Friday, January 20, 2012

Six shamelessly trivial reasons to vote for independence

Most of us who support independence do so for weighty reasons - a belief in a more equal society, a detestation of the presence of inhuman weapons on this country's soil, a desire for a more dynamic economy. But I'm sure we can all think of some shamelessly trivial reasons that complement the more important ones beautifully. Here are my top six...

1) Scotland will have its own entry in the Eurovision Song Contest (naturally that was always going to be top).

2) When Eve Muirhead and co win the curling gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018, it'll be for Scotland, not Great Britain. Alas, we'll just have to accept that the 2014 gold will be for GB (perhaps Cameron's desire for an earlier referendum does have some merit after all).

3) We'll have a national Olympic association that actually supports and works with other Scottish sporting bodies, rather than undermining their very existence at every turn.

4) An immense strain will be lifted from countless TV sports presenters and commentators, who will no longer have to wearily go through the motions of pretending that they're speaking to a UK audience rather than an English one. (OK, they'll have to wait for Wales and NI to follow the Scottish example before that really happens, but it'll at least get the poor lambs one-third of the way there.)

5) The inevitable attempts to rig the TV leaders' debates at the next Westminster general election will still be an outrage, but won't actually matter.

6) It's a losing battle to try to convince several billion people all round the world that not all citizens of the UK are "English". If we can't move the perception closer to the facts, perhaps it would be simpler to move the facts closer to the perception?

Feel free to chip in with any other suggestions!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Michael Ignatieff's A-Z guide on how to lose votes and alienate people

If unionists are looking for advice on how to prevail in the independence referendum, they might do well to be wary of taking it from the man responsible for the Canadian Liberal Party's idiotically tribal decision to renege on a 2008 coalition deal with the NDP and Bloc Québécois that would have turfed the Tories out of office. That man then led his party to a catastrophic meltdown in last year's federal election, costing them even official opposition status, and leaving the Tories in majority control for the first time in a generation. And yet Michael Ignatieff seemingly has no embarrassment in penning a Financial Times article that lectures Scotland in holier-than-thou fashion on the "lessons" it must take from him. It boils down to two points - a) don't have a referendum, and b) if you must have a referendum, vote 'No'. Yup, if you thought Alan Cochrane lacked subtlety, nuance and all sense of perspective in his approach to this topic, you ain't seen nothing yet.

"In our 1980 referendum on Quebec, the result was a clear cut victory for Canada."

I really would caution you not to think of the forthcoming referendum as one that will produce "victory" for either "Britain" or "Scotland", Michael. If the choice is framed in that way, there can only be one winner.

And "our" referendum in 1980? It was a Quebec referendum, Michael, and you are not from Quebec, nor were you a Quebec resident in 1980. Perhaps before going any further you should start by clarifying whether you actually believe in the well-understood (and legally-enshrined) principle of the SELF-determination of peoples, and if not, why not?

"We learnt the strongest argument for leaving countries as they are turns out to be that most people don’t want to choose between different parts of their identity."

Unless this is to be a one-way dialogue (admittedly that's almost certainly what you have in mind), perhaps you should be open to learning a few lessons about just how far the SNP has moved in terms of respecting the British sense of identity in Scotland, and how that identity will not be imperilled by independence any more than Scottishness is imperilled by union. If you cannot even conceive of British identity existing independently of dry constitutional structures, you're guilty of precisely the one-dimensional thinking you accuse Scottish "secessionists" (yes, really!) of.

"The issue is whether Scots feel they can only assert their Scottishness by parting with the Unionist part of their soul."

Which bears out my previous points. Conveniently, the choice is not between "Scottishness" and "Britishness", because only by pretending that the terms "Britishness" (an identity) and "Unionism" (an adherence to a constitutional structure) are interchangeable can you claim that the alternative to Scottishness is somehow threatened by independence. Well, two can play at that silly game - why not frame the choice as between "Britishness" and "Scottish sovereigntism"? In that case, only a Yes vote to independence would allow people to keep both "identities", whereas a No vote would jettison one part of people's "soul".

Yes, Michael, linguistic conjuring tricks do tend to produce exactly the answer you want. Another valuable "lesson" learned.

"So the independence side is campaigning for a ballot question that allows Scots to have it both ways. “Devo max” is the ungainly option: full self-government with fiscal powers within a sovereign UK whose parliament would retain jurisdiction only over foreign affairs. This would give Scotland a future in Europe looking like that of Wallonia, Catalonia or the Basque country.

Scottish patriots such as Neal Ascherson favour this package but the question is why it has to be put to a referendum at all. It could be negotiated with Westminister between now and 2014, avoiding the existential moment of truth altogether."

