Friday, March 2, 2018

Tory hubris cruelly exposed AGAIN as even the Beast From The East can't stop the SNP from winning the Clackmannanshire North by-election

To quote the immortal words of Ruth Davidson herself: "Well done, Clacks!"  When it was revealed that the turnout in yesterday's Clackmannanshire North by-election had somehow almost reached one-quarter of the registered electorate, many of us feared the worst, because it seemed obvious that a lot of that must have been postal votes - which could quite reasonably be expected to favour unionist parties, and especially the Tories.  But we should have had more faith - the news has filtered through that the SNP have won.  This is the second outright victory for the SNP in local by-elections in the last three weeks - and the third outright defeat for unionist parties.

UPDATE: Here is the full result on first preferences -

SNP 37.0% (-3.3)
Conservatives 31.7% (+7.7)
Labour 23.7% (-3.0)
Liberal Democrats 4.0% (-1.1)
Greens 3.6% (-0.2)

I gather that quite a few Conservative supporters are extremely keen for us to believe that this is not, as appearances would suggest, a defeat for their party, but rather a stunning triumph - ie. because their vote went up and everybody else's went down.  There are even a few wildly optimistic claims that this result is evidence that the opinion polls are wrong to suggest that the tide is going back out on Scottish Tory fortunes.  Well, good luck to them in attempting to make that narrative stick.  I think most sensible people fully appreciate that this by-election was fought under almost unique circumstances, and ones which favoured the Tories heavily.  The SNP have done extremely well to overcome their disadvantages and squeeze out a victory.

There was a poster on the Vote UK forum yesterday who was absolutely incredulous at suggestions that the by-election should have been called off - "what, for snow?" he asked.  I'm not sure if people outside the affected areas quite realise just what an extreme weather event this has been.  I live about twenty miles from the Clackmannanshire North ward, and when I went out for a short walk yesterday afternoon the scenes were almost medieval.  It must have been physically impossible for some people to get to the polling stations, and highly risky for others to attempt it.  Grant Thoms suggested yesterday morning that it was irresponsible for political parties to even encourage people to vote, but the other side of the equation is that some people who wanted to vote were denied their democratic rights by the decision not to postpone the by-election - or more accurately by the fact that it was apparently not possible under the rules for it to be postponed simply because of the weather.  (In 1974 there was a general election on February 28th - the mind boggles as to what would have happened if the weather had been like this.)  It's simply a fact that more affluent people who are more likely to vote Tory are also more likely to succeed in casting a vote in these difficult circumstances.

To the extent we can draw any lessons at all from this result, though, this is how I would look at it.  The SNP have had a few very bad results in local by-elections since last June, and they've all followed the same pattern - they've been in traditional SNP-Labour battleground areas, and the swing to Labour has significantly outstripped anything suggested by the opinion polls.  The Clackmannanshire result very much bucks that trend.  It's a ward that in the past has seen straight SNP-Labour contests, with Labour even managing to just about fend off the Tories for second place last year.  And yet on this occasion there has essentially been no swing at all from SNP to Labour, and Labour have been pushed into third place by the Tories.  OK, the weather might explain some of that, but there's certainly no sign here of the SNP being swept away by a Corbyn juggernaut in the central belt.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

On why the SNP must honour its mandate to hold an indyref before May 2021

Welcome to "spring", and if you weren't aware that "spring" in Scotland is supposed to resemble a routine day in central Antarctica, you obviously haven't been paying enough attention.  (My own personal theory is that our notion of when seasons start and end is about ten days out of sync with reality - ie. winter really finishes on around March 10th, summer really finishes on around September 10th, and so on.  I have a feeling average temperatures would lend some credence to that idea.)  Anyway, regardless of whether this is "spring" or not, it's most certainly the first day of the month, which means it must be iScot day.  My column this month explains my view that, if the SNP depute leadership contest is to be a proxy vote on the timing of the next independence referendum, it's vitally important that the winner is someone who believes that the current mandate to hold an indyref before 2021 should be honoured.  That might mean James Dornan, or it might mean someone who has yet to throw their hat into the ring.  As you'll probably gather, though, the article was written before Pete Wishart announced that he wouldn't be putting himself forward after all, a development which may mean that any proxy vote won't be quite as clear-cut as we were expecting at one point.  It remains to be seen whether any candidate will explicitly put forward the "let the mandate expire" view.

