Saturday, October 31, 2015
Question 1. Should the pro-independence movement ostracise Tommy Sheridan?
Question 2. In the EU referendum, will you vote to 'Remain' or 'Leave'?
The voting forms can be found at the top of the sidebar. If you're viewing this on a mobile phone, you'll have to switch to the desktop version of the site.
Friday, October 30, 2015
"Surely if you’re implicitly against the idea of Scotland being a nation, then you are by definition anti-Scottish?"
That's a point of view I don't particularly agree with, but I don't think the person who said it is an idiot. I would imagine that if the policy of the European Commission was to totally end the sovereignty of Westminster and assimilate Britain into a nation called Europe, they might well find themselves being called "anti-British" by the right-wing press, and I doubt if that would even raise too many eyebrows. Scotland isn't Buckinghamshire - for most people it's a nation or it's nothing, and it can seem a little disingenuous for an individual to claim that their commitment to Scotland is entirely separate from their views on the way it should be governed. Most nations are independent, and most nations that aren't independent either have very high levels of autonomy (like Quebec or Catalonia) or have seen their identity eroded severely (like Tibet, or some of the English-speaking parts of Wales). In our case, we were insulated from what should have been the inevitable effects of an incorporating union by the preservation of Scots Law, a separate education system, a different established church (not so important now, but it was until a few decades ago), and administrative devolution from 1885 onwards. All of these are concrete constitutional factors - a nation can't survive forever as a state of mind, no matter how much some people used to pretend it could in the pre-devolution days.
Apparently this particular tweet was referring to the controversy ignited by JK Rowling's provocative comments after the Scotland v Australia quarter-final in the Rugby World Cup. For my part, I don't doubt Rowling's sincerity as a Scotland supporter, but I do think there's a bit of cognitive dissonance there. Many No campaigners (ironically including Scott Hastings) pointed to the British and Irish Lions, and to Team GB in the Olympics, as shining examples of how Britain is better when it comes together. And, indeed, the logic of their position is that Scotland should not normally have its own representation in international sport. The governing bodies of most sports do not allow non-sovereign nations to represent themselves, as I discovered at the World Gymnastics Championships last night, and indeed at the Davis Cup last month. Rugby is one of a relatively small number of exceptions to the general rule, due to the historical accident of the British Isles being the cradle of the sport. So it just seems a little odd to my eyes that Rowling and Hastings should be so passionate about the anomaly of a Scottish rugby team, which goes against the general principle that they fought so strongly for last year.
Dan Vevers also goes seriously wrong with his musings on EVEL, which he seems to think the SNP and online Yes supporters are hypocrites for opposing. Yes, the SNP have a long-standing policy of abstaining on English-only matters, and yes, they have only made a very few exceptions to that rule. But the point is that they, as British MPs with the same rights as any other British MPs, chose both the policy and the exceptions for themselves. As representatives of their constituents, they decided when there was a significant indirect impact on Scotland, which is always a danger in a system of asymmetrical devolution where Westminster retains total sovereignty and the level of Scottish public spending is a "by-product" of domestic English decisions. Until that system is reformed, Scottish MPs must have the right to make the judgement call, rather than having it made on their behalf by John Bercow, or by two "senior" English MPs advising John Bercow. The moment that English MPs can vote to change Scottish public spending without any possibility of Scottish democratic input is the moment that a genuine "union" has been replaced by a quasi-colonial relationship.
Dan also says this -
"the Tories promised EVEL in their manifesto and won a majority, meaning they have as clear a mandate to put it into law as the SNP did to call the independence referendum in 2011"
No, no, no. That totally misunderstands the nature of liberal democracy, which doesn't allow the rights of minorities and individuals to be trumped by majority rule (if you can even call a 37% vote "majority rule"). The extreme example I always give is that you can't say it's perfectly OK to strip Jews of their voting rights, just because you've held a referendum and the majority voted for that. If the English electorate wants independence for England, that's fine - that's a decision for England alone, just as Scottish independence was a decision for Scotland alone. But what they can't reasonably do is vote to both maintain the United Kingdom, and partly disenfranchise Scotland within the United Kingdom parliament.