You'll be relieved to hear there's a very simple answer to your question, Michael - it has to be put to a referendum because otherwise Westminster won't budge an inch. Curious, isn't it, that it's the pro-independence side that has been far more imaginative in exploring potential solutions to how Scotland's multiple identities might be accommodated by means of innovative constitutional structures, whereas the side you're busy being a cheerleader for is still stuck in the bunker mentality of "resisting appeasement" and "drawing lines in the sand".

"And our Supreme Court adds another lesson about democracy itself: if the Scots vote to go, they can’t just walk out the door. They will have to negotiate, not dictate, the terms of divorce with the British government. Issues include the division of the debt, the nature of the border, the division of North Sea revenues, the future of the currency, the disposal of UK assets in Scotland and so on. It will be as messy and protracted as divorces usually are. And possibly as tragic too."

This may be a startling discovery for you, Michael, but I doubt if there's a single person in the SNP who thinks that Scotland wouldn't have to sit down and negotiate an independence settlement after a Yes vote. However, if you believe that the very principle of independence would then somehow be conditional on the UK side playing ball in those negotiations, you have a very curious definition of the word "democracy", with which you started that observation.

As for the use of the word "tragic", I must confess I laughed out loud at that point. For the last time that word was used in quite such a hysterically inappropriate way, I think we'd have to go all the way back to Donald Findlay's (deadly serious) reaction when the Estonian football team failed to turn up for an international match against Scotland in 1996 : "Let's put this tragic situation behind us, and get on with our lives".

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James Mackenzie once innocently asked me on Twitter "why so confrontational?", but I'm pretty sure even I would have thought twice about the headline "Screw you, Floella Benjamin". I obviously sympathise with the underlying sentiment (ie. that it was wrong of her to vote against delay of the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords), but the use of language does somewhat undermine James' notion that Better Nation is an oasis of constructive discourse in a desert of blogging "mentalism".

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Publish or be damned, UK government warned over referendum

The title of this post is of course just a minor modification of the headline on a Scotsman article that claims Alex Salmond is "under mounting pressure to publish the SNP administration’s legal advice over holding an independence referendum". The article features this contribution from Margaret Curran -

"The legal competence of proceeding with a referendum is highly significant and reflects what a number of experts have said, so if the SNP holds differing legal advice, they should publish it today. Refusing to do so fuels suspicion."

That's an intriguing point of view, Margaret. Why not direct it at the UK government who also hold legal advice that differs from that offered by a number of experts, and have also "suspiciously" refused to publish it "today" or any other day?

There's also this from Murdo Fraser -

"If Alex Salmond is confident that he has strong legal opinion backing up his case, then he should be prepared to publish that advice, so that it can be subjected to proper scrutiny."

That's an intriguing point of view, Murdo. Why not direct it at YOUR OWN Tory-led government at Westminster - ie. if they are confident that they have strong legal opinion to back up their case, why aren't they prepared to publish that advice, so that it can be subjected to proper scrutiny?

We're now in the extraordinary position where parts of the media are playing along with the unionists' little game of pretending that their new 'out of thin air' legal advice somehow represents the equivalent of a preliminary finding of the Supreme Court, leaving the burden of proof entirely on the Scottish Government. The reality of course is that the two contradictory sets of legal advice have exactly the same standing - either could be right, either could be wrong, neither will be published according to convention, and neither constitute the ruling of a court. For Jim Wallace to claim that the Scottish Government are acting against the 'rule of law' by seeking to legislate in good faith and in conformity with their own legal advice is a shameful, cynical new low in this grotesque 'undead' period of an otherwise largely constructive political career. If his legal opinion - note the word opinion, it's not a "ruling" - is that the Scottish government's advice is in error, then when the time comes he has legal redress open to him in his role as Advocate-General. As has been pointed out even by Political Betting's resident self-appointed legal expert Richard Howell, he would in political terms be crazy to seek to use that redress, but if he wants to make Alex Salmond's day, that's a matter for him.

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Wikipedia's blackout to protest against SOPA is in principle a very good idea - but the fact that they've also blacked out the "Learn more" page explaining why they are protesting against SOPA does rather defeat the purpose somewhat!

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I freely confess I know next to nothing about Martin Schulz, the newly-elected socialist President of the European Parliament. But this claim in the Daily Mail does lead me to suspect that their damning account of his career to date may not be the most shining example of that paper's legendary dedication to objectivity and factual accuracy -

"The ‘election’ which is a stitch up between the largest groups – the Socialists and the Liberals – was agreed two years ago, before today’s election and he had formed his cabinet six months ago."

