Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's done is done, but let's try not to bring back the tawse

There probably isn't a good way for a political party to lose a member of its parliamentary group, but there are very bad ways and less bad ways. The worst is either (depending on your point of view) straight defection to another party or a resignation forced by a criminal charge or conviction. The next worst is a resignation caused by an internal party squabble, à la Margo MacDonald or Dennis Canavan. MSPs who resign on a specific matter of conscience, but who remain on good terms with their former party leadership and pledge to remain supportive on most parliamentary votes, is the least worst of all. Indeed, it reminds the public of the strong principles that attracted people to the SNP in the first place - this isn't a party of careerists or narrow nationalists, but of idealists who see independence as a vehicle for a better nation and a better world. Additionally, to the extent that the electorate stand to be reassured by the change in policy on NATO, this underscores for them that the shift is not cosmetic, but is genuine and has had consequences.

Nevertheless, the departure of John Finnie and Jean Urquhart is still highly regrettable, and I can't help but feel that the leadership have to take a share of the blame. Loyalty and the maintenance of unity isn't a one-way street. Before indicating their desire for a change in policy, did the leadership take steps to ascertain whether resignations were likely? That should certainly have been a factor in their thinking - there may be some (small) tactical advantage in being seen to be more in step with public opinion on NATO, but there's also a tactical advantage in a party remaining united. A natural majority clearly exists within the SNP for leaving NATO (the narrowness of the vote suggests that it was swung by delegates who didn't want to embarrass the leadership), and the most appropriate way to maintain unity is to ensure that the majority voice is respected.

However, what's done is done. Let's hope the lessons have been learned, and that there are no further attempts to push the party membership further than they are prepared to go on their core principles - ie. no innocuous policy "updates" on reintroducing the tawse!

Lastly, I don't want to say I told you so, but I told you so. I suggested in May last year that the SNP ought to think twice about installing Tricia Marwick as Presiding Officer, because it would slightly increase the risk of them losing their overall majority at some point during the five-year parliament. Eighteen months on, the majority is already down to two seats. It's unlikely to make much practical difference if the majority is eventually lost, but you can be sure that the symbolism would be gleefully seized upon by the unionist parties.

Monday, October 22, 2012

No campaign's own poll shows increase in support for independence

Another day, another mildly encouraging poll - but this one is courtesy of the No campaign. I seem to recall this isn't the first time that a Better Together poll has backfired in this way - thanks again, chaps. Here are the figures...

Yes 31% (+4)
No 56% (-4)

It's a YouGov poll, so the percentage changes are from the last YouGov poll on independence in August. It pretty much entirely reverses the Olympic blip that our unionist friends got so excited about at the time - the pre-Olympic figures were Yes 30%, No 54%.

The poll also shows that as many as 21% of Labour supporters will vote for independence. It strikes me that either Tom Harris' sneering claim that the Labour for Independence group must be "Nats pretending to be Labour" is wrong, or else Labour activists are utterly failing to represent the views of their own voters. I hope (and believe) it's the former.

It's probably already been widely discussed elsewhere, but I've also just spotted that there was a YouGov poll commissioned by the SNP a few days ago -

The 'Yes' campaign is deploying a series of arguments as part of their campaign to achieve a 'Yes' vote for an independent Scotland in the referendum in 2014 – for example they point to statistics showing that Scotland generates 9.6% of UK taxes, but receives just 9.3% of UK spending in return. If the 'Yes' campaign could persuade you that you and your family would be economically better off with Scottish independence, in these circumstances, how likely or unlikely would you be to vote 'Yes' for an independent Scotland in 2014?

Likely 45%
Unlikely 36%

So we now know that the Scottish people will vote for independence if they think the Tories will win the next general election, or if they think they would be economically better-off. Hmmm. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this somehow doesn't strike me as being the hopeless position for the Yes campaign that the London media would have us believe.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Panelbase poll : independence within touching distance

Thanks to Marcia on the previous thread for alerting me to today's Panelbase poll on independence, which is far more encouraging than the recent Ipsos-Mori and TNS-BMRB polls. The main question has independence just eight points behind -

Yes 37% (+2)
No 45% (+1)

However, there is also a supplementary question asking how people would vote if they thought the next election would result in a Tory victory, or a renewed Tory-Lib Dem coalition. This produces a dramatic turnaround -

Yes 52%
No 40%

It would be interesting to know exactly how that question was framed, because there's always a danger with these hypothetical questions of giving respondents the impression they're 'supposed' to produce a different answer. Nevertheless, it does demonstrate a plausible reason for believing this referendum can be won, and one which will not please Tom Harris and friends, who will doubtless step up their attempts to lecture the Scottish people that wanting rid of the Tories is not a good enough reason to vote for independence. I dare say it all makes sense to a man who moved heaven and earth to install David Cameron in Downing Street.