There's also some stuff about Tommy Sheridan and Hope Over Fear, which I'm always reluctant to pass comment on, because my instinct is to defend Tommy, but in all honesty I've long since lost track of exactly what it is certain people think is so irredeemably awful about him, and they don't even bother explaining anymore. Ostracising Tommy Sheridan is now a test of ideological purity, and you either pass it or you don't. It certainly sets alarm bells ringing in my mind that Dan prays in aid comments made by A Thousand Flowers, a hideously intolerant website that has its very own purity test about Stuart Campbell, who it crowned the "Weekly W***er" after his comments about transsexuality. Now, let me point out that I don't agree with RevStu on that subject - I think a person who identifies as a woman should be recognised as a woman. But I'm also someone who innocently forgets to call people by their married name for several years after they get married, so I don't have a lot of time for the view that people who casually uttered the name "Bradley Manning" or referred to her as "him" just days after the announcement was made should be regarded as sub-human. I also don't have much time for the view that people should be regarded as sub-human if they fail to instantly disassociate themselves from anyone who uses the wrong pronouns. In fact I'm not much into purity tests, on the whole.
* * *
Great news that Scottish Labour have proved less cowardly than their UK counterparts, and will debate Trident at their conference. As a result, it's perfectly possible that in a couple of days from now, Scottish Labour will be an anti-Trident party with a pro-Trident leader, while UK Labour will remain a pro-Trident party with an anti-Trident leader. That should make everything as clear as mud. It's a bit like the old joke about Roy Jenkins and David Steel (that they should have swapped parties, because Jenkins was a liberal leading the Social Democrats, and Steel was a social democrat leading the Liberals).
I missed the first half of Question Time because I was at the World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow (and I can tell you that the management of the Hydro need to urgently acquaint themselves with a new-fangled concept known as "air-conditioning"), but I switched on in time to see a chap in the audience melodramatically claim that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership is consolidating the "one-party states" in both Scotland and England. Now, it's quite true that the evidence so far strongly suggests that Corbyn has failed to turn things around for Labour in Scotland, but is there any evidence that he's actually a drag on the party's support in this part of the world?
The YouGov poll earlier this week suggested that the public's assessment of how well Corbyn is doing as leader is almost identical north and south of the border -
Do you think that Jeremy Corbyn is doing well or badly as leader of the Labour party?
SCOTTISH SUBSAMPLE :
That being the case, you'd think he'd also be having a near-identical effect on Labour's electoral prospects in Scotland and England - but you'd be wrong. Although the percentage of people in Scotland who say that they're more likely to vote Labour under the new leader (17%) is roughly the same as the corresponding Britain-wide figure (16%), the percentage of people who are now less likely to vote Labour is dramatically lower in Scotland, at just 9%. The Britain-wide figure is 23%. So it's certainly hard to conclude on the basis of this poll that Corbyn is personally responsible for Scottish Labour's present predicament. That said, there doesn't seem to be much potential for him to do the party a whole lot of good either, because even if you combine the people who say they are more likely to vote Labour under Corbyn with the 8% who say they would probably have voted Labour anyway, that still leaves you with just 25% of the Scottish subsample - which is roughly the share of the vote that Labour got in their general election drubbing in May. 56% of the Scottish subsample say they probably wouldn't vote Labour regardless of the leader, which is an astounding 19% higher than the equivalent Britain-wide figure.
