Saturday, August 25, 2012

How might the different referendum permutations impact upon the next Westminster election?

I'm in a bit of a rush, so just a very quick note to let you know that I've got a guest article at Political Betting today, on how the independence referendum might affect the next UK general election. You can read it HERE.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Michael Kelly : democracy is 'sinister'

Michael Kelly in the Scotsman, referring to the prospect of a Devo Max option in the independence referendum -

"As Lord Wallace put it on Newsnight on Tuesday, leaving a club is a matter for you alone. If, however, you want to remain in the club but change the rules, all 
the other members are entitled to a say. That shuts that one off."

Well, no it doesn't, actually. Rule changes in a club are often rather good things, and they generally come about because one or more members of the club propose them. Nobody is disputing that the details of Devo Max would have to be negotiated with the UK government after any referendum vote, but what putting the issue to the electorate does is recognise that it's Scotland as a nation (ie. a member of the club) that is allowed to put its hand up and say it thinks the time has come to change the rules. In what sense is that inferior to leaving matters to back-room discussions between politicians?

Because it makes it easier for Wallace and his colleagues in the UK government to circumvent the popular will, presumably.

Incidentally, neither is anyone disputing that the UK government could completely ignore a consultative vote in favour of Devo Max - although if it did so, the Scottish people would then be free to draw their own conclusions about whether their democratic aspirations are any longer consistent with membership of "the club".

Kelly goes on -

"But a more sinister aspect to the platform on which the referendum will be fought by the nationalists emerged this week from the musings of Pat Kane. “Hue” (or is he “Cry”?) tends to use rather too many words for what he wants to say. Through the obfuscation, what I took from it was that the institutions, policies and practises of the post-independence Scotland that the SNP will sketch out in their referendum manifesto need simply be no more than a working drawing. This can be subject to major revision or even scrapping after we find ourselves cast loose from the UK.

Thus, while he condemns the First Minister’s scheme to fiddle with the SNP’s stance on Nato as “not a principled or honourable position”, Kane does not see it as fatal to the pro-independence camp. That is because – and here is the sleight of hand – everything would be up for grabs at the general election in Scotland that would follow independence.

That has been my concern all along. While the SNP are busy amending what voters have seen as its traditional stances – on the Queen, the euro, the pound, Nato, currency regulation – removing anything which might scare the voters, they cannot deliver on these promises even if they want to."

It seems that the 'concern' Kelly is expressing here can be summed up as follows : that an independent Scotland will, shockingly, be a democratic state. In other words, if the majority of the electorate vote to leave NATO in a post-independence election, that vote will actually have an effect. Crikey, what could be more 'sinister' than that? Presumably Kelly would prefer "Labour conference" style democracy, in which delegates are free to vote for higher pensions or nuclear disarmament to their hearts' content, because it won't make a blind bit of difference to actual policy.

Curiously, Kelly seems to feel that voters ought to be deeply concerned that they themselves will make the wrong decisions in years to come, and should therefore vote to deny themselves the ability to commit those future blunders. However, if he really wants the SNP to guarantee that certain proposed features of an independent Scotland's constitution will be guaranteed for all time and will not be revisable by so grubby a process as a democratic vote, this has some interesting ramifications. Presumably when Labour claim that Scotland must stay in the union to ensure a social democratic future of milk and honey for the whole UK, we're entitled to demand they actually 'deliver' that future by altering the UK constitution to ensure that the electorate in middle England isn't allowed to vote for anything other than social democracy? Because it has to be said that, as things stand, UK elections have rather a habit of producing right-wing governments.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

You can believe what you like about Julian Assange, as long as you don't try to defend that belief in Polite Society

I was extremely troubled by the way Gavin Esler handled his exchange with Craig Murray and Joan Smith over the Assange affair on Newsnight last night. I've no idea what the exact legal position is in relation to protecting the anonymity of an alleged rape victim in extradition cases. But given that a) Assange has not as of yet been charged with rape, b) if he is charged it will not be in this country, and c) the woman's identity has already been revealed umpteen times by several major media outlets, it's surely not immediately obvious that Murray did anything outrageous in mentioning her name. So unless he had been specifically warned off from doing so prior to the interview, Esler's sanctimonious reaction - effectively colluding with Smith to paint Murray as the Big Bad Wolf - seemed thoroughly disproportionate. And given the abuse that Smith then started to hurl at Murray, from which Esler did nothing to protect him, it was hardly unreasonable that he would want to take a moment to defend himself against the serious charge that he does not care about the rights of rape victims. Yet Murray had barely managed to complete his explanation that his own wife was a rape victim before Esler tried to turn even that against him. "You may have permission from your wife to mention that" (implication : it's rather distasteful even if you do) "but you don't have permission from this alleged victim. If you want to make a point about her, then do it anonymously, so what exactly is your point?" Esler's tone of voice when asking that question reminded me of a young mother I sat next to the other day, who sarcastically said to her wailing child over and over again "tell me why you're crying", ie. I know you're crying for nothing, I know you don't have a point at all.

But of course Murray did have a point - namely that the woman's actions after the alleged assault didn't seem consistent with her story. Yet even though Murray had done exactly what Esler asked him to, and made his point without mentioning the woman's name, even this was evidently Not Acceptable, and he was shouted down again. It's not as if Esler's attitude problem can be explained wholly by his moral outrage over the breach of anonymity, because even before that he had been less than even-handed, interrupting Murray with an air of exasperation when he tried to explain the credible reasons for entertaining the idea that Assange may have been set up.

Some people may very well think that it's inappropriate or illegitimate to cast any doubt whatsoever on the credibility of an alleged rape victim's story - but the difficulty here is that without doing so it's impossible to defend Julian Assange's position at all. That being the case, what is the point of having both a pro-extradition and an anti-extradition interviewee, if only the pro-extradition case is deemed to be within the bounds of civilised discourse? Esler might just as well have had a cosy chat with Smith only, and told his viewers "this is what you're allowed to know, this is what you're allowed to think".

If anyone had any remaining doubts about how morally indefensible it is to extend anonymity to an alleged rape victim but not to the alleged perpetrator, a few moments pondering the double-standards exposed by this interview ought to remove them.