Friday, May 4, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn is now jointly responsible for the destruction of the devolution settlement

I've been trying to make sense of what happened in the House of Lords on Wednesday without putting myself through the torture of reading every single word of the debate in Hansard.  Having done a skim-read, it looks like the story of the session was of government amendments on the power-grab being passed on the nod, while non-government amendments that would have made the Bill more reconcilable with the devolution settlement were withdrawn without even being put to a vote.  That probably happened partly because no-one outside the SNP (who aren't represented in the Lords) is truly passionate about protecting devolution, and also because the UK government fobbed off the proposers of the amendments with the vague possibility that changes might still be made at Third Reading after further negotiations.  I'm not an expert on parliamentary procedure, but a Google search reveals that amendments can indeed be made at Third Reading in the Lords, although in practice any such changes tend not to be substantive.

Here's the thing: at the start of the week, Richard Leonard made clear that the 'deal' on offer wasn't good enough and that the UK government would have to compromise further.  So why on earth did Labour roll over in the Lords just two days later and effectively remove the last remaining obstacle (other than the Supreme Court) to the government imposing the existing 'deal' without Holyrood's consent?  Labour and the Liberal Democrats between them outnumber the Tories in the Lords, so if the will had been there to defeat the government and strengthen Nicola Sturgeon's negotiating hand, that's probably what would have happened.  Unless you truly believe that some heroic stand is suddenly going to be made at Third Reading, it's clear enough that the Labour leadership has put a directive out that the power-grab is to be enabled, not resisted.  That means in the worst-case scenario, if the Continuity Bill is struck down by judges, Jeremy Corbyn will be the co-author along with Theresa May of a substantial reduction in the Scottish Parliament's powers.  He shouldn't be allowed to conceal his responsibility for the decision he's made. 

The House of Lords is also collectively culpable as an institution.  We hear so much about how the Lords is "an anachronism that works" and how it functions counterintuitively as a guarantor of democracy.  But that all depends on the strict adherence to conventions, without which the unwritten constitution would start to fall apart.  Over the decades, the Salisbury Convention (requiring that the Lords must allow any manifesto commitment of the elected government to pass) has been more or less religiously followed.  Why, then, are the Lords allowing a coach and horses to be driven through the equally important Sewel Convention, without which the devolution settlement is rendered a sham?  If you're conceited enough to think you're an unelected custodian of the constitution, you can't arbitrarily pick and choose which parts of the constitution you think are worth the bother of upholding.  Or if you do, you should expect unsettling consequences to flow.

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From what I've written above you can see that I hold no brief for Labour, but my eyes still rolled to the heavens a number of times overnight at Laura Kuenssberg's transparent attempts to get a "disaster for Labour in the local elections" narrative to take root.  John McDonnell made a fairly unanswerable point at the start of the results programme - he reminded everyone that Labour took just 27% of the vote in the local elections last May, but then 40% in the general election only one month later, which should have been utterly impossible if the conventional wisdom was to be believed.  But that reality-check didn't deter Ms Kuenssberg from breathlessly telling us throughout the night that Labour's performance was falling well short of what is supposedly "needed" to put the party on course for a general election victory.  Question: if a 27% showing in May 2017 didn't preclude Labour from coming very close to victory in June 2017, why on earth would a mid-30s showing in May 2018 prevent Labour from winning an election that might still be two, three or four years away?

The reality is that the Corbyn surge at the general election was dependent on demographic groups that are less likely to turn out in local elections.  The polarisation of public opinion on Brexit is perhaps also undermining the usual phenomenon of casual protest voting for opposition parties in mid-term elections.  It's no longer the case that you can automatically say "Labour need to be twelve points ahead now if they want to win the general election by four."  It may actually be that people voted yesterday in a very similar way to how they would have voted if they were electing a government.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Whatever happened to Scotland's "second government"?

The Twitter account of Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson is generally of most use if for some reason you enjoy being trolled on a slow-burn setting, but in fairness he came up with something genuinely intriguing and surprising today.  It appears that the Scotland Office has been quietly renamed as "the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland", and its Edinburgh base is not even using that name - it's now just calling itself "the UK government".  The message appears to be that the former Scotland Office isn't so much a government department, but rather the UK government's "embassy" in Edinburgh.  That seems a distinctly odd way of selling the notion that we're all one big happy family and that London is in no sense the capital of a different country.