So, yes, Scottish Labour are in a hole. But I'm still not entirely convinced that it's sensible for Kezia Dugdale to keep banging on about just how deep that hole is. Her "rallying cry" tonight went something like this -
"Things are grim for Scottish Labour. We're in a right old mess. It's really, really bad. But do you know what? That's the reason I put myself forward as leader. I'm enthused by the prospect of overseeing failure. That's what this party is all about. I'll be honest with you - I don't think we can turn things around by May. We'll give it a go, but only up to a point. We can't expect miracles, so there's no point in tiring ourselves out. And I promise you this - even though we're going to lose, we'll make sure we lose by sticking to traditional Labour values. Such as happiness. Love. Children. Sunshine. Chocolate (in moderation). It's our belief in these things that makes us TOTALLY DIFFERENT to every other political party in the known universe. We've just got to keep existing. We're needed."
* * *
If there's any downside at all for the SNP in the fact that their main opponents have been reduced to just one MP, we may have stumbled across it tonight. Keith Brown challenged Kezia to prove Scottish Labour's new "autonomy" is meaningful by ordering their sole representative at Westminster to vote against Trident renewal. Ian Murray quickly moved to get her off the hook by tweeting this -
"I'll not be voting for renewal. That's a long term promise to my constituents and nothing to do with party autonomy."
Even if there had been two or three Scottish Labour MPs, it wouldn't have been anything like that easy. But there again, Murray has got off the hook himself, because if anyone but Corbyn had become leader, he would presumably have had to make a choice between remaining in the Shadow Cabinet, and keeping his promise to his constituents. Mandy Rhodes followed up on his tweet by asking if he would be defying the whip on Trident, and this was his response -
"we are a broad church where ppl sometimes have different views."
That's utterly disingenuous. The Labour party may be a broad church, but the collective position of the Shadow Cabinet is a very different matter. In normal circumstances, a three-line whip would be imposed on a subject as important as Trident, and defying that whip would be inconsistent with remaining a member of the Shadow Cabinet. But fortunately for Murray, there's not much prospect of a three-line whip being imposed when it would make the party leader a "rebel".
Mind you, isn't it interesting that he used the words "I'll not be voting for renewal", rather than "I'll be voting against renewal"? Call me cynical, but that sounds very much like he wants to keep open the option of abstention. Well, he's a Labour MP after all.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
David Torrance has a tattoo of Oliver Letwin on his left thigh. Sorry, ignore me, I'm being "pedantic" again.
I did hear on the grapevine that David Torrance raised a few eyebrows with his comments about the votes in the House of Lords the other night, but I've only just caught up with the relevant tweets in their full glory.
"A curious tweet from the FM: 1) it's not possible to 'abstain' in the Lords & 2) Labour tactics arguably worked..."
Sorry, what? It's not possible to abstain in the Lords? What happens to peers who refuse to vote? Are electric shocks applied to their shoulder blades? Are they threatened with ejection into a tank full of piranhas? Are they forced to look at Michelle Mone's photo collection until they scream "all right, all right, I'll vote, just STOP THE PAIN!!!!!!!"
So on second thoughts, it turns out that...
"To clarify, members of House of Lords can "abstain", but that's not what Labour peers did this evening, they voted for the successful motion"
As opposed to voting for the unsuccessful motion, which was unsuccessful mainly because...er, Labour abstained. Still, I'm sure we're all grateful for David's "clarification" that when he said it's impossible to abstain in the Lords, what he actually meant was that it's possible to abstain in the Lords. On the whole, I'm inclined to say it was our own fault for "misunderstanding" him in the first place. He later apologised for having been "too pedantic", although in my view the only thing he should even dream of apologising for is redefining "pedantic" as meaning "totally inaccurate" without giving the Oxford English Dictionary sufficient notice.
To recap on what we've learned -
If you abstain on the renewal of Trident at 5.30pm, but then vote in favour of a pay rise for MPs at 5.40pm, you did not in fact abstain on the renewal of Trident. You just voted for something else instead. That's how it works. Fact.
