Friday, February 3, 2012

Unionists hopping on the Shetland Bus

You might think that the people most interested in the constitutional future of Shetland would be those who actually live there, or have at least set foot on the islands once or twice. But not a bit of it. No, the subject of Shetlandic sovereignty is one of endless fascination to British nationalists everywhere, from London to Las Palmas (albeit probably not Lerwick).

What's particularly sweet is that every time one of them raises this hoary old topic, they do so with a gleam of excitement in their eyes, as if they've just come up with the killer argument against Scottish independence that no-one (and certainly no SNP member) has ever thought of before. Bless. Seemingly they are unaware that the SNP are long-standing supporters of Shetlandic self-determination, to such an extent that they even stood aside in favour of the Orkney and Shetland Movement candidate in the 1987 election.

The latest Brit Nat queueing up to catch the Shetland Bus is Laurance Reed (no, me neither), introduced by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator as "a former Hebridean resident", as if that confers some kind of unique qualification to pontificate on these matters. (The fact that he twice makes the schoolboy error of referring to 'the Shetlands' tells its own story.) Even if we were to charitably turn a blind eye to the huge geographical and cultural distance between the Hebrides and Shetland, even Reed's Hebridean credentials seem distinctly patchy if his Wikipedia bio is anything to go by. He is the former Tory MP for Bolton East, he was educated in Norfolk and Oxford, and of the many, many places he is listed as having lived and worked in, not one is in Scotland, let alone the Hebrides. Which begs the question - just how long did this profoundly significant "former Hebridean residence" actually last? Did he move there to mingle with the islanders and acquaint himself with the culture, or in pursuit of the sadly more usual aspiration of getting away from the human race in general? We can only speculate. But the revelation that he once called for the forced repatriation of innocent Irish citizens in response to IRA violence offers a telling insight into the kind of agenda we're dealing with here. He also now has the honour of having penned the least appropriate headline of the year so far, as the words "Freedom for Shetland!" precede an article with one principle subtext - that it is self-evidently ludicrous and undesirable that the people of Shetland (or anywhere else) should have the right to decide their own constitutional future.

To turn to the 'substance' of Reed's argument...

"On Tuesday night in Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands, hundreds of men dressed as Vikings will parade through the centre of town, carrying torches to set fire to a wooden long ship in a festival known as Up Helly Aa. All will march to a repertoire of battle songs, with blood-curdling lyrics. ‘Our galley is the People’s Right, the dragon of the free’ runs the main hymn of the evening. ‘Sons of warriors and sages: when the fight for freedom rages, be bold and strong as they!’ And not even Alex Salmond would be bold enough to suggest that they are singing about Scotland."

True, but a rather more interesting question is whether anyone would be bold enough to claim that they are instead singing about the "warm beer and spinsters cycling to church" that Reed's former party leader once infamously conjured up as typical markers of "British" national identity.

Up Helly Aa also helpfully gives the lie to Tom Harris' sneering dismissal of the idea that some people in Scotland feel more Nordic than British.

"The people of Orkney and Shetland share little of Salmond’s enthusiasm for independence, as was reflected in the 1997 devolution referendum."

Remind me, Laurance - would that be the same referendum in which both Shetland and Orkney voted in favour of devolution, and Shetland voted in favour of the Scottish Parliament having the power to vary income tax? Yup, I think that'll be the one.

Of course, no-one is actually claiming that Orkney and Shetland literally voted in favour of Scottish independence in 1997 - that would be a touch difficult, given that the option of independence wasn't on the ballot paper!

"It is hard to join a tide of Edinburgh-focused nationalism if your nearest city is Bergen."

God knows how hard it must be to join Laurance's preferred tide of London-focused nationalism, then. You sing Viking songs, your nearest train station is in Norway, you feel Scandinavian...therefore the only natural state of affairs is to be ruled from London? This is a cracking line of argument, Laurance, it can't be denied.

"And if Scotland does vote to secede from Britain, might it be the start of a further unravelling? On what grounds could you stop Orkney, the Shetlands, even the Hebrides claiming their own independence?"

