Saturday, April 7, 2018

The weak enslave themselves

Yesterday was a genuinely dispiriting day for me, because for the first time I discovered I'd been blocked by an SNP parliamentarian - in spite of the fact that I hadn't said anything remotely abusive or insulting towards him.  I suppose in a way it was a useful moment of clarity, because it gave the lie to the notion that Pete Wishart has been merely trying to promote a constructive debate on the timing of an independence referendum.  Clearly the function of the rest of us was just to dutifully agree with his verdict that the SNP's mandate for a referendum should (probably) be allowed to expire.

Having been blocked by Pete, it's hard not to feel doubly cynical about Andrew Tickell's piece in The National yesterday, which lauds Pete's contribution as some kind of breakthrough in thoughtfulness and nuance.  What particularly raises a hollow laugh is when Andrew quotes one of Pete's straw men in its entirety and then says without a trace of irony: "Wishart doesn’t accept this view. Neither do I."  Let me just reiterate as the person who Pete was nominally "replying" to in his letter that the view I actually expressed is the opposite of the one he ascribed to me.  I do not believe, and have never claimed, that calling a referendum will automatically create a majority in favour of independence.  What I do believe, on a solid evidential basis, is that any significant changes in public opinion (which could be in the direction of either Yes or No) are far more likely to occur when a referendum campaign is actually underway.  That's one of the reasons why it's such a mistake to base decisions on referendum timing on minor changes (or lack of changes) in opinion poll results.

In truth, it's no surprise whatever to see Andrew backing the best available voice of caution in the SNP (or, to be blunt, the voice of indefinite inaction).  Practically the first thing Andrew did after the 2014 defeat was lecture Yes supporters on how they shouldn't even be openly referring to the possibility of a second referendum.  "Stop it" he said bluntly.  He had previously given the impression that he felt that even the 2014 referendum had been called very prematurely - which raises an intriguing question.  Are we closer to victory, or further away from it, as a result of the first indyref being held?  It may seem obvious that we're closer, because opinion polls show that most people who were won over to Yes during the 2014 campaign have remained rock-solid in their support.  But if we choose to take the view that suffering a first defeat means that the threshold for calling a second vote must be much higher, and that some kind of near-certainty of victory is now required before pulling the trigger, then it follows that we're much further away from independence simply as a result of having held a referendum in 2014.  A Yes vote of 48% in 2018 makes independence far more distant than a 33% Yes vote did in 2013.  That's perverse, upside-down logic, but it's absolutely the position unless we banish the doctrine of "a first defeat was thinkable, a second defeat is not" - which if left unchallenged will ensure that in all probability a second referendum is never held, because guarantees of victory will never be available.

I think we should come back to the light.  Calling a referendum in 2014 was not a mistake.  The converts we won over back then were not worthless.  We're closer to independence than we were five years ago, not further away.  All of those statements can be true as long as we're not hellbent on making them untrue.  There's a line from an early 1980s Doctor Who story that keeps popping into my head: "The weak enslave themselves."  We're in danger of enslaving ourselves to the fear of defeat.  The one thing that will genuinely guarantee that Scotland remains part of the UK indefinitely is an indefinite failure to hold a second independence referendum.

Of course Andrew Tickell would regard what I've just said as macho posturing.  This is the sneer with which he ends his article: "Demand as many referendums as you like. Extol courage. Blast faint-hearts. Shout and thunder at folk like Wishart raising their experiences of the communities they serve and know well."  

Well, it cuts both ways, doesn't it?  Say that the time is never right.  Suck the life out of others at every available opportunity.  Tell them to pack up and go home.  Lecture them on how they should leave the grown-up stuff to their betters.  But at least take ownership of the fact that to all intents and purposes you are arguing that Scotland should not become an independent country at any time in the foreseeable future, along with all of the consequences of that in respect of a Hard Brexit and the undermining of devolution.  Andrew and Pete Wishart both describe Scotland as "weary of big constitutional choices" - but it is a simple fact that the rejection of making a choice is a conscious rejection of independence, and an embrace of a Hard Brexit.  That is not what I joined the SNP for.

