Saturday, November 7, 2009

Back to the conceited Thatcherite fantasy

Chekov of the blog Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness recently appeared on Northern Visions' Blogtalk show, and came across as a highly articulate and thoughtful man. But in his blog he seems to put that thoughtfulness to use primarily to churn out shameless partisan propaganda like the best of us. His latest post on the Glasgow NE by-election reads almost like a parody. The candidates are all a "rum lot", apart from...who's that? Wouldn't be the candidate of the party you're a supporter of, would she? But, hang on, what have you got there? Wouldn't be a ready-made excuse for why her vote is still going to drop in spite of her being the best candidate, would it? Course it would. Glasgow NE is just far too "grim" a place apparently.

So if the Tory vote goes down, it doesn't tell us anything at all about the party or the candidate, but it does mean there's something terribly wrong with the constituency. Hmmm. That strikes me as being uncannily similar to the conceited Thatcherite fantasy about Scotland as a whole, circa 1987.

Friday, November 6, 2009

And-on. And-on. And-on. And-Brown-goes-on.

I was interested to read Mike Smithson's suggestion that Gordon Brown may have made a tactical blunder in the Record today by promising to serve a full term in office if Labour is re-elected. Mike makes the comparison with Margaret Thatcher in the late 80s saying she would, in the words of the Ariston commercial, "go on and on", and also with Tony Blair's insistence that he would serve a full third term. Both of those strategies ended in tears (although, intriguingly, in neither case was this directly at the hands of the electorate). However, far be it from me to defend Brown, but there's one obvious difference in his case - he's been Prime Minister for less than two-and-a-half years. If he lets the impression get about that he's resigned to serving less than seven years in office regardless of the election outcome, it would send out a terrible message about his confidence in his own ability.

Mike suggests that "five more years of Brown" is not a winning pitch for Labour at the general election. If that's the case, though (and it may well be), there's only one conceivable remedy - ditch Brown now. A vague hint that it might be possible to 'buy one Prime Minister, get one free' isn't going to be much use to Labour at this stage.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

YouGov subsample : Labour slip to 32%

Hot on the heels of the YouGov poll I mentioned in my last post is another one this evening for Channel 4. There is, rather annoyingly, no breakdown of the figures for the 'others', so given the typically wild fluctuations in the total support for the minor parties in Scotland, there's little point speculating on how big a chunk of the 32% 'others' figure in the Scottish subsample is held by the SNP. Here are the full figures -

Others 32% (-5)
Labour 32% (-1)
Conservatives 19% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 17% (+8)

Clearly the big winners are the Liberal Democrats, while the Tories continue to poll extraordinarily badly for a party that is supposedly just a few months away from returning to power at Westminster. It's worth remembering that no winning party in a Westminster general election has ever polled worse than 24% in Scotland.

The main purpose of the poll was to canvass opinion on the Afghanistan war, and on that issue Scotland appears to be slightly more sceptical than the rest of the UK - by a margin of 39% to 32% Scottish respondents favoured an immediate withdrawal of British forces.

YouGov subsample : Labour lead trimmed to just four points

The detailed figures from the latest UK-wide YouGov poll have been available on the company's website for a while now, but for some reason I've only just been able to access them. The Scottish breakdown shows a relatively stable picture, but will nevertheless provide some encouragement for the SNP after the mild disappointment of the recent full-scale YouGov poll covering Holyrood voting intentions.

Labour 33% (-1)
SNP 29% (-)
Conservatives 20% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-4)
Others 8% (+3)

Scotland continues to be the only part of the UK that doesn't rate David Cameron as the best potential Prime Minister - and given that Gordon Brown has a net satisfaction rating north of the border of minus 24, it really isn't looking too promising for the Tory leader in these parts!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Who's out of touch?

I can only say "hear, hear" to Cardiff Blogger's post "Find Jokes Offensive? Turn Off Your TV". The Caledonian Comment blog recently picked up on Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington's complaint over a joke made about her by Frankie Boyle on Mock the Week, and concluded that Boyle should be taken off the air immediately, not so much for hurting Ms Adlington's feelings, but because the "juvenile" nature of the joke proved him to be such a poor comedian. And if the "BBC luvvies" couldn't see that, it just goes to show how "arrogant" and "out of touch" they are. Ahem...

It is difficult of course, because a lot of the funniest jokes do have a target. Even if a comedian makes a joke about a freak tea cosy accident, there'll be a grieving widow out there somewhere to whom it will cause very real pain. That's in no way desirable, but neither is the other alternative, which is essentially to ban comedy.

New Glasgow NE sensation - could David Kerr have been conceived outside the constituency?

I scarcely know whether to laugh or cry. Kezia Dugdale has devoted a blog post to triumphantly pointing out that Alex Salmond was technically wrong in his assertion that there are no maternity hospitals in Glasgow North-east, on the grounds that while there may be none today, there were two when David Kerr was born in 1973. "Arrogant bluster" from Salmond, Kezia calls it. Hmmm. To me, the First Minister's comment sounded more like an appropriately bemused response to one of the most desperate (not to mention barking mad) smear attempts in recent by-election history.