In the unlikely event that they do seek full sovereign independence, on precisely what grounds would you want to stop them, Laurance? Note : that question has just as much relevance before Scottish independence as it does after.

"And what effect would this have on Scottish oil revenues and the ability of Edinburgh to pay the pensions which London no longer funded?"

Tell me, where does this mystical "London funding" come from, Laurance? From the Hackney platinum mine? No, it comes from tax revenues raised throughout the UK. From Scotland, for example.

"But the Salmond principle is clear: if a country votes for separation, it should be granted it..."

The 'Salmond principle' is more popularly known as the 'self-determination principle' or the 'respecting international law principle', Laurance. On what basis do you believe that a hostage situation is preferable to self-determination?

"...together with a ‘geographical share’ of the oil revenues decided by drawing an imaginary border across the North Sea. Using such methods, Salmond is laying claim to 90 per cent of the oil revenue."

Fraser Nelson emphasises this point in his introduction by adding "regardless of population" after "geographical share of the oil revenues". I must say it would be highly entertaining to hear Nelson's detailed explanation for why London should receive revenues from oil situated in the waters of another sovereign state in proportion to English "population size". Is China entitled to 15% of Canadian natural resources on the basis of its share of the global population?

Good luck with that one, guys.

"And what of my former home, the Hebrides? The people of the islands were, after all, separate from Scotland for hundreds of years — first under the Norse and then the Kingdom of the Isles."

Yes, what about the Hebrides? Here's a helpful clue, Laurance : every single one of the Hebridean islands is currently represented by a Scottish National Party MSP.

"The notion of Scottish independence throws up all sorts of other difficult questions. If England voted to leave the European Union, and a separate Scotland chose to stay, some form of physical border would have to be built between us to control trade and the movement of people. Would there be frontier police examining papers at checkpoints on roads leading south into England? Or customs officials on the night sleeper to Inverness?"

Well, there might indeed be if the open borders the Scottish government is proposing were to be achieved by means of the EU Schengen agreement, rather than the Common Travel Area that exists entirely separately of the EU, and which the UK, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey and the Republic of Ireland are currently members of. But then again, even if the proposal was for Scotland to join Schengen, there would be passport controls at the border regardless of whether England withdraws from the EU - because the UK is not a member of Schengen. Haven't really thought this one through, have you, Laurance?

"And if Salmond is a champion of separatism, may we ask whether on his latest trip to China he had an opportunity of raising with his hosts the question of Tibet? Or are we to understand from his silence that a separate Scotland — with, we are told, its own defence force — would defend its own freedom but never come to the defence of anybody else?"

Which is as good as saying that Britain is hypocritical because it defended its own independence in the 1940s, but hasn't invaded China recently in the name of Tibetan liberty. Let's get real here.

"Where might the fragmentation of Britain and Europe end? Salmond’s separatists should certainly be invited to tell us."

Answer : wherever the people want it to end, Laurance. The penny will drop sooner or later - we actually believe in this self-determination stuff. And now that we've answered your question, perhaps you could answer ours. There's no room for doubt in your article that you believe it is wrong for peoples to have the right to shape their own constitutional destiny. What you don't quite get round to explaining is : why?

SNP lead over Labour punctures the stratosphere

As promised, here are the Ipsos-Mori voting intention figures for Holyrood, which show that the SNP's lead has increased from 25 to a record-breaking 26 points. If only we'd been seeing numbers like these at this time last year, we'd all have had a much more relaxing election campaign!

SNP 49% (-2)
Labour 23% (-3)
Conservatives 13% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+2)
Others 5% (+1)

For some reason, Ipsos-Mori's own report on the poll gives more prominence to the slip in Alex Salmond's personal satisfaction ratings, although at +22 it remains the stuff of dreams for all the other leaders at both Scottish and UK level. To put it in perspective, PB Tory posters were recently crowing about how well David Cameron was doing with a GB-wide satisfaction rating of minus 1! In Scotland, Cameron's rating stands at a dismal -28. All the Holyrood opposition leaders also have negative ratings, although Johann Lamont fares marginally better than Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie, who are both at -12.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ashcroft poll backfires as support for independence climbs two points

I have to put a caveat on the above headline, because it's based on the assumption that the Ashcroft poll was conducted by YouGov. However, I completed a YouGov survey a few days ago that used one of the three precise questions put forward by Ashcroft, so it seems too much of a coincidence. If so, here are the full figures for the Scottish government's proposed question, with the percentage changes from the last time YouGov asked the same question...

