippa Whitford, George Kerevan, Tommy Sheppard, Deidre Brock, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Ian Blackford, Brendan O'Hara, Michelle Thomson, John Nicolson, Mhairi Black, Joanna Cherry.

Although Alex Salmond is on both lists, it's probably fair to say his firm focus is now on Westminster.

As ever, the voting form is at the top of the sidebar.  Vote wisely!

Have the Greens just killed their own "2nd vote" strategy by voting against Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland?

Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion and the Green party's only representative in the House of Commons, was challenged on Twitter a few hours ago on why she had voted against Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland on Monday night.  Perhaps surprisingly, she didn't attempt to make the case that FFA would somehow be bad for her own constituents, but instead indicated that she was consciously voting in line with the views of her colleagues in the Scottish Green Party.  I've since seen two people who previously intended to campaign for SNP supporters to vote Green on the list say that they will no longer do so.

That's just a straw in the wind, but my guess is that they won't be alone.  If so, the Greens may have just undermined a key part of their own strategy for next year's election.  We've seen fairly clear indications in recent weeks that they intend to woo SNP supporters by making some fantastical claims about how the AMS voting system can supposedly be "hacked" by voting Green on the list.  A number of us have been trying to explain why listening to those claims would be horrendously dangerous for the cause of independence, and how "tactical voting on the list" is a contradiction in terms that could directly bring about an anti-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament.  But that's a very complicated argument to make, and thankfully the Greens have just supplied us with a much simpler one - there's not an awful lot of point in trying to "hack" the system if the aim of the exercise is to elect Green MSPs who are not on the same page as you on the constitutional question.

Now, to be fair, it's perfectly possible to oppose Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland within the UK while remaining in favour of full sovereign independence when the opportunity next arises, and that appears to be the Greens' position.  But this episode does clearly demonstrate the limits to the idea that we are all part of a cohesive "movement", and that switching votes back and forth between different component parts of that movement can never dilute the impact of your voice on the constitutional issue.

Are we fast reaching the point where it will be untenable for the SNP not to put radical constitutional proposals in their Holyrood manifesto?

You might remember that in the early days after September 18th, some people on the moderate wing of the SNP were shooting down anyone who even dared to raise the topic of a second independence referendum.  Although I didn't agree with Yes supporters being told what they should and shouldn't say out loud, there was a big part of me that did feel the SNP were just going to have to "take their medicine" for a prolonged spell.  It seems quite strange in retrospect, but I even suggested in an International Business Times article that the party should categorically rule out pushing for independence for two full Holyrood terms, unless something drastic happened, such as Britain leaving the European Union.

So what has changed since then?  Just about everything, actually...

1) The SNP membership has increased several-fold to 115,000.  Most of those new members have not joined with a view to seeing the constitutional question neglected for the next decade.

2) The Smith Agreement has been reneged upon by the UK government in several key respects.  That's not something that can simply be allowed to pass, given that the No option in the referendum was so explicitly tied to the Smith process.

3) The SNP's performance at the general election was in itself a game-changer.  Nobody thought in late September or early October that anything even remotely close to 50% of the vote or 56 seats was a possibility.  Sometimes you have to press forward when history beckons so obviously, regardless of the timetable you originally had in mind.

4) The UK government are going out of their way to act as if the general election changed nothing, and have rejected out of hand each and every amendment to the Scotland Bill that has been tabled by the SNP.  Such utter contempt for the verdict of the Scottish electorate requires a firm response.

5) Brexit may still look unlikely, but it no longer seems quite as fanciful as it did last autumn, and there is now a clear route-map which might just take us there.

6) It seems that EVEL is about to be introduced, and in a manner which shows total disregard for the democratic and parliamentary process.  This by definition will constitute a "material change" in circumstances, because it will alter the basic "deal" of the United Kingdom - henceforth Scottish voters will be second-class citizens.  Remember that Westminster retains absolute sovereignty over Scotland, and can abolish the Scottish Parliament on a whim at any time - so the oft-heard line about English MPs having no say on domestic Scottish matters is absurdly inaccurate.  But in future, Scottish MPs will no longer have a say on matters that have a direct financial impact on public services in their own constituencies.  This new inequality is utterly intolerable, especially when an English parliamentary majority has just been used to veto Scotland's democratic will for Full Fiscal Autonomy.

