Friday, July 15, 2016

New podcast

Just a quick note to let you know that myself and Peter Arnott are the guests on this week's edition of the Newsnet podcast, hosted by Maurice Smith.  We discuss Chilcot, Theresa May's ministerial appointments, the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, the prospects for a second independence referendum....and, well, basically the epic chaos this country currently finds itself in.  You can listen to the podcast HERE.

Gentle reminder for Theresa May : it's not actually possible for you to prevent Scotland exercising its right to self-determination on independence

There were some dark murmurings on Channel 4 News last night that Theresa May has revealed herself in private to be a Thatcher-style hardline zealot militant Brit Nat fundamentalist who might even be reluctant to "grant" a second independence referendum if the Scottish Parliament votes for it.  During her regal visit today, she went no further than trotting out the tired "you'll have had your referendum" line, but it might still be an apt moment to point out to her why it's not actually possible for London to "block" a referendum, whatever she might have been led to believe...

1) Some (but not all) expert legal opinion states that the Scottish Parliament already has the power to hold a consultative referendum on independence, if the legislation is framed with great care.  At the very least, there would be a fighting chance of overcoming any legal hurdles and getting a referendum held without any involvement from the UK government at all.

2) If that doesn't work, there is the option of an early Holyrood election, which could double as a de facto independence referendum if the pro-independence parties state in their manifestos that they are seeking an outright mandate for independence.  The First Minister doesn't have the power to literally call an early election, but given the current parliamentary arithmetic it would be easy enough to bring one about, as long as the Greens were on board with the strategy.  It would simply be a case of the Scottish Government resigning, and the SNP and Greens between them preventing an alternative government from being formed.

3) If the UK government refuses to accept a mandate for independence from either a consultative referendum or an early Holyrood election, there is then the nuclear option of the SNP withdrawing its MPs from Westminster, which would leave Scotland almost totally unrepresented in the UK parliament.  Even the headbanger tendency in the London commentariat would come to acknowledge that the United Kingdom is not viable if one "partner" in the union has effectively withdrawn from the country's institutions.  Perhaps there might be one last appeal to the Scottish people to turf the abstentionist SNP out at the next UK general election, but if that call went unheeded, the game would essentially be up.

Now, I'm not saying that any of the above is remotely desirable or likely.  But the fact that the SNP have all these weapons in their armoury is a good reason for thinking that Theresa May is less likely to attempt to "block" a referendum than perhaps she even realises herself yet.

A worrying change in emphasis?

I know I'll be criticised for saying this, but I'm just going to be honest anyway - I'm slightly disturbed by an apparent subtle change in the mood-music coming from the Scottish Government over the last 24 hours.  I took the BBC's Mark Mardell to task the other day for what I thought was the utterly ludicrous suggestion that the SNP would eventually "join the forces of soft Brexit", but from the Herald's summary of the "red lines" agreed by the expert standing council, it appears that may be exactly what's beginning to happen.  If what we're seeking is merely "access to the single market" and "rights of free movement of people", that sounds very much like a push for Britain to adopt the Norway or Swiss models, rather than for Scotland to remain a full part of the EU when Britain leaves.  It doesn't sit very comfortably with the very specific "Remain means Remain" pledge that has been made several times.

I'm sure some of you will say that anything in the Herald that isn't a direct quote should be treated with caution, but even the public statements seem slightly different in tone suddenly.  I listened to Nicola Sturgeon's interview on Reporting Scotland, and as far as I can recall she didn't make any reference at all to her objective of keeping Scotland in the EU, but simply affirmed the considerably vaguer goals of maintaining links with Europe and protecting Scotland's interests.

As it happens, the red lines are still extremely tough and are highly unlikely to be met, because we know that Theresa May is minded to prioritise ending the free movement of people, which in turn precludes continued membership of the single market.  But I just hope there's no further slippage in the negotiating position.  The Herald refers to the possibility of a "salvage" operation if efforts to retain meaningful ties fail, and for my part, let me say this : no, I do not think retaining the European Arrest Warrant (which is pretty much the worst thing about the EU) is anything like enough of a consolation prize to justify forgoing a second independence referendum.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Should the SNP's strategy be to dare the UK government to reject a realistic proposal for Scotland to remain in the UK?

Just a passing thought : in the light of Philip Hammond helpfully pushing Scotland towards independence by declaring that it will be impossible for us to remain in both the UK and the EU, I'm wondering if the SNP's strategy should be roughly as follows -

1) With the help of the new body of experts, devise a plan that could at least theoretically lead to Scotland remaining in both the UK and EU.  (It would probably have to go beyond federalism and involve the UK reinventing itself as a loose confederation of sovereign states - because to remain in the EU, Scotland will need at least some control over foreign policy.)