Andrew Marr once memorably said without a hint of irony that, although Torrance is Alex Salmond's unofficial biographer, "unionists can trust this book as much as nationalists can". So let me just say that when the long-awaited David Torrance Pocket Guide To How Votes In The House Of Lords Work finally hits our bookshelves next year, it'll be a book that can also be trusted by people who don't want to understand how votes in the House of Lords work.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
"The main role of the Supreme Court is to hear appeals from courts in the United Kingdom's three legal systems: England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. (English and Welsh law differ only to the extent that the National Assembly for Wales makes laws for Wales that differ from those in England, and the two countries have a shared court system.) The Supreme Court acts as the highest court for civil appeals from the Court of Session in Scotland, but the highest appeal for criminal cases is kept in Scotland.
Permission to appeal from the Court of Session is not required and any case can proceed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom if two Advocates certify that an appeal is suitable. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in contrast, permission to appeal is required, either from the Court of Appeal or from a Justice of the Supreme Court itself."
I've now altered the second paragraph so that it reads -
"For civil cases decided prior to September 2015, permission to appeal from the Court of Session is not required and any such case can proceed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom if two Advocates certify that an appeal is suitable. The entry into force of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 has essentially brought the procedure for current and future Scottish civil cases into line with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where permission to appeal is required, either from the Court of Appeal or from a Justice of the Supreme Court itself."
It always seemed crazy that a country with its own supreme court for criminal law allowed an external court such a gratuitously large say over civil cases. It's particularly satisfying that the anomaly has been rectified by Scottish Parliament legislation, rather than the change being "granted" by our betters in London.
1) Amending the Parliament Acts to curtail the Lords' powers further. Even if that was a relatively modest curtailment, the parliamentary process to achieve it would not be at all straightforward - if the Lords resisted it, the Parliament Acts themselves might need to be invoked for only the eighth time in history. Which begs the obvious question : if you're going to go to all that time and trouble anyway, doesn't that strip away your excuse for not undertaking proper democratic reform of the Lords, namely that it would be a time-consuming "distraction"?
2) Flooding the Lords with new Tory peers to give the government a majority. This would cost the taxpayer over £2 million, and would surely lead to billboard posters along the lines of the No2AV campaign's timeless "classics" -
"She needs a new maternity unit NOT one hundred more Tory peers. Our country can't afford it."
"He needs a bulletproof vest NOT one hundred more Tory peers. Our country can't afford it."
And if this is supposed to be some sort of constitutional "solution", doesn't it set an obvious precedent? It would take membership of the Lords to a truly ridiculous 1000, but a future Labour government would be quite within its rights to flood the chamber with Labour peers to give itself a majority, which would increase the membership still further. Then the Tory government after that would be able to do the same thing, and so on into infinity.
Mind you, maybe that is a solution, because eventually we'd get to the point where every single person in Britain is a member of the House of Lords, and then finally we'd have a democracy of sorts. And we'd all be very wealthy people, so what's not to love?
Monday, October 26, 2015
George Osborne tonight invoked the spirit of Lloyd George by expressing outrage that "unelected Labour and Lib Dem peers" had blocked his People's Budget, which received the backing of an overwhelming 37% of the public just six months ago, when he didn't actually mention what the contents would be. However, he did strongly imply at the time that it would involve cutting the income of poor and middle-class people (the clue was when he said the opposite would happen) and that was what made it so darn popular. The Chancellor is now expected to receive unprecedented support for his drive to prevent unelected, out-of-touch, self-interested socialists from thwarting the man on the street's cherished desire to become considerably poorer.
Meanwhile, new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn invoked the spirit of Andy Burnham by instructing his troops to vote in a less radical way than the Liberal Democrats. It's believed it was deemed necessary to "hold back" somewhat to preserve the legitimacy of the Lords, which Mr Corbyn is known to be an enthusiast for. He is now expected to fight a spirited rearguard action to resist the Chancellor's anti-democratic plan to strip socialist aristocrats of their ancient privileges.