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

Yes 41% (+2)
No 59% (-2)

Of course, the Belle of Belize's sole purpose in bankrolling the poll was to build the case for a more 'No-friendly' question, but that backfired as well. To his evident dismay adding the words "or disagree" to the question doesn't make a statistically significant difference - indeed the outcome is identical to YouGov's last poll using the Scottish government's question, ie. 61%-39%. Not much evidence there of the Telegraph's hysterical claim based on an 'analysis' of its own self-selecting voodoo polls that the proposed question makes a 10% difference.

Thanks to Marcia for alerting me to Ipsos-Mori's voting intention figures for Holyrood - I'll try to write a post on that when I'm less pushed for time!

How can I put this...*cough*...I agree with George Foulkes

I still haven't got round to actually sending in my submission to the Scottish government's referendum consultation, which is a great pity, because it's now going to look like I'm some kind of George Foulkes groupie. He's tabling an amendment to the Scotland Bill that is pretty much identical to one of the suggestions I made about a possible format for a two-question referendum that could deal with the (bogus) objections that have been raised about the idea -

"He said if people in Scotland voted for independence, there would be no need for another referendum.

But if the idea was rejected, then a second vote could be held about a month later to decide what extra devolution powers the country should have."

So George Foulkes talks sense for once. But the million dollar question - is he doing it deliberately?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's still strictly platonic

You may, like me, have noticed that some people with a tendency to always seek the last word in an argument are terribly self-conscious about it, and try to disguise what they are up to with 'perfect' last words such as this : "you always like to get the last word, don't you? See if you can resist responding to this! LOL! LOL! LOL!" Yup, you've guessed it, I'm once again talking about the former and now deposed (a nation weeped) Poster of the Year at Political Betting, Ms. Plato. I had an exchange with her about the independence referendum this morning, after something I said agitated her so much that she stopped pretending that I don't exist for the first time in at least five months. I had to pop away, but when I had a look at the rest of the thread a few minutes ago, I was amused to spot this strikingly familiar riposte to my final post -

"Oh no - I'll just wait to hear tell of your 40000 word blog post on the subject.

Will it be entitled The Last Word, Part 88.9742?

Here's a test - don't reply to this"

Well, to her horror, I passed her test with flying colours (and with no effort whatsoever), and of course how can I now resist her yearning for another blog post devoted to her talents? After all, who needs the last word (or indeed to waste energy writing a fresh blog post) when you can simply let Plato's bafflingly muddled line of attack speak for itself? Enjoy...

Marquee Mark : Just how much is the yoke of Westminster preventing this better, fairer place actually happening today?

Me : By denying us control of tax, welfare, macro-economic policy, and refusing to remove inhuman weapons from our soil. By seemingly setting his face against Devolution Max, David Cameron has helpfully left independence as the only conceivable solution to these problems.

Plato : "By denying us control of tax, welfare, macro-economic policy, and refusing to remove inhuman weapons from our soil"

Taking these one by one, I'm sure many undecided voters would be interested in the thinking behind these.

1. Control of tax - Holyrood hasn't used its current tax varying powers. IIRC the reason given is that additional revenues would be deducted from Barnett payments. Is this true?

And what happens if Holyrood wanted to reduce their income tax rate to stimulate growth?

2. Welfare - what does this include?

Do the current rules actively prevent changes or is it about using the same money with a difference emphasis as already happens with 'free tuition fees' etc?

3. Macro-economic - unless Scotland has its own currency, ME policy will be set by the BoE or Brussels as they'll set interest rates/money supply.

How does independence change this?

4. Nuclear weapons.

Is this because it fears being targeted by Iran or AN Other, or because it doesn't like them in principle?

Has Holyrood asked the MoD to relocate their bases elsewhere.

Is this why leaving NATO is included in the independence bag?