UPDATE : Judging from the details of the poll that have been mentioned on the SNP website, it appears that respondents were actually asked both about how they would vote if they thought the Tories were going to win the election, and about how they would vote if they thought Labour were going to win. This increases the credibility of the findings (because it means the questioning was even-handed), but what's particularly fascinating is that support for independence also increases sharply when voters anticipate a Labour government, with the lead for the No side decreasing to four points.

* * *

Although I switched on the TV in time to catch the result of the SNP conference vote on NATO the other day, I missed the debate itself. If I had been a delegate I would have voted to maintain the existing policy, so I was a bit troubled by suggestions that proponents of a change had used inflammatory language such as "grow up". RevStu's summary of proceedings has been very helpful in making sense of what happened -

"The real killer blow, though, came in a closing speech from Angus Robertson, the proposer of the motion.

Reminding the conference that he’d been in charge of the SNP’s two historic Holyrood victories, he led them onto the sucker punch – that even in the 2011 landslide they’d only secured 44% of the vote, and 44% wasn’t enough to win a referendum. It was a devastating point..."

I'm not sure about that. The SNP enjoyed a victory last year of extraordinary proportions, and the idea that they might have topped 50% if only they had been pro-NATO seems fairly fanciful. As RevStu reminds us later in his piece, polling evidence suggests that only 11% of the electorate want to leave NATO, so that clearly wasn't a bar to at least another 33% voting SNP. Indeed, it was probably a greater number than that, because some anti-NATO voters would presumably have voted Green, SSP, Solidarity or Respect.

The Greens have also been quick to correctly point out that this doesn't even mark a shift in the stance of the Yes campaign, which is multi-party and thus does not take a view on NATO. Of course some unionists and commentators will always insist on conflating the SNP's policy with "what will automatically happen under independence", so from that point of view there may be some tactical benefit to this change. But I very much doubt it will make a huge difference.

"The second-weakest argument, incidentally, was that staying in NATO would prevent Scotland from leading the entire globe to multilateral disarmament. With the best will in the world, the notion that what Scotland does could ever have even the tiniest impact on the nuclear policies of the USA, Russia or China is delusional tree-hugging insanity of the absurdest order."

True, but it's not unreasonable to suppose that Scotland refusing to join NATO would have a modest international impact, because it might check the momentum in favour of the organisation's seemingly relentless expansion. It could stiffen the resolve of a country like Finland to remain on the outside, for example.

"If you’re underneath a bomb, you don’t much care what kind it is.

This is something that’s puzzled us for decades, frankly. We really don’t get the hysterical opposition to nuclear weapons as opposed to other kinds of weapons. Go and ask the people of Tokyo or Dresden if they’re relieved that they got attacked with nice cuddly “conventional” weapons instead of nukes."

On that point I part company entirely with RevStu. The devastation wreaked on Tokyo and Dresden may have been comparable to the effects of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but that's because nuclear weapons technology was in its infancy in 1945. Modern nuclear weapons have the potential to virtually (and some would argue literally) wipe out the human species. In that sense they are comparable to chemical and biological weapons, but not to conventional weapons. WMDs are quite rightly in a special category, and it should be the goal of every civilised nation to eliminate them.

However, as I've said before, a change in the SNP's stance on NATO membership isn't the end of the world (no pun intended). We're sure as hell not going to get out of NATO for as long as we remain in the UK, so the first priority is to achieve independence, and then those of us who want to leave NATO can set about campaigning to achieve that goal.

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NOTE : I've temporarily removed Better Nation from the blog list in the sidebar, because for some reason it was triggering a doom-laden warning on Chrome urging people to leave this blog immediately. It's almost certainly a false warning, and I'll put BN back on as soon as the issue is resolved.