Er, no. In point of fact the Liberals are the third-largest group. The agreement two years ago was between the Socialists and the largest group in the parliament, the right-of-centre EPP.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

YouGov poll : SNP retain lead in Westminster voting intentions

Although it's the headline figures on independence and Devo Max that have caught most attention, one extraordinary finding from last night's Channel 4 News/YouGov poll shouldn't be overlooked - that the SNP still lead Labour in Westminster voting intentions. The percentage changes listed below may be slightly surprising, but bear in mind that they relate to the last YouGov poll of Westminster voting intentions way back in August, when the SNP were still very much enjoying their initial honeymoon period.

SNP 37% (-5)
Labour 35% (+2)
Conservatives 16% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)

To put these numbers in perspective, YouGov were showing a sixteen-point lead for Labour over the SNP in Westminster voting intentions during the very week of the SNP's Holyrood landslide last year.

On the referendum questions, 'No' leads 'Yes' by 61%-39% on full independence. The difference with ICM's figures can probably be mostly (and perhaps entirely) explained by methodology, because the fieldwork dates overlap to some extent. In fact, from memory 39% looks pretty high for 'Yes' by YouGov standards, although that's perhaps due to 'don't knows' being excluded from the headline figures.

As you'd expect, good news on the Devo Max question - 58% say 'Yes', 42% say 'No', again with don't knows excluded. So on this poll, the clear preference of the electorate is for the one option the UK government wants to legislate to ban from being on the ballot paper. Good luck with that one, guys - especially in the light of the following...

Regardless of how you would vote, do you think the referendum should...

Be a straight choice over independence - 43%
Include a third option to extend the powers of the Scottish parliament - 46%

The question on the timing of the referendum can perhaps be seen as marginally more favourable to the UK government's stance, with 38% thinking it should be held earlier than 2014, and 37% thinking it should be held in 2014 or 2015. But if the UK government are trying to credibly claim that it's self-evident that they "need" to interfere to have the matter settled earlier than the SNP want, they'd require overwhelming backing on the issue of the date, not a dead heat.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Time to call another Lib Dem bluff?

As any of you who occasionally read the Guardian's editorials will know, that paper loathes the idea of Scottish nationhood with as much of a passion as the right-wing London press. But because they have to keep up the facade of opposing independence from a 'progressive' and 'reasonable' standpoint, they do however use logic that is even more tortuous and sanctimonious than you'd find at the Times or the Telegraph. It looks suspiciously to me that for their latest weighty "contribution to the debate", they had a truly epic brainstorming session in which they tried to identify just one Good Guy in this whole sorry process, a Man With No Agenda, a Fearless And Objective Seeker After Truth And Probity in the conduct of the referendum. In short, an untainted unionist champion they could get behind without embarrassment, and without any danger of a titter from the assembled crowd.

And the man they came up with, ladies and gentlemen, is...Willie Rennie.

Moving swiftly on, they also seem to be taking their cue from the Lib Dems by having a synthetic bee in their bonnet about the supposedly insurmountable problem of 'working out who has won' if there is a dual Yes vote in a two-question referendum. Sigh. Let's try this for size - in 1997, there was a referendum with two separate questions. Just like the proposal being floated at the moment, the result of the second question would have been irrelevant had the first question gone one particular way - it wouldn't have mattered that 99.73% of the population wanted "the Scottish Parliament to have tax-varying powers" if 52.34% of the population had just voted that there shouldn't be a Scottish Parliament in the first place. It may seem amazing to senior Lib Dems and to the writers of Guardian editorials, but the electorate really didn't seem to struggle with that concept. That's probably because people make conditional/contingent decisions all the time in their daily lives - for instance, we'll go to Glencoe for our day out tomorrow, but we obviously won't be going anywhere if it's pouring with rain. What is so difficult about this? The public will know that in voting on Devo Max, they're voting on what should happen if Scotland stays in the United Kingdom. If they've just voted that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, then plainly the question falls.

It's also worth making the point that, while the Lib Dems did raise some objections to the two-question referendum in 1997, they specifically did not do so on the basis of the confusion that might be caused by a "contradictory result". This is a bogus objection - they know it, we know it. However, as the "calling of bluffs" seems to be in vogue at the moment, we could always take them at their word - because, after all, this is a remarkably simple 'problem' to solve...

Option 1 : Put in bold capital letters on the ballot paper that "QUESTION 2 WILL BE VOID IF A MAJORITY VOTE YES TO QUESTION 1".