"Unionists seem incapable of getting over the disappointment of winning the referendum."
"Fraser Nelson nails it: the glaring moral flaw in Osborne's plans is that some of those who will suffer voted Tory."
"The tax credit cuts are way too broad. They hit all the working poor. We need to hit only some of them. Then we'll get it through ok."
"What's wrong with Bath?"
"Only Scots have a vote but we can all have a view.*
*Viewers in Bath are not eligible."
"If someone from Bath imparts information that you find discomfiting, don't worry. "So what? You're from Bath." is a legitimate response."
""Oh yes. The sage from *Bath*", they all sneer from London."
"Just awful to see some still clinging to outdated and discredited Bathism."
"Don't vote Yes to kick the effing Tories. Vote No, then we can...you know."
""Do you buy that?" snorts Gordon Brewer of Michael Mathieson's patient explanation.
"Yes" says Lord Purves."
"If British Labour thinks it'd be "mad" for the Scottish party to have different policies, it can just follow the Scottish party's line."
"Why is Scotland's unionist left so obsessed with the constitution? Why is everything judged as either strengthening or weakening the Union?"
"Blair expresses regret that many still doubt his sincerity."
"If Unionist politicians and commentators really wanted an end to division in Scotland they'd label their opponents idiots or lying fascists."
"If Brian Wilson wants us to read what he thinks then fair enough but surely he should pay us rather than the other way round?"
"If journalists said "Like you, we have our prejudices, conscious and not, and we're overworked and prone to error", that'd be fine."
"If you accept Scotland is a country, the onus is on you to say why it shouldn't be independent: economics; social conservatism; whatever."
"I don't deny an independent Scotland could prosper. Though obviously it wouldn't. How dare you say I'm saying that? I'm not. But it's true."
"An independent Scotland could prosper but wouldn't. Even if it did that wouldn't matter because it's not the point which is something else."
"Why do none of today's papers show photos of the throngs of Dundonian well-wishers who will have greeted their Royal Highnesses yesterday?"
"If you win something don't think shouting "You lost! You lost!" and berating your opponent for daring to train will mean there's no rematch."
"Surely the solution to vile division is a one-party state?"
"Great to see Willie Rennie reaching out to those Yes voters who accept he was right all along and that it was all a vile distraction anyway."
"Only a vile Nat would want to control broadcasting. No-one should control broadcasting, control of which should remain at Westminster."
"Scottish journalists are appalled that we no longer believe what they tell us. What on earth could have brought about this state of affairs?"
"The Scots. With their imagined grievances and whining. Coming down here. And taking over. With their imagined grievances and whining."
"The Scots who want self-determination are driven by hatred of the English. The English who want the same are driven by our constant whining."
"You don't need to vote Yes to kick the effing Tories. You can vote No, and then...emm...you know. Stuff."
""I hope she means holding a referendum if and only if it will gain an overwhelming majority". Like 55% to 45%."
"@IanMurrayMP Hi Ian. What do you say it is about pensioners that makes them unsuitable to be in leadership positions in political parties?"
"I tell my children not to use bad language in earshot of those who might be distressed by it. Clergy. Maiden aunts. Scottish journalists."
"Our most important task is to ensure that the rich and powerful are shielded from tweets that criticise them or contain the word "f***"."
"Save money on a TV licence fee by getting someone to read out the headlines from yesterday's Daily Mail."
"Instead of buying the Scotsman, just check Twitter for yourself."
"I know they told us Milliband would win but it's been months now. Isn't it about time Scottish Labour revealed their Plan B?"
"Britain's broad shoulders will protect our steel, oil and renewable energy industries. Or what'd be the point of having broad shoulders?"
"If all you did with your broad shoulders was go on about how broad they were and that you had them, you'd be a bit of a disappointment."
"I don't think the plan is just to ask John Mason what the law should be. I think more'd be needed to change it. Voting. That kind of stuff."