2) Present the proposal to the UK government on a take-it-or-leave-it basis : "You told the people of Scotland that voting No to independence would keep the country in the EU.  This is the only way of honouring that promise.  What's it to be?"

3) After the UK government rejects the proposal, beg them to change their minds.  "Don't force us to leave the UK just to stay in the EU."

4) Once the proposal is rejected for a second time, point out that London has sabotaged any realistic chance of Scotland remaining in the UK, and call an independence referendum.

*  *  *

What a difference a year makes...

Westminster elite's message to Scottish MPs in 2015 -

"Aw-dah, AW-DAH!  It is a DISCOURTESY to this House for honourable gentlemen and honourable ladies on the Scottish National Party benches to - AW-DAH! - to applaud points they agree with.  They MUST LEARN to instead make deep moaning sounds as if they are simulating an orgy for an audio drama.  AW-DAAAAAH!  That's what NORMAL people do, and if it's good enough for us - AW-DAAAAAAAAAAH! - if it's good enough for us, it's good enough for the honourable gentlemen and honourable ladies on the Scottish National Party benches."

Westminster elite's message to Scottish MPs in 2016 -

"Aw-dah, AW-DAH!  It is DISRESPECTFUL of honourable gentlemen and honourable ladies on the Scottish National Party benches to fail to applaud wildly in this House.  Look, I'm doing it, Jeremy Hunt is doing it, even - AW-DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! - even Liz Kendall is doing it.    You're just spoiling it for everyone."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Election rules that would have made Stalin blush

If the lunatic new rules for Labour's leadership contest have been explained correctly, there are only two very narrow categories of people who will not be eligible to pay £25 and vote in the election -

1) People who have already paid to become full members of the Labour party over the last few months.

2) Members of other parties.

That's it.  In theory, there is absolutely nothing to stop millions upon millions of Tory and UKIP voters from paying £25 and voting for Angela Eagle (unless they've left a trail of evidence of their political views on social media), and yet more than 100,000 full Labour members will be totally banned from taking part.  It's very, very hard not to read this as a method of flushing out the people keenest on voting for Corbyn by fraudulently telling them that paying up and joining the party will make them eligible to vote - and then slapping a ban on them instead.  Many of those people will have been £3 registered supporters from last year's contest who were warned that they would need to become full members to be sure of taking part again - and having taken that advice, they now find that they still can't vote, and are practically the only people in the UK not eligible to become a registered supporter this time around.  'Cynical' doesn't even begin to cover this stunt - it would have made Stalin blush.

The only consolation is that anyone who took the advice of the Murdoch press and joined Labour recently to vote against Corbyn will also be banned from participating - but by all accounts they are only a small minority of the new members.

In spite of the laughably blatant gerrymandering, Corbyn should still be the favourite to win.  A closed shop based on the membership in February ought to favour someone who had a clear lead even among full members in the election last September.  The recent YouGov poll gave him a 10% lead over Eagle among members - and remember that the fieldwork was conducted when all the momentum seemed to be against him.  The mood music has got considerably better tonight.

And it's perfectly possible that the plotters may eventually look back on what happened today and conclude that they shot themselves in the foot.  Any victory for Eagle is now going to be of questionable legitimacy - but if Corbyn wins, they'll have to live with the humiliation of knowing that they couldn't even win with the help of a crooked franchise.

Monday, July 11, 2016

If we truly learn the lessons of 2014, we won't retreat to a left-wing comfort zone

I have to admit that I've been reading Bella Caledonia much less frequently since I found myself on the wrong end of the editor's antics in January, but my eye was caught today by an article from Harry Giles entitled 'Seven Ways to Win a Second Indy Referendum'.  It's a slightly odd piece, because it starts by reminding us that we lost the 2014 referendum by a 10% margin and that we need to learn the lessons, but then advances a strikingly familiar prospectus - we must increase voter participation, we must "stop diving to the right" (yeah, stop being so bloody right-wing, Nicola Thatcher!), we must build a multi-party coalition, we must offer people more than just independence, etc, etc.  Which of those things did we not do in 2014?  I know some Greens say they weren't sufficiently involved, but there are plenty of people who remember to their own personal cost that a belligerent 20-year-old Green activist called Ross Greer (now a 22-year-old Green MSP) was to a large extent calling the shots in the Yes campaign.

On participation, Harry reminds us that turnout has never topped 70% in any general election since 1997.  I'm almost inclined to say "so what?", because turnout in the independence referendum was much, much higher than that - it was in the mid-80s (an all-time record), and it's unlikely to get any higher on the second bite of the cherry.  The depressing reality is that we're going to have to repeat the Herculean get-out-the-vote feats of 2014, but even then Yes are going to be at a disadvantage as far as differential turnout is concerned, because younger and less affluent people (who are more likely to support independence) are always going to be proportionately less likely to vote.  Of course it's important to decrease the differential as much as humanly possible, but it's a pipe dream to imagine that, for example, turnout in working-class parts of Glasgow is going to be brought up fully to the national average.  There's no 'failing' from 2014 to be reversed there - simply an in-built disadvantage that will have to be offset by a sufficiently large pro-Yes swing.