Me : Superb - I agitated Plato so much that she just had to respond (first time in months?) but she still couldn't quite bring herself to be associated with my name by hitting the 'reply' button!

"1. Control of tax - Holyrood hasn't used its current tax varying powers...Is this true? "

Yes, because it would be regressive to do so. We need the powers to progressively vary different rates of tax.

"2. Welfare - what does this include?"

The benefits system - entirely controlled by Westminster, and now under siege.

"3. Macro-economic - unless Scotland has its own currency, ME policy will be set by the BoE or Brussels as they'll set interest rates/money supply. How does independence change this?"

Read the Scotland Act, Plato. Macro-economic policy is reserved to Westminster. Even under Devo Max, that wouldn't be the case.

"4. Nuclear weapons. Is this because it fears being targeted by Iran or AN Other, or because it doesn't like them in principle?"

The latter. And, yes, that's why the policy is to leave NATO - it's a nuclear weapons alliance.

Plato : I posed a number of questions - you didn't respond to:

1. And what happens if Holyrood wanted to reduce their income tax rate to stimulate growth?

4. Has Holyrood asked the MoD to relocate their bases elsewhere.

Re ME policy, unless Scotland has its own currency/central bank - how is it in more control than now? Joining the Euro/using Sterling wouldn't provide any freedom to set money supply or interest rates.

Me : Those weren't questions 1 and 4, both of which I answered. They were afterthought supplementaries, but I'll answer them anyway -

"1. And what happens if Holyrood wanted to reduce their income tax rate to stimulate growth?"

The Scottish Tories are free to give it a go, in the unlikely event that they're ever elected to office.

"4. Has Holyrood asked the MoD to relocate their bases elsewhere."

What a very slippery question. We're talking about nuclear weapons, correct? If so, then yes, the SNP majority at Holyrood has "requested" (I'd put it a bit more strongly than that) that Trident be removed from the Clyde.

Plato : I'll ask the question again - What happens if Holyrood wanted to reduce their income tax rate to stimulate growth?

What did the MoD say in response to Holyrood's request?

Me : "What happens if Holyrood wanted to reduce their income tax rate to stimulate growth?"

Firstly, income tax would be reduced. Secondly, we'd find out if Tory economic philosophy stacks up. Ah hae ma doots.

"What did the MoD say in response to Holyrood's request?"


Plato : Have I missed the SNP view of how having Brussels or the BoE control their monetary/interest rate policies gives Scotland macro-economic independence?

If not, would a Nat like to explain how this works?

HD2 : Come on, Plato, Nits NEVER explain.

The Word is Freeeeeeeeeedoooooom...

It's called Freeeeeeeeeedooooooom, ye ken?

Me : She's just sulking because I managed to answer every single one of her distinctly odd menu of questions upthread.

Plato : Far from it James, you failed to answer both my question and SO's re macro-economics and independence.

I asked it again just a few minutes ago to see if any other SNP supporters would like to offer an explanation.

How is having interest rates and money supply controlled by Brussels or the BoE an example of *independence*.

Why would I be sulking? It's an immensely childish trait that I grew out of approx 35yrs ago.

TheUnionDivvie : What some of the red-faced stampers of feet demanding that the 'EthEnPee anther my qwethtionth now or I'll thqweem & thqweem & thqweem' don't seem to realise is that they don't have to be provided with anything. In the triage of political campaigning and discourse they're not even in the 'likely to die, regardless of what care they receive' category.

Me : "Why would I be sulking?"

I don't know, Plato. Only you know the answer to that.

Nice try, Ed, but here's why independence would be a boost for progressivism beyond the borders of Scotland

We can safely assume that when the referendum campaign gets underway properly, Labour will revert to their familiar comfort zone of fear-mongering. But for the time being, Ed Miliband is experimenting with some rather more high-minded rhetoric about Scotland and the rest of the UK standing together to achieve social justice. Well, that would be simply marvellous, Ed, but for one small problem - it doesn't actually work. The last authentically left-of-centre government at UK level was the Callaghan government in 1979. Since then, Labour have only succeeded in winning elections by having a leader who brazenly claimed that the rising wealth gap between the rich and the poor didn't matter. With every other Labour leader, it's been Tory victories all the way. Why else do Miliband and Balls feel compelled to tack right at present?