What on earth is Labour's point here? It's beyond dispute that David Kerr's family home at the time of his birth was in the constituency. Are people really supposed to take into account the exact grid location of a candidate's birth when determining his or her suitability to be the local MP? Kezia (astonishingly) seems to think so - it's hard to see what other interpretation you can place on her approving mention of the fact that the Labour candidate was born in Stobhill. David Kerr's mother must indeed be tormented with guilt that her perfidious show of disloyalty to the community by giving birth in Govan (gasp) has so blighted her son's career prospects thirty-six years later - unless of course David was personally directing the decision-making process from the womb, which is always a distinct possibility. But why stop at the birth? Have Labour not thought of setting their crack team of historical investigators on to the possibility that Kerr may also have been conceived outside the constituency, on a long weekend in Blackpool perhaps?

Back in the real world, I sometimes wonder if Labour activists ever stop and reflect for a moment on how all this petty, pedantic, sixth-form society point-scoring comes across to real people. I'll give them a hint - the main message it sends out is "we have an irrational, personal dislike of our opponents". Never a good image to project of yourself. And it was precisely by providing a positive, uplifting contrast to the relentless Labour "snarl" that the SNP were able to sneak victory at the last Scottish parliament election.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The cult of the 24-year-old female ballot paper

Jeff has a post expressing his surprise at the breakdowns from the latest YouGov Scottish survey, which show that the older you are, the more likely it is that you vote SNP. In fact, although this is a reversal of the historical position, it's a pattern that has been consistently picked up by YouGov for several years now. My guess is that it can be largely explained by former traditional Labour voters realising that, in the words of Ronald Reagan, their party has simply "left them". The trend led Nicol Stephen to observe in one of the 2007 televised leaders' debates "all the polling evidence is that the SNP's voters are mainly men, mainly older people", to which Alex Salmond retorted as quick as a flash "so you don't want those votes, then?". Well, quite. There may be an irrational perception that some votes are sexier than others, but when they come to be counted, everybody's equal. There's no such thing as a middle-income, 24-year old female graduate ballot paper. In truth, the only sense in which some voters are 'more equal than others' is that polls also consistently show that older people are much more likely to turn out to vote - a potential advantage for the SNP.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Democracy from a distance, and decolonisation

Iain Dale has picked up on Giles Tremlett's article in the Guardian, in which he argues that British citizens overseas should be given dedicated MPs to represent them in parliament, in line with the system now in place for French ex-pats. Tremlett notes - "we have happily created a Europe without borders, encouraging people to travel, live and work in other countries, but we have not changed our electoral system to reflect that". It seems to me, though, that the logic points in a slightly different direction, although it's just as well Tremlett didn't suggest it otherwise it really would have brought Iain Dale out in a rash. EU citizens can already vote in municipal and European parliament elections in their country of residence rather than origin. Surely the obvious next step is to allow, say, the large number of French citizens in London to vote for their local Westminster MP, and British ex-pats in France to vote in elections for the French presidency and National Assembly? I can hear the indignant splutters of "sovereignty!" as I write, but there would be nothing unprecedented about any of this. The UK has long permitted Commonwealth and Irish citizens to vote in general elections - that's a full third of the world's population who are potentially eligible if they become resident here. The only difference under a new European system is that any rights granted would have to be reciprocal.

This wouldn't address the related issue, identified by Iain Dale, of the peoples of the remaining British Overseas Territories (ie. colonies) who are now full British citizens. But if those areas are given their own Westminster MPs, surely logic dictates that they become de facto integral parts of the UK, just as French Guiana is (incredibly) part of France. It might not be as bad a thing as it sounds, though. As I understand it, the UN defines "decolonisation" in one of a number of ways - independence for the territory concerned, a free association agreement between the territory and the former colonial power (as between the Cook Islands and New Zealand) or full integration. In 2009 it really is long past time for Britain to move on from its imperial past, and perhaps the Overseas Territories should be consulted about which of the decolonisation options they'd prefer.

One Ken Clarke is one too many

Startling to see at the Spectator's Coffee House that the right-wing of the Conservative party apparently feel that the left is over-represented in the shadow cabinet - because "Ken Clarke, Andrew Lansley and Sir George Young [are] all in it". Well, yes, that's a staggering three...out of thirty-four. Narrow it down to the vocally Europhile left (although 'left' is clearly a highly relative term here) and you end up with just the one - Ken Clarke.

But fair's fair - in the literal sense that probably does amount to gross over-representation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

'Game over', take 43?