Harry points out that women were less likely to vote Yes, and then rather dubiously blames that on 'zoomery' (including in the comments threads of the "angrier pro-indy blogs" - I do hope that includes this one!).  Wouldn't it be rather more plausible to say that there are much more fundamental reasons why women have a greater inclination than men to favour the status quo in a major constitutional referendum?  There's a tendency to present the gender gap as a problem that we'll know has been solved when the level of Yes support among men and women is identical, but the reality is that could just as easily mean that support for independence has fallen or flatlined among men, which self-evidently is not something we want to happen.  We need an increased Yes vote from both genders, and that may very well mean that the overall gender gap remains in place.  If we win the referendum on that basis, what's the issue?  Every vote is equal.

As far as the 'zoomery' thing is concerned, though, it would help enormously if on this occasion we don't have a few people on the pro-Yes side happily feeding the convenient media myth that the abuse comes disproportionately from independence supporters.  

Harry's call for us to "stop diving right" (which is of course code for "make a sharp left turn") is peculiarly juxtaposed with his demand for us to be more multi-party.  The simple fact is that much of the scope for building a broader Yes coalition is to be found on the centre-right, and in the centre.  Anecdotally, we all know that there are Lib Dems and small 'c' conservative Labour voters who are suddenly open to the idea of independence as a result of the EU referendum, so shouldn't we at least be exploring ways of bringing those people into the tent, rather than retreating to our 2014 comfort zone?

To quote our old friend Kevin Baker, it seems to me that Harry's idea of learning the lessons of 2014 essentially amounts to : "Do it again, only harder."

Mother Theresa

Just to prove that this blog can match the respect for democracy shown by those whoopin', cheerin', laughin', seamstress-mum-lovin' Labour plotters, I am delighted to report that these are the results of a poll I've just run on Twitter...

Should the title of my next blogpost be 'May Day' or 'Mother Theresa'?

'May Day' : 76%
'Mother Theresa' : 24%

Congratulations, Theresa May, on being confirmed as the next Prime Minister of your country. Just a gentle reminder : we no longer want to be part of your country.

* * *

I'm sure we were all moved by the constant claims during the US primary season that "only in America can the son of a penniless Cuban immigrant become a candidate for President". But frankly, who cares? Surely Britain is the only country in the world where the daughter of a seamstress can front an establishment coup. This is the real land of opportunity.

* * *

Clarification is being urgently sought on whether Theresa May's mother was a seamstress. Her position may yet be untenable by the end of the day.

* * *

Nigel Farage declared on the morning after the referendum that a "Brexit government" was required. Odd that he then declared his life's work to have been achieved and vanished in a puff of smoke before bothering to find out whether there was even going to be a Brexit Prime Minister.

* * *

Until today, there were real concerns that the Tory party might end up looking fractionally more democratic than Labour by the end of the summer. Happily, that calamity has been averted.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

If you ever wondered what Hilary Benn's father would have said about the Labour coup...

So today we learned that, in a display of utter contempt towards both their own party and the democratic process in general, the Labour plotters will attempt to overthrow their elected leader without even giving party members any say at all on whether he should stay or go.  The ultimate 'fix', you might say.  I find it particularly sad that intelligent people like Keiran Pedley are so blinded by their (incorrect) analysis of where Labour's best interests lie that they are acting as enthusiastic cheerleaders for the death of democracy within the party.  Pedley has gone so far as to perversely claim that Labour's system is "broken" because it doesn't allow MP plotters enough of an opportunity to overrule the members!

A couple of nights ago, I happened to stumble across some clips from the mid-90s BBC series Labour : The Wilderness Years, which contains wonderful archive footage of Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Denis Healey, and a number of others.  At one point, Benn recalls the bizarre method used by a trade union baron to try to dissuade him from triggering a democratic election for the deputy leadership in 1981.  (Healey was the incumbent, but had been elected by no-one.)  When he asked for a cup of tea, it was brought to him in a custom-designed mug featuring the words : "Don't Do It, Tony.  Elections Can Be A Poisoned Chalice, Tony."  He kept the mug, but still stood for election.

Benn's reflections on that incident seem eerily appropriate, today of all days...

"It did indicate the very strong tradition of 'fixing'.  Everything's always 'fixed' in the Labour party.  Don't discuss it, 'fix' it.  And I think that's one of the things that's wrong.  The denial of people's right to participate is something that really characterised the Right of the Labour party."