Under David Cameron the schtick used to be that "Scotland has two governments", and continuing to brand the UK government's presence in Edinburgh with the word "Scotland" seemed the ideal way of underlining that point.  But I suspect Theresa May's hardline British nationalism is getting in the way of strategic good sense here.  Everything British must be uniformly British with a Union Jack on it, and if that creates a Scottish backlash there's always "now is not the time" and "non-consent is consent" to fall back on.  The lack of a public announcement of the name change (which would generally be expected) is a strong clue that officials or ministers at some level understood that the whole thing wasn't really such a wizard idea.

Judging from the revision history of the relevant Wikipedia article, it looks like someone first spotted the change in early January of this year.  Before that, the department name was given as "the Scotland Office", and afterwards as "the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, informally known as the Scotland Office".

I do hope someone is going to ask the Prime Minister how much the pointless rebranding has cost hard-working families up and down this precious united country.

Scot Goes Pop is 10 years old today!

I'm not quite sure whether I should be excited or terrified about this milestone, but there's no point denying it - the calendar doesn't lie.  It all started on 3rd May 2008 with this post about Plaid Cymru's impressive (but under-reported) gains in the Welsh local elections, and Boris Johnson ousting Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London.  If memory serves me right, the blog was read by literally only three or four people on the first day, and I had to actively promote it just to get that far.

By complete chance I had a huge political story to get my teeth into a couple of days later, when Wendy Alexander (then Scottish Labour leader) started hinting that Labour was about to make an unanticipated U-turn by supporting an independence referendum.  What unfolded from there is one of the most dramatic, but strangely also one of the least-remembered, episodes in recent Scottish political history.  If Ms Alexander hadn't been ousted as leader a few months later, the likelihood is that the first independence referendum would have taken place in 2010 rather than 2014, and would effectively have been jointly sponsored by the SNP and Labour.  We can only speculate as to how differently things might have turned out as a result.

All the same, being a Eurovision fan, the vast bulk of my blogging for the remainder of May 2008 was non-political and was instead dedicated to the upcoming song contest in Belgrade.  The blog was basically a diary for my own benefit - practically nobody was reading it, although I was excited to get a sudden spike of search engine traffic on Eurovision weekend itself.  I can't remember if it was the Saturday or Sunday, but on one or other of those days I hit the giddy heights of 71 unique visitors - which for two or three years afterwards I regarded as the benchmark for an exceptionally successful day.

I abandoned the blog for the time being at the end of the 2008 Eurovision season - it was too time-consuming, and I couldn't quite work out why I was even bothering with it.  But at the start of 2009, the commissioning of Andrew Lloyd-Webber to write the UK's Eurovision entry caught my imagination, and I felt the sudden urge to start writing again.  So Scot Goes Pop was revived as an essentially Eurovision blog, with just the occasional political post chucked in here or there.  But strangely enough it was the political posts that started attracting comments (I think this was the first one to be published), and that was probably the biggest factor in the blog eventually becoming politics first, Eurovision second.

The ten year history of Scot Goes Pop can basically be split into two distinct halves, with a short transition in between.  There was the period up to early 2013 when the daily audience was typically in the dozens or at most the hundreds, and the period since 2014 which has seen thousands of unique readers per day, and tens of thousands per month.  There's no magical secret to how the transformation from obscure personal blog to leading alternative media site occurred - it was simply down to the chance factor of the independence referendum, and the fact that people were suddenly looking for something (hard polling information without the customary unionist spin) that only Scot Goes Pop seemed to be providing.  I wasn't doing anything different to before, and the spontaneous change required quite a tricky mental adjustment.  I had to get used to the fact that if I said something that was a bit too close to the bone for some people, it was likely to get a strong reaction, whereas in the past nobody would have noticed or given a monkey's.

At present, if the website Traffic Estimate is to be believed, Scot Goes Pop is the fifth most-read alternative media site in Scotland, with approximately 80,400 unique visits in the last thirty days.  That places it only just behind CommonSpace (a site that enjoys far more free exposure in the mainstream media) which is in fourth place with 84,500 unique visits.  Indeed, for several consecutive weeks earlier this year, Scot Goes Pop was estimated to be slightly ahead of CommonSpace.  Quite a contrast from the days when I considered myself freakishly lucky to get 71 visitors on a Eurovision weekend!

Would I recommend this blogging lark to others?  Well, put it this way.  As a direct result of writing Scot Goes Pop, I've been interviewed on TV four times, and on radio twice.  I've written more than ten articles for The National newspaper.  I've been a columnist for the International Business Times, the TalkRadio website, and iScot magazine.  I've addressed a rally outside the Scottish Parliament.  I've participated in a theatre show (of sorts).  I've taken part in umpteen short films, podcasts and live-streams - including the blind terror of a 55-minute live debate with Tommy Sheridan.

