Friday, October 25, 2013

Dunfermline result provides further evidence that SNP hold a nationwide lead

In the immortal words of Peter Snow (possibly modified slightly by Rory Bremner) - "It's just a bit of fun, that's all it is!"  I decided to use the seats calculator at the Scotland Votes website to see what the composition of the Scottish Parliament would look like if the 6.9% swing in the Dunfermline by-election was replicated across the country at the next election.  This is what I came up with...

SNP - 53 seats
Labour - 52 seats

If Labour would be satisfied with that result, then by all means let them celebrate today.  As Tony Blair memorably said about the Tories 'celebrating' their dismal results in the 1999 Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections - "The better they think these results are, the better it is for us."

In reality, of course, the above calculation almost certainly underestimates the SNP's true lead over Labour by a significant amount (and the opinion polls bear that out).  As Professor John Curtice pointed out several times last night, by-election results are not an accurate guide to the national picture because incumbent governments almost always underperform in them.  And that's before you take into account that this contest was fought against the highly unusual backdrop of the outgoing MSP having been convicted of domestic violence, and that Dunfermline is a particularly weak constituency for the SNP, where they had no history of parliamentary success prior to 2011 when they won an almost miraculous, wafer-thin victory off the back of Labour's national meltdown.

Marcia said it best on Wings last night - this by-election is the SNP's second-best ever result in the constituency.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"The Scottish Government must do everything! No, they must do nothing! Because they're useless, and I would trust them with my life!"

I had to rush off urgently at 6.30pm, which unfortunately meant I had to abandon a highly entertaining - if also slightly depressing - Twitter exchange with an anti-independence Labour chap called Ross Hampsey.

Ross Hampsey : Well I suppose @theSNP will blame the closure at the refinery on being part of the union

Me : Do you see the UK government stepping in?

Ross Hampsey : why should they step in when the Scottish parliament are trying to deal with it? If the snp want to be independent

Ross Hampsey : they should demonstrate the are able to cope with scottish issues

Me : Because some of the relevant powers do not reside with the Scottish Parliament. That's kind of the point, isn't it?

Ross Hampsey : well if they dont have the power surely they are in over there head and should leave it to Westminster to deal with?

Me : Make up your mind, man! Which is it?

Ross Hampsey : well if they dont have the power why are they involved? #confused

Me : Could I refer you to the word "some"?

Ross Hampsey : so surely they could ask Westminster to get involved? Oh no forgot snp=glory hunters

Me : Could you perhaps break out of cretin mode, and tell me what you personally think the UK govt should be doing right now?

Ross Hampsey : you said the Scottish parliament didn't have enough power for it so what increased power would help here?

Me : Power over energy policy. Now, do you as a unionist seriously have NO OPINION on what the UK govt should be doing?

Ross Hampsey : this brings me back to my point why are they getting involved them. Nd yeah thr ukgov should probs be holding talks

Me : Oh yeah, hurrah for the union - the govt you put all your faith in should "probs be holding talks". Good luck with that.

Ross Hampsey : but clearly they dont feel the need to as the snp is doing everything they would do what else do u think should be done?

Ross Hampsey : but the Scottish parliament which I also have faith in is holding. Those talks what more do you want done?

Ross Hampsey : if the snp wanted more to bedone they surely would ask the ukgov to get involved.

That is one hell of a lot of dramatic mood swings in the space of five minutes. I don't think Mr Hampsey does ambivalence, let alone subtlety.

Do you know what the punchline is here? He's the member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Greenock and Inverclyde - which presumably (and terrifyingly) means that someone must have voted for him. I was going to make the obvious point of "heaven help the people of Greenock and Inverclyde if this is their political future", but then I remembered that Iain McKenzie is the actual, real Labour MP for Inverclyde as of this moment. So the heartening news for the people of Inverclyde is that things won't be getting any worse.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Civil Service's potted guide on how to be biased against independence in an "impartial" way

I'm indebted to Stuart Dickson for pointing me in the direction of something rather extraordinary. The website for the Civil Service Fast Stream (intended for high-flying graduates with leadership potential) contains a number of testimonials from 'ambassadors'. One of them quite openly boasts about how joining the civil service offers young unionist-inclined graduates the opportunity to help deny Scotland independence, with the full weight of UK government resources behind them. Intriguingly, it suggests that not only will they somehow be doing this in an "impartial" manner, but that the whole process is "brilliant for gaining an insight" into how the "equilibrium of impartiality in the Civil Service" is maintained. And the title of this testimonial? "Saving the Union (as a civil servant)". I'm (almost) speechless.

