Thursday, September 25, 2014

The enthusiasm gap, part two

Margo MacDonald always used to say that the SNP's biggest mistake was constantly deferring the task of convincing people that independence (as opposed to an SNP government under devolution) could make their lives better in a concrete sense.  I'm not sure we'll ever know whether she was right or not, because it's possible that if independence hadn't been largely set to one side in the 2007 and 2011 election campaigns, we'd never have got to the point of having a referendum campaign in which the case could be made to such an attentive audience.  Either way, we are where we are, and we now have a large segment of the electorate that is newly-politicised in precisely the way that Margo always said was possible.  Tens of thousands of those people have decided to directly transfer their energies from the Yes campaign into party politics, with all of the pro-independence parties enjoying mind-boggling increases in their memberships since Friday.  The SNP have understandably been the biggest beneficiary, with a membership that stood at roughly 25,000 only a few days ago now having soared to roughly 65,000 - meaning they have overtaken both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats to become comfortably the third-largest party in the entire UK.  (If you've been thinking about joining but haven't got round to it yet, here's the form.)

Sticking with the full-on sneer mode that he's preferred over the last couple of weeks (or arguably since he first learned how to scribble his name), Kenny Farquharson wondered aloud whether these new members were "natural gradualists", while Commentor yesterday expressed the hope that they wouldn't prove to be a "Scottish Tea Party".  I don't think we need have much fear on either score - the real fundamentalists will have signed up years ago.  The new members will largely be those who have only recently been fully persuaded that democratic control of our own affairs can bring about transformative social progress, and it's risible to suggest that such people will be shy about making the case for Devo Max if that's the best option on offer for the moment.

Commentor also poured cold water on the notion that the membership surge had any relevance to how the SNP and other pro-independence parties might fare in future elections.  I have slightly more sympathy for that reaction, because it's reasonable to assume that anyone joining the SNP would have voted for the party anyway.  But what's happening is obviously symptomatic of the enthusiasm gap that existed throughout the campaign between the Yes and No sides.  That didn't count for much last Thursday, because it seems that people who were scared of a Yes vote (and they were scared for a whole host of radically different reasons) were driven by their fear all the way to the polling stations.  With less at stake next May (a strange thing to say about a general election, but true) it could just be that enthusiasm will matter a lot more, and differential turnout might in itself be enough to deliver a 1% or 2% boost in vote share to the SNP, or more ideally to a pro-Devo Max electoral pact between the SNP, Greens and others.

Talking of which, it's fascinating to see Nicola Sturgeon stress that she won't be going into the devolution discussions "secretly hoping" for failure.  I think most of us are imagining that the SNP and Greens will fight the general election on the basis that the powers on offer from Westminster are inadequate, but is it possible that a deal could be negotiated that is sufficiently good that Sturgeon will think it's worth "banking" it?  If she does, the price will probably be putting her weight behind the new package in a wholehearted way, because from a Westminster point of view the biggest inducement for making a much more generous offer than they've hitherto contemplated might be that it would lead to a period of constitutional stability.  Would the SNP really be prepared to fight next year's election without seeking a mandate for further powers over and above the ones that have just been negotiated?  It's an interesting one.  If the talks do break down, probably the ideal scenario would be if Labour were seen to be the party that pulled the rug from under everyone else's feet, while the SNP had negotiated in good faith.  That's scarcely inconceivable, because even the Tories' proposals (which are ironically part-authored by Brit Nat fundamentalist Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!!" Tomkins) go considerably further than Labour's.

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  1. Sounds like I overdid the wet blanket act - actually I think you're right that there's a chance of differentially higher Yes voter turnout due to the 'enthusiasm' factor that could boost the SNP vote. And also, the referendum could just have made a lot of Labour people too sickened to vote for them. Gotta be careful not to provoke No voters into "voting their indyref vote" though.

  2. James, I think the SNP have to go for the maximum amount of power for Holyrood in the UK system, which is Devo max (and funnily enough) the term the MSM were using in the last week of the referendum campaign). If by some miracle this was somehow achieved, I would imagine a referendum on independence would be off the agenda for at least 10 years, possibly more. There would be so many new powers devolved, and issues that could be tackled, that it would be off the agenda for ages.