I see that Jason Michael of Random Public Journal is saying that if the SNP allow their mandate for a referendum to expire, he will look away from the SNP and find another vehicle for independence.  I don't take that view, because I don't think there will be another credible vehicle.  But being blocked by Wishart simply because I refuse to abandon my support for an independence referendum is perhaps my lowest point since joining the SNP, and I'm beginning to understand how people's enthusiasm is going to just wither and die almost overnight if the party leadership allow fear to win the day and let the hard-won mandate expire.  I'm still hoping and praying that doesn't happen.  Over to you, Nicola.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Gathering

A guest post by Jason Baird of the National Yes Registry

Many thanks to James for the generous opportunity of a guest post on Scot Goes Pop. For all those who have not yet heard of the National Yes Registry or what we do, here is a short film giving a little of our history, explaining who we are and what IndyApp does. It was made as an easy introduction to us for the audience at the SIC Build conference last year.  It includes a reference to the successful crowdfunder that has allowed us to continue finishing the IndyApp and organise our next big grass-roots The Gathering #1 Event: the real subject of this blog post.

As part of the interesting recent discussions between James, Pete Wishart MP (and others) over the optimum timing for IndyRef 2, I thought folk might be interested in some context from a grass-roots group perspective. James’ call for the Yes movement to become much more pro-active seems the perfect time to let interested folk know just how pro-active the grass-roots are at the moment and exactly what the local Indy groups have planned.

The Gathering #1 is being held just a matter of weeks before the SNP 'spring' Conference and so hopefully will not go unnoticed by those present at Aberdeen. Think how a 'sold-out' and vibrant national Gathering of the groups in Stirling will strengthen IndyRef2 options at that conference. It should also help inspire the rest of the wider Yes movement into more and wider action. A final thought before you read the main blog: the unionist Labour Party in Scotland had their conference recently with a reported attendance of 400 delegates. Our venue for the Gathering has a capacity of 450. Need we say more?

The Gathering #1: All Groups Welcome

As promised, we are now organising the first national gathering of the Yes movement’s local groups - a place where the groups can define for themselves how best to organise and work together in preparation for winning IndyRef2.

Stirling: The Albert Halls, Albert Place, Dumbarton Rd, Stirling FK8 2QL

9am - 5:45pm, Sunday the 27th of May (Bank Holiday weekend). In the evening there will be a separately-ticketed, fully licensed Ceilidh Dinner. 7:30pm -12:00pm

How much?
The Gathering: (400@) £14each. Ceilidh Dinner: (220@) £20each. Purchase codes will be supplied direct to the groups. Prices include full days catering and Paypal booking fees. No profit will be made and all event accounts will be published.

Why a Gathering?
The task is to provide a new form of participatory grass-roots leadership, one that gives direction at a national level but fully understands, protects and strengthens group autonomy at a local level. This can only be achieved through active participation and consent by all groups. Who, but the groups themselves, are capable of providing this new form of leadership?

The Gathering’s Concept
This will not be another 'top table' Yes Conference, finished when the speakers have said their piece and everyone has gone home.

Instead, Gathering #1 will be the start of a collective process of group mobilisation. One where individual participation, group consent, popular support and new technology come together to bind Yes into an effective, non-party political, campaigning force.

A process that has local groups, their members and all of Scotland’s different community needs at its centre.

This is about collective grass-roots legitimacy in action.

The Gathering is where the groups will begin to set out a practical campaign agenda for themselves and the movement, one that naturally comes with the authority of its activists.

Autonomous groups lead themselves, so the real task of the Gathering is to identify: shared experiences, campaign ideas, resources and proposals that the groups collectively feel are of strategic importance to the movement. These will then be posted on the new IndyApp for the newly networked groups all across the country to assess and decide upon for themselves.

This is the grass-root movement’s greatest strength.