But should we be angry about this? Well, yes and no. In one sense the 'ambassador' is quite correct - it is the job of civil servants to support and help deliver the policy of the government of the day, which in the UK government's case means opposing Scottish self-government. But a number of problems do spring to mind here -

1) How many times have we heard the particularly unhinged elements of the London media (ie. Cochrane and his ilk) raging about civil servants in Scotland following exactly the same principle, by supporting and helping to deliver the flagship policy of the Scottish government, ie. independence? We all know that when the No campaign talk about "the best of both worlds" what they really mean is having their cake and eating it in respect of their own rhetoric, but they haven't got a leg to stand on with this one. If the Civil Service are openly boasting about how their members work to thwart independence because that is the wish of their masters in the UK government, then it must by definition be right for civil servants working for the Scottish Government to wholeheartedly support the policy of independence, and to (in the words of the 'ambassador') provide "evidence-based analysis" of how it will make Scotland "stronger". Indeed, it would be a serious dereliction of their duty if they didn't.

2) How many times have we seen the London media treat UK government reports on independence as if they were dispassionate, neutral, objective analysis, while dismissing the equivalent Scottish government reports as little more than party propaganda? That double-standard can now go out of the window.

3) Have you noticed controversial Labour activist Duncan Hothersall repeatedly claim that the UK government have nothing whatever to do with the No campaign? Indeed, do you recall that when I asked Duncan if he would welcome Theresa May into the No campaign if she "joined", he feigned astonishment at the implication that it was even possible for her to do so? Nice try, Dunc (not really). This testimonial makes abundantly clear that not only is the UK government actively working to achieve a No vote, but that the 'impartial' civil service are expected to work towards that goal as well. In short, the full and unimaginable resources of the UK state are being used to persuade, frighten and bully Scots into voting No. To state the obvious, those resources completely dwarf the resources of the nominally official No campaign, let alone those of the Scottish government or the broader Yes camp. The UK government isn't part of the No campaign, Duncan, it IS the No campaign. And that government, lest we forget, is presided over by David Cameron. If he doesn't want to be seen as the hypocrite he is, he must now do one of two things - either a) own up to his role as No chief and agree to debate Alex Salmond on TV, or b) "butt out" of the debate altogether as Salmond so eloquently put it, and decree that for the remainder of the referendum campaign "civil service impartiality" will mean exactly that - scrupulous and demonstrable neutrality on the question of independence. And that should apply to his government ministers as well. But wait, I'm forgetting - being in the No campaign is all about having "the best of both worlds"...

4) If the Civil Service are going to put this kind of testimonial on their website, they really ought to balance it out with a testimonial from a civil servant working for the Scottish Government, perhaps entitled "Winning Self-Government for Scotland (as a civil servant)". As it is, it looks suspiciously like yet more of the propaganda that they openly admit their London masters expect them to pen on a regular basis.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is the Labour campaign in Dunfermline about to claim credit for the moon landings?

I know there has been a degree of disquiet about Labour's campaign leaflet in the Dunfermline by-election, in which the party uses logical gymnastics and creative ambiguity to brazenly claim credit for a wide variety of SNP achievements. But you ain't seen nothing yet - I've just been sent the text of the next one.


Labour were first to the moon.

In 1969, Scottish Labour really, really wanted the Apollo 11 mission to succeed. We were wishing very, very hard for everything to go according to plan, and frankly we're not sure the Americans could have done it without our moral support. Scottish Labour - first to the moon in our hearts, and fully supportive of the chaps who first got to the moon in their bodies.

Labour were first to run the four-minute mile.

When Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile in 1954, we in Scottish Labour were so thrilled that we immediately sent him a membership application form. He didn't actually reply, but we were so supportive of his achievement that we decided that we could waive the application process in his case, and in the end we even backdated his entry to the party. Do you know what that means? Yup, the four-minute mile barrier was broken by a Scottish Labour member.

Labour facilitated the first expedition to the South Pole.

When Amundsen's expedition reached the South Pole in 1911, Scottish Labour felt entirely vindicated in having earlier made a decision not to do anything to stand in his way. We can confirm that we didn't even sabotage his equipment, or put poison in his food.

Labour didn't object to the first jump from the edge of space.

When Felix Baumgartner stunned the world with a freefall jump from the edge of space that broke the sound barrier, Scottish Labour had no particular objections. It honestly didn't bother us at all. Why would it, for pity's sake?

If you vote Labour on Thursday, you can rest assured that we will continue in our proud tradition of bringing about the most astonishing feats of human endurance and exploration - either by inwardly cheering for them, not actively standing in the way of them, retroactively signing up the people who achieve them, or in some cases by not breaking anyone's legs. We're entirely flexible about the methods, but uniformly proud of the results.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Is it just me, or...

There are some things that anti-independence campaigners say (and it seems to happen more and more as time goes on) that have such obvious holes in them, or that are just so patently silly, that it quite literally takes your breath away. Do they really have such contempt for the intelligence of the undecided voters they are trying to win over, or is it just that they're so used to being let off Scot-free (pun intended) by a sympathetic media that they don't even notice how weak their debating points have become? It's a bit of both, for my money. Here's a small selection from the last 24 hours -

John McTernan (astonishingly, this was retweeted with approval by Blair McDougall) : "Alex Salmond attacks parochialism and then calls the Olympics 'the London Olympics'!"

Which disgracefully puts Alex Salmond in the company of...oooh, just about everyone in the known universe, who also seem to have the bizarre habit of using the term "the Barcelona Olympics" when they reminisce about the 1992 Games held in the city of Barcelona, and "the Athens Olympics" when they're having a good old chinwag about the 2004 Games held in the city of Athens. IS THERE ANYBODY ON THIS PLANET WHO ISN'T A BLOODY SEPARATIST?

OK, let's be serious for a moment. To make any sense whatever of this extraordinary gaffe, we have to briefly step onto Planet McTernan (and, it seems, Planet McDougall as well) and see the term "the London Olympics" through the eyes of Julia Gillard's highly successful (ahem) former spin doctor. It appears that he honestly and truly believes that the only people who have ever used it are Scottish nationalists, that it's a disparaging term for the British Olympic team, and that it doesn't in any way refer to the event itself (you know, the one that was called the Olympics and was held in London). He essentially confirmed this interpretation later on with a follow-up tweet that redundantly pointed out that Chris Hoy won a medal and that he was a Scot.

From this we can conclude that McTernan knows less about sport than a socially isolated bison in Alaska. I'm not sure we've learned much else, though.

Caron Lindsay : "Remind me, did @theSNP get more than 50% of the vote?"

This has become a bit of a recurring theme recently - whenever anyone points out that without independence we will continue to be governed by people we didn't elect, an anti-independence activist will imply that we didn't 'really' elect the SNP government either, and that it's therefore six of one and half a dozen of the other. But here's the thing - regardless of the fact that the SNP fell short of an absolute majority of votes in 2011, they were legitimately elected as a majority government by the residents of Scotland under the electoral system we currently have in place. That is in no way comparable to contracting out our choice of government to the residents of another country, one with an entirely different (and much more right-wing) political culture. Now, it's perfectly true that the SNP might have required a coalition partner to form a government if we'd had an absolutely pure form of list PR, of the type that is only really used in Israel. I doubt if we'd ever want to go down that road, but that is yet another of the decisions we'll be able to take for ourselves if we're independent, and that we'll be leaving to others to make for us if we're not.

Also, wouldn't you logically expect someone who makes the case that the SNP weren't properly elected on 45% of the vote to automatically be in favour of the only electoral system that would make such an outcome impossible, namely Israeli-style pure list PR? Er, no. This is what Caron said only an hour or so later -

"And most radical political reform enacted by Lib Dems - STV for local government, giving real power to people."