    I don't see this happening at all. It would be the most suitable one. However, SLAB are only interested in their MPs, and it would be political suicide for them, and the Tories would have to give us our share of the oil revenues. If the offer of more powers is not close to Devo max, then the SNP would probably grudgingly accept it (like a Calman 2), but a independence referendum would still be considered in the near future, a la 2011.

    So basically, if the offer is Devo max or close to it, I reckon an independence referendum would be off the agenda for a considerable time. If it is not even close, and then a referendum on the EU takes place, it would still be on the agenda imo.

  3. Full fiscal autonomy for Scotland

    No mention of oil revenues though which could be a stumbling block.

    Constitutionally if it is just for Scotland will create turmoil across the remainder of the UK which is why those three leaders vow puts another referendum on the way as time is against them.

    Called winning in the short term and why the UK has been at war for the last hundred years around the world.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. @ cynicalHighlander:

      "Called winning in the short term and why the UK has been at war for the last hundred years around the world."

      Very well put.

      Seems to come down to being incapable of dealing with others as equals. Perhaps it's 'the bully syndrome'?

  4. Oil is a declining resource and volatile; you do not want to use it to fund public spending ((C) BetterTogether)

    I imagine the Scottish public will question why Westminster is reluctant to hand it over...

    SNP have pages and pages of quotes from unionists on this.

  5. I don't want to settle for Devo Max, as Trident on Scottish soil and still being dragged into illegal wars are the massive downsides of settling for this option. So, I fervently hope that "The Vow" turns out to be as empty and false as it first appeared to be. That could lead to another referendum in 2020.

  6. IMO gradualism is always the more successful route rather than hoping that WM precipitates a crisis that causes the Scottish people to leap for independence. This is because Scottish objections to independence are based on percieved risk. Failed "Vow delivery" doesn't make a second indyref less of a leap, so I'd expect another No. Or rather I'd expect the referendum to not be called due to lack of support.

  7. Or rather I'd expect the referendum to not be called due to lack of support.

    Strange thought when one looks around Labour support in Scotland is in free fall whilst support for indy parties is growing c2.5 per min for the SNP alone and Yes groups are expanding as more people come onboard.

    The Vow is increasingly being seen as a spoiler and those No voters don't like dirty underhand tricks being used to con them.

    Let's see what is on the cards now, interest rate rises BoE, sudden increase in that volatile oil, another invasion of Iraq, a cut in winter fuel allowance, a cap on child benefit and more. This is what the No voters were told in Indy, liars the lot of them.

  8. We need full fiscal autonomy as a minimum requirement. All revenues raised in Scotland to stay here.

    The recent intake of members should drive down the average age of the SNP membership. Ironic that the average age I would suspect to be more over 55 before the influx.

  9. If the UK is based on a pooling and sharing model, then what is the objection to devolving oil / energy / crown estate?

    I can understand the argument for volatility under independence, but not so much if we are remaining in the UK..

    Surely in 'good' years, some transfers of money would be made to the UK parliament.

    And in 'bad' years, transfers could come the other way.

  10. My position on another referendum not being called for a while is:

    After a 2 (3?) year long campaign, No won comfortably with half a million more votes than Yes. This is (almost) the high water mark of Yes support, ever.

    The Vow looms large in thwarted Yes voters' minds, but IMO, most No voters aren't *that* bothered by more powers not arriving.

    That laundry list of stuff (Iraq, Bliar, austerity, etc) that occupies the noisy lefty wing of Yes campaign is perfidious Westminster stuff that has all happened in the past and people still voted No.

    We should probably wait until independence support is up at 60% before calling a short-campaign referendum.

  11. What is your reason for concluding that No voters, and specifically the 25% of No voters who told Ashcroft they were voting No for more powers, aren't "that bothered" about it? What is the mystical significance of the 60% figure? Why, for example, would it not be rational to call a snap referendum on 56%?