In reality, independence would be a boon for progressive politics both at home and further afield, for the following reasons -

1) A progressive government in Scotland would take control of the welfare and tax systems.

2) This huge advance would happen while making a negligible impact on the chances of what might laughably be called "progressive forces" gaining power in the rest of the UK. Contrary to the mythology, Labour would have secured nearly all of their post-war election victories with or without Scotland. The outcomes of the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections would have been the same.

3) Scotland's direct votes in the European Union institutions would mean that the progressive voting bloc would increase, and the conservative voting bloc (of which the UK has been a loyal part under both Tory and New Labour governments alike) would slightly decrease. This would be of benefit to under-privileged people in Liverpool or London (or Lisbon for that matter) every bit as much as to under-privileged people in Glasgow.

4) The overseas aid contribution of what is currently the UK would probably increase, due to the likelihood of a higher per capita aid budget being put in place by an independent Scottish government.

The latter point is especially important, because by praying in aid the need for social justice but only within this small island, Miliband betrays the narrowness of his own British nationalism. If he thinks that you can only be called progressive if you believe in North Sea oil revenues being shared across Britain (where of course its main effect has been to bankroll Thatcherism), how exactly can you be called a progressive if you don't support North Sea oil revenues being shared across Europe, or indeed the entire world? His argument can only have any credibility if he ditches his British nationalism and supports a single European or world state - which unsurprisingly he shows no sign of doing.

In a world of nation states, lines are drawn around people who say "these are our own resources, which we primarily use to benefit our own country". Alex Salmond, Ed Miliband and David Cameron all believe in that world. The philosophy is identical - except of course that Alex Salmond believes in a much fairer distribution of income at home, and a much more generous engagement with the wider world. As the great R B Cunninghame Graham (the UK's first socialist member of parliament and a founding member of the SNP) once said : "without nationalism, there can be no internationalism". I'd go one step further, and say that without progressive nationalism, there can be no progressive internationalism. It's a fundamental building-block - but unfortunately the British nationalism exhibited by the unionist parties at present is broadly regressive in nature.

The alternative is obvious.

Another boost for independence in Ipsos-Mori poll

The 'No' side retains the advantage in the latest Ipsos-Mori poll on independence, but the lead has narrowed by some eight points, providing further evidence that the Con/Lib Dem interference from Westminster has backfired. Here are the full figures -

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

Yes 39% (+1)
No 50% (-7)

The percentage changes are from the last comparable Ipsos-Mori poll two months ago.

Monday, January 30, 2012

More sneered against than sneering

Hell hath no fury like a Lib Dem scorned. For the uninitiated, the proprietor of Political Betting (and occasional mainstream-media election 'expert') Mike Smithson is a right-leaning Lib Dem who strongly urged his party to back the Tories after the 2010 election. I first became aware of just what a sore point that error of judgement had become to him only a matter of days after the coalition agreement was concluded, when I commented on the Lib Dems' plunging poll ratings. Smithson irritably snapped back : "So what, James? The next election is on May 7th 2015. Get used to it". It struck me that it was himself he was trying to convince, because while the new legislation on 'fixed term parliaments' makes an early election somewhat less likely, it comes nowhere close to excluding the possibility.

He was in even more touchy form yesterday, when I dared to take issue with his claim that Nick Clegg is a "strong" (!) leader. I pointed out that strong leaders generally don't let their coalition partners walk all over them, and that there could scarcely be anyone in Britain who doesn't now see this government as basically a Tory one. Knowing that I'm an SNP supporter, Smithson's response was to angrily lash out with this long-discredited (and utterly irrelevant for that matter) falsehood about Megrahi -

"Of course the SNP know about sticking up for itself when it became part of the shabby deal to free the Locherbie bomber."

(Note the rather telling spelling mistake - is there a loch called Erbie?!)

I flatly requested that he justify his allegation, or withdraw it. I pointed out that there couldn't be anything much shabbier than someone who was in a position to know better trotting out a claim like that without even the slightest shred of evidence.