The final say in local campaigning should always be in the hands of activists who know and understand their communities best. Local group autonomy enables Yes campaigners to select from the movement’s full range of valid independence messages and tailor them to suit their own community’s needs. The wider the variety of community groups participating, the more powerful our campaigning advantage becomes.

Building momentum
If Gathering #1 is the success we believe it will be, its format can be refined by the groups to become a regular event on the campaign calendar. Gatherings organised at local, regional and national levels, with all the new ideas generated at them, could then be accessed across the grassroots using the IndyApp National Forum.

Event Goal 1: On the day
Initial ideas will be generated by all delegates within workshops, followed by presentations of each workshop’s findings to the entire Gathering, for us all to debate and assess.

By the end of the day each workshop’s findings, presentation and identified campaign topic will be posted onto the new IndyApp National Forum, to allow every local group member across the country access and opportunity to participate.

Event Goal 2: Extending participation
All groups and all group members across the country can then participate using their group’s Local Forum on the new IndyApp. This is where autonomous group memberships can share, discuss and develop any Gathering proposals that interest them. Groups can also post their own proposals and ideas onto the National Forum for the consideration of the movement and to canvas support from fellow groups.

Organisation: It’s in the detail
Group ideas and proposals posted onto the National Forum that find support among fellow groups will need to be taken forward in a coordinated way. Turning good ideas into practical campaigns and action plans can be achieved through IndyApp facilitated National Committees.

These committees are created by (and made up of) interested group members and committed activists from all around the country. An effective way to harness the Yes movement’s wide base of specialist knowledge, experience and campaigning enthusiasm.

All National Committees will set themselves up to operate within tight time frames and remits.

Event Goal 3: Gathering Committees
The five most popular and well developed proposals will each have National Committees created at the Gathering on the new IndyApp. Made up of volunteer activists who want to help put the Gathering’s proposals into practical action, these committees are also where any interested local group member can make direct contact to join, or offer their specialist knowledge to help advance its purpose.

Event Goal 4: Accessing all talents
No good idea should ever lack support, and no activist should ever be short of a good idea to support!

The Gathering’s format together with the new IndyApp platform helps provide a simple way for all group members to easily follow, make contact and practically participate in developing ideas and proposals presented at Gathering #1. Whether they were able to attend the event on the day or not.

Equally, local groups who post ideas on the National Forum can also open National Committees of their own and encourage participation in their projects from right across the entire knowledge base of the IndyApp group network.

Calling All IndyApp Groups!
Success of the Gathering as a grassroots leadership strategy rests on each participating group’s individual ability to communicate effectively. First, within their own memberships, and then directly with one another as autonomous groups. The IndyApp has been created on behalf of the groups to provide exactly those capabilities.

Please ensure you get your entire membership logged in as soon as possible, in anticipation of Gathering #1 and the all-new communication forums that are coming to support it. If you are a member of a group on the IndyApp but your ‘front door’ is still inactive, please contact us and we will help you get your group ready for the big event.

If your group is not yet on the IndyApp but would like to participate, please complete the sign-up form and we will respond as quickly as we can.

Magical Mallaig moment as SNP vote increases in Highland by-election

So the STV by-election gods giveth, and the STV by-election gods taketh away.  A couple of weeks ago we were enjoying a technical SNP 'gain' from Labour in Penicuik, even though the SNP's vote had gone down slightly and they had remained in first place in the ward.  Today we're getting the flip-side of the equation: the SNP have technically 'lost' a seat in Caol and Mallaig, even though they have remained in second place in the ward and their vote has gone up appreciably.  On the plus side, because the Liberal Democrats have gained the seat, it's always quite a fun pastime trying to work out which triumphalist Lib Dem supporters are just pretending not to understand how the voting system works, and which ones are genuinely clueless enough to think that this is some sort of terrible setback for the SNP.  For a party that is supposed to regard STV as the holy grail of voting systems, the Lib Dems don't always give the impression of being terribly well versed in it.