Now, I'm not saying that any of these material changes are necessarily sufficient to warrant an unconditional manifesto pledge for a second independence referendum, but they do warrant something substantial.  It already seems very likely that there will be a conditional commitment to a referendum in the event of Brexit, but I wonder if we might also see a move towards a referendum on FFA itself.  Another possibility might be to use the Holyrood election to seek a mandate to negotiate FFA with the UK government - with an explicit indication of what the consequences will be if Cameron ignores that mandate.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The "United" Kingdom, in numbers : how MPs from Scotland and the rest of the UK voted last night on Full Fiscal Autonomy

I did the SDLP a severe disservice last night, but I was also far too kind to the Green Party of England and Wales.  I had assumed that, as a sister party to the Labour party, the SDLP might have voted against Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland, but they most certainly didn't - both Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie were in the 'Aye' lobby alongside the SNP.  They were the only non-Scottish MPs to vote in favour of Home Rule, because two of the three Plaid Cymru MPs acted as tellers to allow a full showing for the SNP (I presume the other one wasn't able to attend), and remarkably, the sole Green MP voted against.  That means not even a single MP representing an English constituency - not Caroline Lucas, not Dennis Skinner, not Edward Leigh, not Jeremy Corbyn, nobody - voted to respect the result of the general election in Scotland, and the overwhelming mandate given by voters to Full Fiscal Autonomy.

Here are the full, and rather stark figures...

Vote on a new clause to deliver Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland

Scottish MPs :

Yes 56
No 3
Abstentions 0

Non-Scottish MPs :

Yes 2
No 501
Abstentions 80

(The numbers add up to 642 rather than 650, because the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and tellers are unable to vote.)

Still, we're a "glorious United Kingdom", aren't we?  Oodles of mutual respect and all that.  English Labour and Tory MPs would never, ever dream of exploiting Scotland's smaller representation in parliament by voting down our democratically-expressed will, and then loudly cheering what they had just done.  Would they?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Deafening cheers as Westminster celebrates using English votes to block Scottish Home Rule

Something extraordinary happened a few minutes ago in the House of Commons chamber.  It wasn't the fact that MPs voted against the addition of a new clause to the Scotland Bill that would have paved the way for Full Fiscal Autonomy.  It wasn't even the fact that they did so by 504 votes to 58 - that was expected, because we knew that Labour and the Tories would both vote against.  No, it was the fact that the result was greeted by deafening cheers - which, by definition, came almost exclusively from non-Scottish MPs.

We don't yet know the exact breakdown of the figures, but it's near-enough certain that the result among elected Scottish MPs was well over 50 in favour of Full Fiscal Autonomy, and only 3 against.  Among non-Scottish MPs, there must have been almost 500 votes against Full Fiscal Automony, and probably less than 10 in favour (the only likely possibilities are the 3 Plaid Cymru MPs and Caroline Lucas, and maybe the odd Tory like Edward Leigh).  In a nutshell, then, this was a straightforward battle between Scotland and the rest of the UK - and Scotland lost.  We lost simply because there are far more of 'them' than there are of 'us'.  The fact that this happened on an exclusively Scottish piece of legislation, at a time when we're constantly told that Scotland has no business having any influence at all on English laws, is nothing short of breathtaking.

What the hell did English Tory and Labour MPs think they were cheering about?  Did they persuade the Scottish electorate of the case against Full Fiscal Autonomy?  No.  Did they persuade Scotland's elected representatives?  No.  Scotland said Yes, but the London parties said No, and they presume to decide on our behalf.  If I'd been in their shoes, I wouldn't have been whooping in those circumstances, I'd have been sheepishly looking at the floor and hoping that someone would change the subject as a matter of some urgency.  By logical deduction, it can only be that they were consciously cheering the fact that they'd just overruled a democratic election result and got away with it.

Or rather, they think they've got away with it.  Over the last few weeks, they've been demonstrating the case for independence more eloquently and effectively than the SNP ever could, but they don't even seem to have noticed.  Hell mend them.

We're ready for the question, David

"OK, SNP. Tense moments in the studio here. The offer from the banker is a vastly watered down version of the Smith Agreement, and the abandonment of the Full Fiscal Autonomy plan that you won an overwhelming, historic mandate for at the general election just a few weeks ago. So what's it to be?  Deal...or no deal?"

"No deal, David."

"That's the wrong answer, SNP, but the good news is that we'll be vetoing your decision, because London Tories understand these things better than the people of Scotland. Congratulations! You've just won a vastly watered down version of the Smith Agreement! How does it feel?"

"Have you ever actually watched Deal Or No Deal, David? Let me try to explain the rules to you..."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The biggest casualty of #clypegate will either be Ian Smart, or moral consistency

Labour's risible 51-page "Clypegate" dossier is available to read, even though it was supposed to be embargoed until tomorrow. Three things leap out at me -

1) The clear implication is that the SNP are directly responsible for any ordinary members who say offensive things on Twitter, and that those members should be disciplined or expelled.

2) A startlingly large proportion of what Labour are offended by is the use of the words "traitor" and "Quisling". But there is no way on Earth that those words are any more offensive than the senior Labour activist Ian Smart repeatedly describing the SNP as Nazis and "fascist scum". Indeed, the equivalence between "Quisling" on the one hand and "Nazi" or "fascist scum" on the other is pretty blindingly obvious. Smart also, of course, used a deeply offensive racist term to refer to Pakistani people.