So think carefully before taking the plunge.  You might imagine you're safe enough when you start out with an audience of two men and a dog.  But you just never quite know what you're letting yourself in for...

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Cost of Caution

What will Scotland's situation be eighteen years from now?  I mean that quite literally - how will things be on Friday, 2nd May 2036, which unless the relevant legislation changes will be the day after the ninth Scottish Parliament election?  My iScot column for this month ponders that very question.  It's an 'alternative future' look at how events may have played out if the SNP leadership heeds the siren voices and allows its current mandate for a pre-2021 referendum to expire.  In that scenario, will Scotland be independent by 2036?  Or will it at least be on the brink of independence?  Surely all that pragmatism and prudence and patience and caution and carefulness and canniness must have paid off handsomely?  Here's a sneak preview: no.

But you can find out for yourself, because the article is available to read on Twitter HERE.  Needless to say, you should still buy the whole magazine - a digital copy can be bought inexpensively HERE.

Oh, and an advance warning: today we're looking ahead exactly eighteen years, but tomorrow we'll be looking back exactly ten years.  More on that in due course...

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

More red faces at Labour propaganda site as "exclusive poll" finds electorate split down the middle on whether independence should be a priority

For the second time in a few short weeks, CommonSpace's very favourite Labour propaganda site "The Red Robin" has come bob-bob-bobbin' along with some dubious coverage of Scottish polling.  In fairness, this time they've jointly commissioned the poll themselves, and they've used a proper BPC pollster so that we can see the datasets.  They may wish they hadn't done that, though, because the datasets reveal that either Survation or the Labour propagandists themselves made a schoolboy howler when framing one of the questions, which asked for views on the coalition SNP-Green government led by Nicola Sturgeon.  Somebody had better let Patrick Harvie know that he's been Deputy First Minister all this time, because I'm fairly sure he's still in the dark about it.

The website claims that the poll shows voters want the Scottish government to prioritise public services over independence.  At best, that's a rather misleading claim, because respondents were never actually presented with that straight choice.  Instead, they were asked separately whether the Scottish government should be prioritising the improvement of public services, and unsurprisingly gave a resounding yes to what is essentially an "Are motherhood and apple pie good things?" question.  When asked if they thought independence should be a priority, they were split roughly down the middle - 36% said yes, and 41% said no, which is more or less a statistical tie once the margin of error is taken into account.  Again, it was always utterly predictable that the result on that question would closely reflect what we already know about public opinion on independence itself - ie. that approximately half are in favour and approximately half are opposed.  What the Labour propagandists think they've proved with the new figures is anyone's guess.

Even more mysterious is what they think they were proving by asking whether respondents would prefer a Labour government or a Conservative government at Westminster.  For what very little it's worth, 60% said they preferred Labour and 40% said the Tories.  That's right up there with the poll that found that 97% agree with the statement that "the Pope is a Catholic" - except of course that 60% is a much lower number than 97%, and is humiliatingly low for a party that once utterly dominated the politics of Scotland.  How far must they have fallen to have reached the stage where 4 in 10 of the population prefer the hated Tories to them?

If the Labour propagandists had got the emphatic result they evidently expected on that question, we'd have been entitled to ask why they didn't ask more salient questions, such as "Do you agree that your preference for Labour over the Tories means you should never vote SNP in a Westminster election?"  But it seems Labour's problems run much deeper than the fact that voters are not returning to the fold from the SNP (or not in sufficient numbers, anyway).

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Your cut-out-and-keep guide to what is and is not news (source: the mainstream media) - 

The fact that the UK government want to use Brexit as an excuse for removing powers from the Scottish Parliament: Not News

The fact that the Scottish Tories failed to make good on their promise to use their "influence" to ensure that the EU Withdrawal Bill was amended at the Commons stage to prevent the power-grab: Not News

The fact that the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly, and on a cross-party basis, to pass an emergency Continuity Bill to protect devolution from the power-grab: Not News

The fact that the Tories, having been soundly defeated on the floor of the Scottish Parliament, are going to the Supreme Court in London in an attempt to have the Continuity Bill struck down: Not News

The fact that the Welsh Government caved in and accepted the power-grab, thus allegedly leaving Nicola Sturgeon "isolated" and "under pressure": HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The fact that Labour and the Liberal Democrats belatedly backed Nicola Sturgeon's decision to continue resisting the power-grab, thus demonstrating she is neither "isolated" nor "under pressure": Not News