Caol and Maillaig by-election result (first preferences):

Liberal Democrats 31.1% (+21.7)
SNP 27.2% (+3.2)
Independent - Wood 21.5% (n/a)
Conservatives 8.7% (+0.5)
Independent - MacKinnon 6.9% (n/a)
Independent - Campbell 4.6% (n/a)

There's probably not a lot of point in trying to make sense of the big increase in the Lib Dem vote - this is a part of the world where the candidate often counts for more than the party label, which is why a lot of people were betting on victory for one of the three independent candidates.  A Lib Dem win is a surprise, but isn't a sign that Rennie-mania is sweeping the nation.  For the same reason we shouldn't get too excited about the fact that there has been a small net swing from Tory to SNP.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Some recommended reading...

It's the blogpost that's caught the imagination of a nation.  If you haven't seen it yet, take a few moments to read the legendary Ruth Wishart's reply to her namesake Pete Wishart, explaining her reasons for concluding that the independence referendum must be held by March 2019.  You can read it HERE.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A right of reply to Pete Wishart: why "losing is not an option" is an immature belief that would lead to the quiet death of the independence cause

As you may have seen doing the rounds on Twitter, the letters page of this month's iScot magazine contains a contribution from Pete Wishart MP, billed as a "right of reply response to James Kelly's article Why the SNP must use its mandate to call an Indyref".  I have to say I'm rather bemused by it, because with one possible minor exception it doesn't actually engage with the points I made in the article at all.  Quite the contrary, in fact - it implies that I said things I didn't say, or that I said the opposite of, which suggests to me that if Pete is replying to anyone, it's to an imaginary person who is not me.   My article was in itself a reply to Pete's 'Braveheart' piece in The National, and to a large extent all that Pete's "reply" does is reiterate the points he already made in his original article about why the SNP's hard-won mandate for a second independence referendum should be allowed to expire (albeit he fleshes some of them out a bit).  Well, this is my own right of reply to his "reply", and I'm actually going to try to take things forward by tackling some of his arguments and claims directly.

First things first: Pete says that the only thing that dictates his attitude to the timing of an independence referendum is winning it.  He obviously thinks that point is a no-brainer, but is it?  Isn't there also the small matter of honour in politics, and carrying through a solemn commitment made to people who voted for you in good faith?  We must never forget that before the June 2017 general election, the Scottish Parliament voted to hold an independence referendum in this current Holyrood term, meaning before May 2021.  People were then urged to vote SNP on the basis that if the party won a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster, that would constitute a "triple lock" mandate for the referendum.  A comfortable majority of seats was duly secured.  If Pete thinks that no SNP supporters took the 'triple lock' commitment seriously or cared about it, I would suggest he urgently catches up with the writings of Thomas Widmann, a pro-indy blogger with Danish citizenship, who listened to the SNP leadership's promise about an independence referendum before Brexit, and made hugely important personal decisions about whether to remain in Scotland on that specific basis.  He now doesn't know what to do, because it's so difficult to read whether that promise is actually going to be honoured, at least in part (ie. we already know the originally planned timing is likely to slip at least a bit).

Pete writes at length about the canvass results the SNP received in his own constituency.  It's a statement of the obvious that the Tories were gaining traction with their ultra-simplistic 'No to Indyref2' message among people who didn't want Indyref2, but Pete also claims that he never met a single person who was refusing to vote SNP because the party wasn't being strong enough in its support for a new referendum.  I'd suggest we'd all be well advised to take the implication of that claim with a heavy dose of salt, because there is ample polling evidence that large numbers of SNP voters from 2015 abstained in 2017 rather than switching to another party.  By far the most plausible explanation for that phenomenon is the failure of the SNP leadership to find a suitably inspiring pitch on independence.  But even if we accept Pete's contention that pro-referendum voters were broadly happy with what the SNP were saying during the election, isn't it rather problematical (or fatal) for Pete's argument that what the SNP were saying during the election is the opposite of what Pete is saying now?  There was no talk during the campaign of "we want a mandate from you, but we probably won't use it unless everything seems perfect".  The call was for a mandate which was actually going to be used.  It's a bit meaningless to pray in aid your belief that pro-referendum folk were satisfied with what you were offering at the election if you're also arguing that what you offered should not be delivered now that the votes are safely in the bag.