"I don't think Scotland should have control over welfare because I heard a guy in the pub say he wanted to see it cut."
"All our laws should be made for us in England where no-one is socially conservative and they are more enlightened. Hampstead actually."
"JK Rowling called me a "Death Eater". Isn't that abusive? To be fair, I've no idea what it is but I'm assuming it's not good."
"Thinking [JK Rowling is] a cosseted, self-regarding bully, which I do, is not abusing her. You've been ruder to me than I her."
"If JK Rowling expresses a view and you disagree, that's abuse. Simple. It's JK Rowling ffs! If you disagree you must be a Nat. Vile."
"Those who disagree with me are like Death Eaters. From my books. My successful books. Everyone's read them so you'll get the reference."
"Being very well off, and famous, and paying lots of tax, and donating to charity is great. But we're still allowed to disagree with you."
"Pity our billionaires, shielded from the uncouth and humdrum by only 5.74m followers and the uncritical adoration of the world's media."
And that really is just the last ten days. If you'd like to see lots more of the same, you can follow David HERE. (Or if you'd prefer something much less sophisticated, you can always follow me HERE.)
Sunday, October 25, 2015
You may have seen the #PortugalCoup hashtag trending on Twitter. It refers to the decision by the Portuguese President to block a coalition of three left-wing parties from taking power, even though they won an absolute majority of seats at the general election a few weeks ago. But you'd be forgiven for being slightly confused by this story, because almost every single UK and international media outlet told people that the Left had 'lost' the election. This, for example, was the BBC's summary on 5th October -
"Portugal's governing centre-right coalition has won the country's general election, which was widely seen as a referendum on four years of austerity. Socialist leader Antonio Costa admitted defeat and congratulated Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho."
Now, unlike Iain "o Rosnar" Gray, I don't speak Portuguese, but it does seem fantastically improbable that Mr Costa "admitted defeat" after an election he hadn't lost, and then set about preparing to take office anyway. This is an even more extreme example of the problem I identified in the early reporting of the Canadian election a few days ago - the media just won't accept ambiguous election outcomes, and instead insist that there has to be a 'winner' and 'loser', even if the numbers stubbornly refuse to support that interpretation. Although the centre-right in Portugal had remained the largest single party, the real story was that they had lost their majority, leaving them with the same set of options that Angela Merkel faced after two of the last three German elections - they could go into coalition with the socialists, they could compromise with the socialists on a programme for government, or they could vacate office altogether in favour of a socialist-led coalition. There was no sustainable option for the centre-right to govern alone, and there still isn't.
Now that the media have belatedly accepted the fact that the socialists didn't 'lose' the election, the narrative has suddenly switched to "the EU elite is abolishing democracy in a member state". I'm not sure that's really justified either, because unlike the disgraceful treatment of Greece, there's no evidence that the EU elite is actually responsible for what's happening. (They may well approve of it, but that's a different matter.) This seems to be more a case of the homegrown Portuguese elite casting around for excuses to prevent two radical left parties from becoming junior partners in a coalition government. The best comparison is not with Greece, but with the preparing of the ground in the UK for the idea that Corbyn would be a threat to national security as Prime Minister, and that it would therefore be legitimate to remove him.
Incidentally, it's not even really the case that Portuguese democracy is being attacked, because unlike the faceless military men who have talked about ousting Corbyn, the Portuguese President is a directly-elected politician who seems to be acting within his constitutional powers. He's using those powers irresponsibly, and deserves all the opprobrium that's being heaped on him, but the biggest criticism should be of the constitutional framework that has allowed him to do this. It would make far more sense for the Prime Minister to be directly elected by parliament, as happens at Holyrood (albeit our system could be improved as well). And I would still rather be Portuguese than British in this context, because the Queen has exactly the same powers as the Portuguese President, without any of the hassle of being elected. We just rather sweetly assume that those powers can never be abused. Perhaps we should rethink that assumption before it's too late.