Naturally, he was unable to justify his claim, and he failed to withdraw it. As I said - shabby.

Later in the discussion, I noticed he was being equally crabbit with the regular Labour poster Tim, who had predicted that Labour would pick up three or four Scottish Lib Dem seats at the next election -

"Which seats are those Tim and, in any case, the election is not decided on current polling.

On "current polling" in 1990 Kinnock would have won a landslide majority.

On "current polling" in Feb/Mar 2011 Lab was going to take control at Holyrood.

On "current polling" in May/June 1970 Harold Wilson was going to be returned with another majority.

On "current polling" in the summer of 2008 Cameron was going to win a lanslide."

Of course these are all perfectly valid points, but I couldn't help but notice the slight contradiction with Smithson's Nostradamus-like claim two years ago to know for a fact that the date of the next election was May 7th, 2015. I noted that I was glad he had finally woken up to the fact that events happen and situations change. He didn't care for that observation much...

"That was a good prediction - so good that Betfair closed their betting market on the election date and stopped people making money."

Of course when someone has forgotten to take their self-awareness pills, there's a limit to the extent you can reason with them, but I tried the following response all the same -

"A small hint, Mike - when you make a prediction you generally have to wait until it actually comes true before you assess whether it is "good" or not. Tim could just as easily make the smug, meaningless claim that his predictions about the Lib Dems are "good" - can you not spot the slight contradiction in what you're saying here?

As for the accuracy of Betfair, I seem to remember that they had Labour as overwhelming favourites to win the 2007 Scottish election at a point during the count when Labour people were practically touring the TV studios to concede defeat."

Well, that had torn it. For my trouble, I earned this stern rebuke from Smithson, which was hungrily "liked" by no fewer than sixteen of the PB Tory herd (surely some kind of record?) -

"Can I ask then that you do not sneer at my predictions until they are proved to be wrong?

I know that acting in a civilised fashion is probably alien to your nature but it helps. Also you need to read my book on political betting. Betfair don't "make odds" - that is done by other punters. It is a betting exchange."

Oh-kaaay. Well, that just leaves the following mysteries to be resolved -

1) Why is it perfectly all right to full-bloodedly sneer at Tim's prediction of Lib Dem losses at the next election, when the merest questioning of the Sacred Smithson Forecast of the election date is a crime on a par with nepalming a poodle? After all, the status of both predictions is absolutely identical - they have yet to be proved wrong.

2) What difference does the hair-splitting point about Betfair make to the indisputable fact that neither they nor anyone else can tell you in 2010 whether a prediction about 2015 is any "good" or not?

3) How does a man keep a straight face in criticising others for "sneering" and "uncivilised" behaviour, when on the very same thread he not only makes the above-mentioned comment about Lockerbie, but also these snide asides directed at others...

"Are you dumb or something?"

"This May is irrelevant. May 2015 is what counts as you and your friend Mr. Miliband know only too well."

Just askin'. (As annoying people say on Twitter.)

* * *

I recommended a gentle song that captured my imagination at the Celtic Connections open stage last Saturday, so I thought I might as well do the same this week. This time it's Heather Young's performance of the Burns song Ca' the Ewes. Once again, it's the second song into the recording, so it's a bit pernickity to find.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Calling Ms Davidson, calling Ms Davidson : are you paying attention this time?

I'm still trying to get my head round how Ruth Davidson thought she could claim a few weeks ago that "every opinion poll in history" has shown that Scots want to remain in the United Kingdom, given that there have been umpteen polls over the last twenty years showing the complete opposite. The one and only thought I can come up with is that maybe she was indulging in a spot of 1979-style creative accountancy, and counting all the 'don't knows' as 'pro-union'. If so, even that excuse has just run out, courtesy of this latest Vision Critical poll showing an absolute majority in favour of independence even when 'don't knows' are taken into account...

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

Yes 51%
No 39%

The one important caveat is that the Scottish sample size was just 180, but we are assured in the Express article that the figures are credible, because the sample was demographically representative. Nevertheless, the margin of error is a hefty 7% or so, which means that the No side could be in the lead - but only just.