3) None of the people featured in the dossier are, as far as I can see, anything like as senior within the SNP as Ian Smart is within the Scottish Labour party.

Now there's not necessarily any hypocrisy here on Labour's part, as long as appropriate action is taken against Ian Smart and others like him. Smart is, as we know, under administrative suspension while an investigation takes place. But here's the snag - not long after his suspension, Smart boasted on Twitter that the whole thing was "nonsense", and added "watch this space". That strongly implies that he's been tipped the wink that the party is just going through the motions and that no action will be taken against him.

If that was Labour's intention, it's no longer tenable. Either Smart will have to go, or they haven't got a leg to stand on with this Clypegate drivel.

Clyping on Kezia

Those of you with long memories (and it does suddenly seem like an eternity ago now) might recall that I made two appearances on TV during the week of the referendum. On the first occasion, my 'opponent' was Duncan Hothersall, and when I arrived he was chatting to Kezia Dugdale. Now, I can honestly say that they're both lovely people in real life, but it is also absolutely true that in the short time I was with her, I heard Kezia use the F-word very loudly. I was never going to mention that - I was just going to permanently keep it as a private delight that I once heard the future leader of the Scottish Labour party say something naughty. But I've had a bit of a rethink after this bombshell revelation from Liam O'Hare...

"Scottish Labour have just sent out a 51-page 'dossier' to the press with names and tweets of people who've used the word 'traitor' or swore...It's under embargo until Sunday."

If Labour are implying that being caught SWEARING should now be considered a disciplinary (or possibly an expulsion) offence, have I just ruined Kezia's career? In fact, is there going to be anyone left in the Shadow Cabinet by Monday?

As for the word 'traitor', several people have already pointed out that anyone who has ever attended a Labour party conference has belted out these lyrics with gusto -

"Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we'll keep the red flag flying here."

OK, we all know they're only singing about socialism ironically, but even so...

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Quebec comparison

Our opponents love nothing better than a good Quebec comparison, don't they?  Over at PB today, Labour supporter Don Brind is drawing some small comfort from the total collapse of the formerly dominant Bloc Québécois, a development which is potentially opening the way for the social democratic NDP to take a share of power at federal level in Canada for the first time ever. But Labour supporters may want to look away now as I point out the less encouraging aspects of that comparison -

1) As spectacular as the Bloc's defeat in 2011 was, it only came about after the party had won an outright majority of Quebec seats in six consecutive federal elections - 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. If the SNP remain dominant for a similar extended length of time, it seems highly probable that there will be a second independence referendum at some point.

2) The Bloc were eventually defeated by the NDP, a party that had previously been only a minor player in Quebec politics, rather than by the Liberals or the Conservatives. Even now that the Liberals have the immense Quebec-specific advantage of Justin Trudeau as leader, the province still seems set to stick with the NDP. So there's no evidence at all that, having broken the mould, voters are keen to go back to their old voting patterns. If anything, the lesson would appear to be that if the SNP are eventually beaten in a Westminster election, it may not be Labour that does it.

3) Part of the reason for the NDP's success in 2011 was the late Jack Layton's "French kiss" towards Quebec voters - including the promise, which none of the other pan-Canadian parties have made, that a simple majority in a referendum would be sufficient to secure Quebec independence. This would suggest that voters in Scotland can't be expected to "move on" from the constitutional debate until at least one unionist party has made major concessions on it. The equivalent for Labour might be support for Devo Max, or the unambiguous transfer to the Scottish Parliament of the power to hold a legally-binding independence referendum. Or, better still, both.

4) There's nothing inevitable about what happened to the Bloc. As Peter Kellner pointed out a few months ago, when unionist parties were defeated in Ireland, they NEVER recovered, even though Irish independence didn't occur for several more decades. When the Irish Parliamentary Party was eventually displaced in 1918, it was by the even more radical Sinn Féin.

5) It's entirely wrong to interpret the demise of the Bloc as representing the conclusion of the Quebec sovereignty debate. The first referendum in Quebec was held in 1980, over a decade before the Bloc was founded, and at a time when almost all sovereigntists voted for federalist parties at federal elections. The question of a future referendum will be decided at a provincial level, where the Bloc doesn't even stand. In the most recent provincial opinion poll, the sovereigntist Parti Québécois is level-pegging with its main federalist opponent - and the two largest sovereigntist parties between them have 47% of the vote. An independent Quebec is still very much on the agenda in the medium-term, regardless of whether the Bloc recovers.

6) Much - although admittedly not all - of the recent problems for both the Bloc and the Parti Québécois has been caused by uninspiring leadership. If we can keep Nicola Sturgeon in harness for at least a decade, and then ensure a smooth transition to someone of the calibre of Humza Yousaf, there must be a reasonable chance that we can avoid that problem.