It seems to me there is a very obvious subtext in Pete's letter that the holding of an independence referendum should be subordinate to considerations of what is going to win or lose the SNP votes and seats in a Westminster election.  That sort of thinking really ought to be alien to a party that is serious about achieving independence, but it actually doesn't even make sense on its own terms, because in all probability a pre-2021 referendum would precede the next Westminster election, and indeed every other election apart from by-elections.  Yes, a snap general election is still possible, but the strengthening of Theresa May's personal position means it's considerably less likely than it was.

To turn now to the central thrust of Pete's letter, he repeatedly uses language like "Losing again is simply unthinkable" and "losing again should simply not be an option".  That's an argument that has great emotional resonance for some people, who think back to how they felt on September 19th, 2014, and want to avoid feeling that way ever again.  It's also, I'm afraid, an extremely immature argument, because the nature of holding any democratic vote at any time is that defeat is always an option.  Absolutely always.  I can give you chapter and verse on referendums from around the world in which one side or the other has lost a commanding lead in the blink of an eye.  It is simply a statement of fact that if we hold a referendum, we might win it and we might lose it.  But here's the the thing - if we want independence, we can only get it by holding a referendum, which means we have to risk losing again sooner or later.  Pete is arguing that we must wait until we have "optimum conditions" that will "ensure" and "guarantee" victory, but those conditions will simply never exist in the real world.  His prospectus is a recipe for what you might call the 'heat death' of the independence cause - the SNP would continue nominally arguing for independence into infinity, but the rallying cry would be the hollow shell of "let's keep preparing for those optimum conditions!", which will always be supposedly around the corner, but will never actually arrive.

In my article that Pete is nominally "replying" to, I turned his call for "pragmatism" on its head by pointing out that pragmatism actually demands that we hold a referendum when we can, and not when we can't.  In other words, even if his "optimum conditions" were theoretically achievable, they wouldn't be much use to us if they happened to coincide with a time when there was no pro-independence majority at Holyrood, and therefore a referendum couldn't be held.  To the limited extent that Pete indirectly addresses that point, his answer is totally unsatisfactory.  He claims that if the pro-indy camp can't win a majority at Holyrood, there would be very little chance of winning a referendum anyway.  Frankly, that's an absolute nonsense, and I can't believe he really thinks that.  There are any number of reasons why pro-independence voters might vote for an anti-independence party (especially Labour) at a parliamentary election but then still vote for independence in a referendum.  We saw plenty of evidence in opinion polls last year that a minority of people were moving from SNP back to Labour but were still backing independence.  The idea that if pro-indy parties "only" win 48% of the seats at a Holyrood election, it would then be virtually impossible to achieve a pro-independence majority vote at any point over the subsequent five years, which is essentially what Pete is arguing, is risible and not worthy of serious discussion.  The only thing that would make a Yes vote impossible in those circumstances is that we wouldn't be able to hold a referendum in the first place without a pro-indy parliamentary majority - and that's the trap Pete is leading us into.  He tells us what a tragedy it would be if we were to hold a referendum prematurely and lose it when it could have been won later - but how would that be any more of a tragedy than spurning the chance of holding a referendum when we actually have the mandate, and as a result being utterly powerless to hold a referendum for potentially decades thereafter, including at times when we might easily have won?  That scenario could very easily unfold if a minority of pro-indy voters revert indefinitely to voting for the Labour party for cultural reasons.

Pete seems incredulous at the notion that you should use a mandate for a referendum just because you have one.  I suppose that depends on whether you believe that pro-indy majorities at Holyrood are as plentiful as grains of sand on a beach, or whether you recognise that under the Additional Member voting system they're actually murderously hard to come by, and they should be treated as precious when they come along, and not casually squandered.  We're not talking about a referendum next week - by all means let's choose the "optimum moment" between now and May 2021 when our mandate expires.  But going beyond that date on a wing and a prayer is a different matter entirely.