My old sparring partner from, the Aberdeenshire Conservative activist ChristinaD (aka Fitalass) has been busy over at SNP Tactical Voting in response to the YouGov poll for the Greens which, in utterly devastating news for the SNP puts, three points ahead of Labour on the constituency vote. The poll does however show a tie between the two parties on the list vote, and because that ballot is more important to the SNP than to Labour the projections are that it would lead to a narrow Labour win in terms of seats. Christina has for weeks been flogging the line that the SNP's 'lurch to the left' and 'obsession with independence' would cost them votes, and is now triumphantly saying "I told you so". (All we need now is for SU to briefly come out of retirement and run a 'game over' headline and the entertainment for the day would be complete.) I'm slightly confused by Jeff's own stance on this, though - in his main post he takes issue with the Herald's reporting of the poll as good for Labour, but as soon as Christina pops up, he agrees with almost everything she says and reverts to the worry that we've seen from him before that the SNP have suffered a "spectacular fall" from the giddy heights of previous polls. Jeff of course laudably takes great pains to "give credit where it is due" to political opponents, but I think in his eagerness to do so this time he may have fallen headlong into a trap laid by someone who for a while now has been relentlessly disseminating anti-SNP propaganda on an industrial scale to anyone who will listen (and quite a few who won't). Christina will now undoubtedly add this poll to the list of 'predictions she has got right' that she routinely trots out when anyone dares to question her absolute infallibility on all matters Scottish political. In reality of course, she only gets away with this because nobody bothers to keep track of all the predictions she gets wrong - so perhaps now is the time to start. She has, for instance, repeatedly said she is 'more sure than ever' that Gordon Brown will go before the general election - hmmm, let's see.

In truth this is a decent enough (if unspectacular) poll for the SNP, and is strikingly similar to some of the lower-end results they were getting in the run-up to the 2007 election. What the seat projections do bring home is the huge element of luck that is involved in the outcome of very close elections - if, for instance, the Greens and far-left parties had performed more strongly in 2007, the SNP's narrow lead over Labour would not have been sufficient for victory.

As for Christina professing herself "genuinely surprised" (ahem - see previous post) at the supposed recent ideological repositioning of the SNP...well, it's hardly a shock that a Conservative activist would be instinctively dismayed at a party asserting its centre-left identity, even if she "removes her Tory bonnet" for the occasion. Her final point is - "I know that the independence issue is first and foremost in the minds of SNP activists, but it isn't for the majority." This is true. Neither are the majority particularly exercised about the "integrity and unity of our United Kingdom, the most successful political union this planet has ever seen", which is all the Tories seem to bang on about half the time. But the SNP are a nationalist party, and the Tories are an ultra-Unionist party, and for better or worse both parties must be true to their natures otherwise the voters will see through them in a trice. The important thing is, in addition to the constitutional issue, to address the everyday concerns of the majority - which in Scotland means a party positioning itself firmly in the centre-left. Nobody ever won an election here on a Thatcherite prospectus.

Liberal Democrats vote to thwart their own favoured constitutional option

The Liberal Democrats, as I understand it, take considerable pride in their long history (including predecessor parties) of consistent support for meaningful Scottish Home Rule. In the 1950s and early 60s when the SNP were still a fringe party, the Scottish Liberal Party was the leading voice in favour of constitutional change. So strong was that apparent commitment that I believe there was even once serious talk of an electoral pact with the Nationalists. And yet when the moment of truth came in 1977, the Liberals voted down the minority Labour government's guillotine motion on the Scotland and Wales Bill, thereby (as it turned out) effectively delaying devolution for a full two decades. It wasn't that they had turned against Home Rule as such - it was simply that their unionist instincts had kicked in, and 'wider political concerns' seemed more important at that moment.

A similar paradox is at play now. Nobody doubts that the Lib Dems genuinely support considerably stronger and deeper devolution. The question is just how strong and deep is that support? Enough for them to will the means as well as the end? Just a few hours ago, they had a golden opportunity to take matters into their own hands and make their own vision for Scotland's future a reality. But just like in the 1970s, wider concerns - ie. short-term politicking - proved more important to them than taking concrete steps towards achieving their stated goal. By backing a referendum on independence on the condition that a third option ('devolution plus') be added, they would have been guaranteed to get their wish - Alex Salmond has all but conceded that point. When the referendum took place, the chances are the Lib Dems' favoured option would have won the day. Although that vote would not have been binding on the UK government, it's almost inconceivable that a clear-cut result (as opposed, say, to the razor-thin 1979 margin) would not have been acted upon. But presented with a chance to empower both themselves and the Scottish people on this issue, the Liberal Democrats instead voted to empower...the UK government. And whether that's a Labour or a Tory government, it means that absolutely nothing will happen. And, as always, nothing will happen very slowly.

Also slightly baffling to see the suggestion that there had been "genuine anger" among delegates about Alex Salmond's proposed referendum question. That's the kind of response that might have been appropriate had the First Minister said "it's this or nothing". Instead, he's fallen over himself to be accommodating on the format of the referendum (other than insisting that independence must be on the ballot paper, which perhaps gives a clue as to the Lib Dems' true anti-democratic objection to the whole idea). But, as a general rule of thumb, when members of one party talk about feeling 'genuine' anger towards the policies of another party, it's probably best to be sceptical . Members of the public are certainly entitled to talk about 'genuine anger'. With party activists you can usually safely assume it's political somewhere down the line.