There was quite a bit of reaction to my post the other night about the dilemma I'm facing on how to vote in the EU referendum. Some of the points raised were perfectly fair, but there were also quite a number of misconceptions that I'd like to clear up.
First of all (and I've now made this clear in three different blogposts), I am not particularly arguing for tactical voting in the referendum. Of the two potential arguments in favour of a Leave vote that I raised, I think the prospect of more powers for the Scottish Parliament is much the stronger one, and tactical voting is much the weaker. The point I did make, though, is that tactical voting is perfectly viable, in the sense that there is a reasonably simple calculation to make if you want to maximise the chances of a UK Leave vote being coupled with a Scottish Remain vote. As things stand (and the polls may change dramatically over the next ten days, in which case the calculation will also change), a Scottish Remain vote does not look in much doubt, whereas the UK result could go either way - meaning that a budding tactical voter should clearly be more preoccupied with trying to influence the UK outcome.
The reason why voting on a tactical basis alone isn't a good idea is not that it can't or won't work, but rather that it's open to question whether the tactical objective of a UK Leave/Scottish Remain is actually a good thing or a bad thing. I think there's a better than even chance that such an outcome would lead to an early independence referendum, but it's anyone's guess whether we would go on to win that vote - and if we didn't, we'd then be stuck inside the UK and outside the EU, partially as a result of our own handiwork.
To return to the practicalities of tactical voting, though, a number of you pointed out that a UK Leave/Scottish Remain combination isn't enough in itself - we'd need a significant majority for Remain in Scotland to emphasise the gulf between the public's wishes on each side of the border. I don't dispute that for a moment, but my most basic assumption about tactical voting hasn't changed since we discussed the issue in respect of the Holyrood election. The point is that any tactical voting is likely to be very small in scale. It'll be restricted to political obsessives, and therefore won't make much of a dent in the seemingly huge Remain lead in this part of the world.
Aha, comes the next objection, in that case the whole exercise is futile, because we'd need to drag the Scottish Remain vote all the way down to the low 50s before we'd have any chance of influencing the UK outcome. Well no, that's not true, actually, and the low 50s figure is plucked out of thin air. If the final batch of polls show the UK result to be on a knife-edge, we won't know how many votes are required to swing the balance between Remain and Leave. It's conceivable (unlikely, but conceivable) that it could be a very, very small number. In the notorious Florida election in 2000, there were roughly 6 million votes cast, and the final gap between George W Bush and Al Gore was just 537 votes.
Turning now to what I consider to be the sounder potential reason for voting Leave, ie. a repatriation of powers to the Scottish Parliament, a number of you were adamant that this was a bogus argument, either because the EU's powers on agriculture, fisheries, etc. would automatically revert to the UK government after Brexit, or because the UK government would just steal those powers back anyway. The first of those two claims is pretty easy to deal with, because there is no doubt about the legal position. Unless a power is explicitly reserved to Westminster, it is devolved to Scotland - except to the extent that EU law has supremacy. Matters such as agriculture and fisheries are not reserved, and therefore after Brexit those powers would default to Holyrood. Now it's quite true that the UK parliament can change the rules to suit itself, but there's no sleight of hand available to them - they'd have to clearly and openly strip the Scottish Parliament of the powers. That would almost certainly mean the first substantive breach of the Sewel convention since 1999. Professor Alan Trench, for example, has been explicit in his view that the Sewel convention has evolved to mean that powers can't be added or removed without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, which in this case is surely not going to be forthcoming. By any stretch of the imagination, a major breach of Sewel constitutes a 'material change of circumstances', and would trigger a constitutional crisis.
What might happen, though, is that the UK government will recognise the danger, and instead of simply grabbing the powers back, will say to the devolved administrations : "Let's be reasonable about this, chaps. There has to be a certain amount of central control over agriculture and fisheries, so let's sit down at a constitutional conference and thrash out the appropriate post-Brexit distribution of powers." So whichever way you look at it, there would be opportunities for Scotland - either the EU powers would simply revert to Holyrood, or there would be a massive constitutional crisis in which London would be seen as the transgressor, or the Westminster government would be forced to open up the UK's constitutional framework for negotiation between the various administrations (and it could be expected that Westminster would have to make big concessions during those negotiations if they wanted agreement on clawing back the agriculture and fisheries powers).
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During the televised referendum debate on Thursday night, I had another reminder of how certain things that should be totally uncontroversial have somehow become unsayable. I made a straightforward observation that seems to me to be irrefutable - that five of the six participants in the debate were female, that the presenter was also female, and that if the situation had been reversed there would have been complaints. Simply as a result of pointing that out, I lost roughly ten followers on Twitter (unlikely to be a coincidence, because it's unusual to lose that many in one night), and I was deluged with indignant responses - one or two of which I considered to be downright offensive. In a nutshell, the charge was that I had some sort of "problem" with the very rare occurrence of a mostly-female panel, which should in fact be unreservedly applauded by every right-thinking person on the planet.
To state the bleedin' obvious, identifying a slam-dunk example of a double-standard is not the same thing as arguing that all-female or mostly-female panels are in any way undesirable. The people who instantly complain about each and every example of a mostly-male panel on TV or radio have really got to get the story straight here. It's perfectly reasonable to argue that the frequency of male-dominated panels should be reduced, but if you're going to say that a female-dominated panel is a "wonderful" sight (as many did), you can't then say that male-dominated panels should be eradicated. If a mostly-female panel is sometimes a good thing, then the occasional mostly-male panel is not only OK or tolerable, but a good thing. It really is pretty simple, and I would respectfully suggest that the people who react so angrily to that entirely logical line of argument are suffering from more than a touch of cognitive dissonance.
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You may already have seen this, because Roseanna Cunningham linked to it earlier, but it's a jaw-dropping insight into the Kafkaesque antics of the UK immigration authorities. If that's the way a young, white American woman can get treated, the mind boggles as to what must sometimes happen to people of other nationalities/ethnicities. (And yes, I know the American immigration authorities are even worse.)