Hmmm. STV, for so long the Holy Grail for Lib Dems, is indeed an empowering system that has a great many virtues. Alas, maximal proportionality is not one of those virtues - STV is in fact considerably less proportional than the AMS/MMP system we use for Scottish Parliament elections. Ireland is one of the few countries that uses STV for national elections, and at the last Irish general election Fine Gael came very close to winning an absolute majority of seats with just 36.1% of the vote. It was projected that they would have been comfortably over the line had they got 40% - well short of what the SNP required for their own majority.

Stephen Glenn : "Just one problem with bringing the Royal Mail back into public ownership post independence. Scotland would need it's own mail service. Post independence due to international stamp rules, Scotland would have to be on stamps as a separate nation. Only UK nameless."

The word Scotland on stamps? Alex Salmond's publicly-owned postal service having to be Scotland's "own mail service"? What self-respecting nationalist is ever going to sign up to all that? DON'T THESE SEPARATISTS EVER THINK THESE THINGS THROUGH?

Back on planet Earth, does anyone actually give a monkey's whether our postal service is called the Royal Mail or not, just so long as it's returned to public ownership and does its job properly? Well...Stephen does, for one.

"Yeah but Alex is promising something that independence has no way to deliver. He can promise a public post service not the RM."

We may as well throw in the towel right here and now, guys.

Blair McDougall : "We're all proud to be Scottish, we all believe in Scotland, we just don't believe in Alex Salmond."

So a No vote, one that will potentially determine our constitutional status for decades to come, is primarily a vote against Alex Salmond as an individual - someone who in all probability will not be in office that much longer whatever happens in the referendum, given that he's been SNP leader since 1990 (leaving aside one short interlude). This is a curious idea, because, as you might recall, anti-independence activist and McDougall uber-fan Duncan Hothersall repeatedly gave short shrift to my suggestion that the referendum is to some extent a choice between Alex Salmond and David Cameron as our country's Prime Minister. Indeed, Dunc went so far as to conclude that I was a "daft wee laddie" for saying such a thing. It seems the No campaign's thinking (if that's not a contradiction in terms) has moved on considerably since then. Tell me, Mr McDougall - if a No vote is a vote against Alex Salmond, which politician is it logically a vote for? Here's a clue - it isn't Alistair Darling. Here's another clue - it's David Cameron.

Are you quite sure that's the most promising way of framing the choice, given that the Scottish government presided over by Alex Salmond has an approval rating of +23, and the UK government presided over by David Cameron has an approval rating of -28? Each to his own, I suppose. I salute your bravery.

Last but not least, we have the comments of Andy Burnham, which were not strictly speaking made in the last 24 hours, but were brought to a wider audience midway during Alex Salmond's barnstorming conference address. If anything, they were even worse than Salmond made out -

"I would feel really genuinely sad if Scotland votes for independence, not just for our own self-interest and in the extra difficulty we would face getting a Labour government in England but I also don’t want to drive up the M6 and get my passport out or have to drive on the right when I want to drive on the left…"

OK, let's get the bleeding obvious point out of the way first of all. Ireland is not only an independent country, it doesn't have the Queen as its head of state, it isn't a member of the Commonwealth, and it's part of the Eurozone. But even with that maximal form of what in Westminster-speak is called "separation", you still don't need a passport to go there, and they still drive on the left for the simple reason that there's no actual point in switching to the right (and of course it would be far too much hassle anyway). But let's assume that we've entered into Burnham's parallel universe where an independent Scotland loses its marbles and decides to switch to driving on the right for the sheer hell of it. What really leaps out at me is the colonial overtones of Burnham's sense of outrage at imagining himself getting to the end of the M6 and being "forced" to drive on the side of the road that he doesn't "want" to drive on. I wonder - does he feel like that when he goes to France? No? So what's the difference, given that one side of the road is as good as the other? Why, because driving on the left is the British way! How dare the Jocks mess with my right to do things in the British way on British territory?

With enemies like that, I sometimes wonder if we even need friends.