If you're not a subscriber to the print edition of iScot, you can see a Twitter preview of the first part of the article HERE, and a digital copy of the whole magazine can be inexpensively purchased HERE.

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Although there was immense satisfaction to be drawn from watching Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!" Tomkins fail to land any punches on a legal expert of 'even' greater eminence than himself, it remains the case that only the UK Supreme Court can decide whether Tomkins or the Lord Advocate is correct about the legality of the Scottish Government's Continuity Bill.  That'll only happen, of course, if the UK government's law officers are reckless enough to escalate this constitutional crisis into a full-scale Bush v Gore-style showdown by referring the Bill to the courts in the first place. 

The more definitive part of the Lord Advocate's remarks yesterday came in response to Neil Findlay.  Labour have been trying to have their cake and eat it by posing as defenders of the devolution settlement, while arguing that the Scottish Government are blameworthy for not ensuring that the Continuity Bill is "compliant" in the same way that the Welsh Government have done.  The Lord Advocate pointed out that, although there are differences between the devolution settlements in Scotland and Wales, and although there are a few differences between the Continuity Bills put forward in the two countries, none of those differences are actually relevant to the reasons for the Welsh and Scottish Presiding Officers reaching different conclusions about "compliance".  What we were witnessing was simply different individuals coming up with different interpretations of the legal position.  That seems to me to be an unanswerable point.  It's hard to see how Labour can now oppose the Scottish Continuity Bill given that the Welsh equivalent, put forward by a Labour administration in Cardiff, is no more or less "compliant".

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I'm sure at least a few people reading this blogpost are residents of the Clackmannanshire North ward.  If you're one of them, please try to brave the weather to cast a vote in the by-election today (within reason, obviously).  The SNP won the popular vote in the ward last May, but there's a strong enough Labour vote for today's contest to go either way, with the Tories also potentially in the running if there's a low turnout (which, given the circumstances, there almost certainly will be).

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Astonishing: London Tories double down on plans for a power-grab and send Scotland hurtling towards a constitutional crisis

Well, we can now say one thing for certain - Michael Settle's supposed exclusive in the Herald two weeks ago about how Westminster was running up the white flag on its plans for a power-grab from the Scottish Parliament, and how Nicola Sturgeon was poised to declare that she was satisfied with what's on offer, was a load of old hogwash.  It's clear from David Lidington's intervention in the Sunday Telegraph (apparently foreshadowing a key speech) that the London Tories still fully intend to take back some of the powers that were devolved to Scotland in July 1999, and more importantly that they're leaving themselves hardly any wriggle room for a dignified climbdown.  How can they declare today that a power-grab is essential for the UK's post-Brexit economic health, and then a few days or weeks later call the whole plan off?  Realistically, they can't.  And yet we already know that without some sort of substantive climbdown, the Scottish Parliament's pro-independence majority will almost certainly deny legislative consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill - and according to the Sewel Convention, the Bill should not proceed without that consent.  The convention is not legally binding (in spite of the con-trick of it being written into law in a completely unenforceable way), but if it's not honoured, "The Vow" will have been demonstrably betrayed.  In other words, the chances of a major constitutional crisis - one that would probably stiffen the resolve of the SNP to press ahead with an early indyref - have just increased markedly.

What's puzzling is the strategy behind London's latest move.  Whoever briefed Settle earlier this month was obviously guilty of a deception, but at least that person was plainly attempting to pave the way for a deal by giving the impression that Nicola Sturgeon had been given everything she wanted and that it would be totally unreasonable and irrational of her not to sign on the dotted line.  Suddenly we're hearing the complete opposite.  The new belligerent message that the success of Brexit depends on the powers of the Scottish Parliament being reduced will make it much easier for the SNP to simply say no.  Either this is simply dreadful psychology, with the Tories foolishly believing that the Scottish Government will for some reason buckle under pressure from pro-Brexit opinion south of the border, or they actually no longer even want a deal.  If it's the latter, hold onto your hats, because we could be moving into the endgame for the Union.