Now to deal with a few miscellaneous red herrings that Pete throws in -

* I'm not quite sure what the relevance of this is, but he claims that failure in the 1979 devolution referendum (thanks to the 40% rule) led to the near-wipeout of the SNP at Westminster.  Not so.  The SNP had gone into reverse well before the referendum - by 1978, Labour had shown itself to be serious enough about devolution that it started winning back 'soft nationalist' votes.  It's highly likely the SNP would have lost seats regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

* He suggests that the lesson of the 1995 Quebec vote is that a second defeat can set back an independence movement for a generation.  In actual fact, the pro-independence Parti Québécois continued to hold an absolute parliamentary majority for eight years after the 1995 defeat.  Because of excessive caution it didn't take advantage of that enviable situation, and as a result hasn't had the arithmetic to call a referendum at any time since 2003.  (And one of the main reasons why it keeps failing to win elections is because it continually ties itself up in knots with a muddled prospectus of "we want a referendum, but not yet", which reassures nobody and inspires nobody.)

* He ascribes to me (or to the imaginary person he's responding to) the belief that simply calling a referendum would make a decisive shift towards Yes likely.  I have never said that, and indeed I have repeatedly pointed out that the opposite may happen, including in the very article Pete is "replying" to.  I believe this is projection on his part - he's so preoccupied with "guarantees" and "certainties" that he believes anyone who argues against him must automatically be saying that a Yes victory is already guaranteed.  Completely untrue.  I simply take the grown-up view that we might win if we fight a good campaign, that we might lose if we fight a bad campaign (or if we fight a good campaign and are unlucky), and that the future is fundamentally unknowable.  We can help shape the future but we can't possess it in advance.

* He talks of something called the "indy-gap", meaning that support for an early referendum runs below support for independence itself.  But is that actually true?  The most recent Ipsos-Mori poll showed that just under half of people who expressed a view wanted independence...and just under half of people who expressed a view wanted an independence referendum within the next three years.  So simple question, then - where's the indy-gap?  To claim that it exists, at best you'd be cherry-picking only the polling numbers that suit your argument.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Winning With Willie: The Naked Truth

It's amazing how often a full-scale Scottish poll has been published on Easter Sunday, and this year is no exception, courtesy of YouGov.  Unfortunately, however, the poll doesn't have any voting intention numbers (unless those are to come later) - it just asks about the strange recent trend of Scottish opposition politicians taking part in reality TV.

In recent months, a number of Scottish political party leaders have participated in reality TV programmes or game shows.  Before today, which of the following were you aware of?  (Select all that apply.)

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale's appearance on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!:  61%
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson's appearance on the Great British Bake Off: 34%
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie's forthcoming appearance on Celebrity Naked Attraction: 7%

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has agreed to appear in a celebrity edition of Naked Attraction, a Channel 4 show in which contestants vie for a date by taking their clothes off.  Do you think Mr Rennie has made the right decision?

Yes 4%
No 56%

Willie Rennie has made clear that his appearance on Celebrity Naked Attraction will be tasteful, and that his modesty will be protected at all times.  Knowing this, do you feel more or less sympathetic towards his decision to take part?

More 9%
Less 2%
No Difference 61%

Willie Rennie says that he is appearing on Celebrity Naked Attraction as a light-hearted way of raising money for charity, and to help increase young people's interest in politics.  Do you think young people will become more or less interested in politics as a result of Mr Rennie's participation in the show?

More 3%
Less 21%
No Difference 57%

Does Willie Rennie's appearance on Celebrity Naked Attraction make you feel proud to be Scottish?

Yes 5%
No 48%

Do you think Willie Rennie's appearance on Celebrity Naked Attraction will make it easier or harder for you to take him seriously as a politician in future?

Easier 7%
Harder 65%

And there's the rub.  I have to say I think the man has taken leave of his senses.  We may be used to seeing him indulge in publicity stunts such as sheep-wrestling, but this is in an entirely different category.  As George Galloway proved by "being the cat", there are some mental images the public can't easily dispel.