Option 2 : Separate the ballot into two distinct rounds, à la French run-off votes. If there is a No to independence in the first round, a Devo Max referendum automatically follows a week or a fortnight later. If there is a Yes to independence, the second round isn't required and therefore isn't held. No confusion, no "contradictory mandates". (The beauty of this of course is that the legislation for a Devo Max referendum would already be set in stone before the first round, meaning that London wouldn't be able to use a No to independence as an excuse to kick the constitutional issue into the long grass.)

So then what would be the next Lib Dem excuse? It seems we're already hearing the outlines of it - that Devo Max would have an effect on the whole UK, and therefore the whole UK must have a say. Oh-kaaaay - I trust you're going to have a convincing explanation for why that WASN'T the case for devolution in 1997? It seems that whenever the Lib Dems aren't busy shooting themselves in the foot, past history is doing it for them.

As I suggested in a previous post, if the SNP keep pressing the case for a Devo Max question, this is close to being a win/win position for them - either they'll get it, or the narrative will have been firmly established in the public mind that "Devo Max has been blocked by London". In the latter circumstance, the logic in favour of Devo Max supporters plumping for independence as the next-best option becomes irresistible.

PS. A small additional hint for the Guardian - Joan McAlpine categorically did NOT say that all "objections and doubts" about the SNP's plans were "anti-Scottish". Her characterisation applied only to those who abuse their positions of power at Westminster to thwart the sovereign authority of the Scottish people. If there are objections and doubts from opposition parties, let them be raised, debated and voted upon in the appropriate place - the Scottish Parliament.

PPS. A light has gone out in the political world - Tom Harris is seemingly no longer the Shadow Minister for Conducting a Review Into the Uses of Modern Technology. I fear for this review now, I really do - unless of course Richard Baker steps into the breach. As for Tom himself, I might almost feel sorry for him if this was an isolated incident - as he points out, the Downfall meme is so well-established that it shouldn't necessarily be assumed that the person in the video's sights is being called a Nazi. (What I took from the video was more Tom's extraordinary continued level of bitterness at the idea of lottery winners doing what they like with their own money.) However, Tom's pushed his luck many times in the past, not least with his bare-faced lie that a "Nationalist banner" had called for the end of "English rule". So in a sense the law of averages has finally caught up with him, and over the piece it's hard to pretend that he hasn't got what he deserved.

And I must admit there is something deliciously ironic about a Downfall spoof proving to be Tom's...downfall. Doubtless the next (and most apt ever) spoof in the long series is being prepared even as we speak - and I just hope that whoever has taken on the responsibility does Admin justice.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cameron's blunder in numbers : dramatic ICM poll puts independence just three points behind

If there was any lingering doubt that the UK government's brazen interference in an exercise in Scottish self-determination was going to have any other effect but to bolster support for full independence, these figures will remove it -

Do you approve or disapprove of Scotland becoming independent?

Approve 40%
Disapprove 43%

Would Scotland be better or worse off if independent?

Better off 38%
Worse off 41%

The sample size was 501, which is not ideal, but high enough to be statistically credible.

On both questions, this is what the Americans would call a 'statistical tie', because the lead is within the margin of error. With delicious irony, the poll was commissioned by the Telegraph, one of the bastions of the London media myth that "poll after poll shows that Scotland has no interest in independence". All the same, you have to admire the sheer imaginative breadth of their attempts today to convince both themselves and their readers that this poll is anything other than a devastating blow to their cherished belief-system -

"Today's poll provides a series of setbacks for Mr Salmond, who favours a "three question" referendum in which Scots are offered the choice of full independence, the status quo, or a "devolution max" option in which all powers other than foreign policy and defence are handed to the parliament in Edinburgh.

Offered this precise choice by ICM, more Scots go for the status quo (37 per cent) than the other two options, both of which win 26 per cent support."

Er, no. The proposal for including Devo Max on the ballot paper is not for a "first past the post" question with three options, allowing one option to win even though it is opposed by a clear majority. There would instead be a dedicated Yes/No question on Devo Max, in which virtually all independence supporters could naturally be expected to vote Yes. On these figures, therefore, Devo Max would be handsomely approved, by a margin of 52% to 37%. Even if a small number of independence supporters quixotically voted No, we'd still be talking in the region of a 50-40 split.

"Most Scots admit their nation would be worse off after independence (41 per cent) than better off (38 per cent)"

Given the relentless pumping of the establishment/media myth that Scotland is subsidised (ironically exemplified by the smuggling of the word 'admit' into that very sentence!), the unionist side have got serious problems if all they've got to show for their decades of effort is a mere four out of ten Scots accepting "the truth"...

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