Saturday, December 21, 2019

Yes, winning independence will require a measure of patience - but there must be no drift towards accepting the Westminster veto until 2024 (or beyond)

I've been reading with interest Craig Murray's blogpost about the "Scotland's Right to Choose" document, which he regards as "schizophrenic" for its simultaneous assertions that Scotland has an inalienable right to self-determination, and that it can only exercise that right with the permission of the UK government.  He draws attention to this comment from Nicola Sturgeon -

"Of course, I anticipate that in the short term we will simply hear a restatement of the UK government’s opposition.

But they should be under no illusion that this will be an end of the matter.

We will continue to pursue the democratic case for Scotland’s right to choose.

We will do so in a reasonable and considered manner."

Craig reads "continue to pursue the democratic case" as meaning the response to a Westminster veto will be yet more SNP campaigning for yet more mandates, which might help the SNP stay in power at devolved level for a few more years but is unlikely to bring independence any closer - indeed it could push it further away.  Perhaps worryingly, this interpretation ties in perfectly with Mhairi Hunter's oft-stated view on what should happen if Westminster says no - she thinks we should just accept that response and redouble our campaigning until Westminster eventually breaks and passes a Section 30 order, no matter how long that takes.  To use the words of our old friend Kevin Baker, that strategy can be summed up as "If something isn't working, do it again, only HARDER!!!!"  It's an absolutely hopeless idea, and if by any chance that's what the SNP leadership are planning, they'll surely have to be persuaded to have a rethink sooner or later.

However, I'm not as pessimistic about the SNP's intentions as Craig is.  In fact, I'm somewhere in between the two extremes.  On the one hand, I've never thought "just trust Nicola" is good enough, because trust is a two-way process.  If we are to trust the leadership completely, it's only fair that the leadership should trust us by keeping us up to speed with their broad intentions.  I was particularly unimpressed by the suggestion a while back that the role of rank and file SNP members and Yes supporters is to campaign for independence, and that we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about "process", which is solely the leadership's domain.  Neither do I buy into the notion that it's not possible for the leadership to keep us in the loop because that would deprive them of the advantage of surprise in their dealings with the UK government.  As I pointed out a few days ago, it would be perfectly possible to say to London: "A referendum is happening in autumn 2020.  We want it to happen as part of an agreed process between the two governments, but it is happening anyway."  That's not a million miles away from what Alex Salmond did after the 2011 election, and it seemed to work out OK.  No rabbits out of hats were required, just forthrightness and resolve.

However, unlike Craig I can see plausible alternative interpretations of "continuing to pursue the democratic case".  The implied threat might well carry more punch than simply a thousand more stirring Ian Blackford speeches about how Scotland's voice must be respected.  The most obvious possibility is that the Scottish Government could react to a Westminster veto by saying "We have bent over backwards to do this by the gold standard route, and the whole world can now see that the UK government are behaving wholly unreasonably and in breach of the principle of democratic  self-determination.  We will therefore legislate for an independence referendum and defend that legislation in the Supreme Court if necessary.  We remain willing to open negotiations with the UK government at any time until the referendum campaign is underway."  If London's legal challenge to any Referendum Bill succeeds, there would then be the option of using the 2021 Holyrood election to secure an outright mandate for independence.  I know the SNP leadership have in the past ruled out the possibility of using an election in that way, but their position on other points of strategy has evolved, so I wouldn't totally dismiss the possibility that there could be a further change of heart.

So the moment of truth will come in a few weeks when we see how Nicola Sturgeon replies to the inevitable Westminster veto.  If at that point there is no sign of her doing anything other than building towards the 2021 election to win yet another referendum mandate that will be ignored, then it may be reasonable to conclude that the emperor has no clothes, and to start an internal campaign within the SNP for an urgent change of direction.  But I'm still hopeful that there will be a lot more substance to Ms Sturgeon's reply than that.  Even if the instinct of senior people within the party is to proceed as cautiously as possible, it must have occurred to the most thoughtful among them that continually going back to the electorate to ask for more mandates is likely to produce diminishing returns over time, because the electorate will wise up to the fact that the SNP are all talk and no action.  Some voters may become demoralised enough to start abstaining, while others may defect to the Greens if Patrick Harvie decides to fill the vacuum by making Yes supporters a more radical offer.  The nightmare scenario would be if SNP voters start drifting towards fringe parties that have no chance of winning seats - that could rob us of the pro-indy majority at Holyrood.  SNP strategists will surely want to prevent that happening, and that will mean being seen to have taken meaningful action against London's "no".

My own view, for what it's worth, is that the road to independence in the absence of a Section 30 order is unlikely to involve UDI and asking for international recognition.  The UK is not Spain, and I do still believe that if a credible mandate for independence is established, the pressure on the London government to negotiate will eventually bear fruit.  What would be a credible mandate?  If the 2021 election is used to double as a referendum, the pro-indy parties would need to win a majority of seats and perhaps a majority of votes on the list ballot as well to be on the safe side.  If there is a consultative referendum that is boycotted by unionists, the Yes side would probably need to exceed their 1.6 million votes from 2014 to be taken seriously.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Scottish Tories and their media allies have discovered the virtues of proportional representation - but only when it suits them

The Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie made a preposterous intervention in the Commons yesterday.  He tried to reframe the SNP's landslide victory in the general election as some kind of defeat, and prayed in aid the supposed fact that 55% of the Scottish people had cast a vote for anti-independence parties.  (Actually, the correct figure is 54%, because the Greens are pro-independence and they took 1% of the vote, but let's not quibble.)  If taken seriously, Bowie's point would have to mean one of two things - either a) that he thinks the first-past-the-post voting system should be replaced with a proportional representation system that might prevent a party winning a majority of seats on 45% of the vote, or b) that he regards any party that wins a majority on less than 50% of the vote as lacking full legitimacy, and thinks it shouldn't be able to take controversial decisions without the consent of its opponents.

And yet we know he doesn't believe either of those things.  His own party won a UK majority on just 44% of the vote - a smaller mandate than the SNP won in Scotland.  It is now pursuing a Hard Brexit in spite of the fact that around 52% of the UK popular vote went to parties that wanted to hold a second EU referendum with a Remain option on the ballot paper.  If Bowie was being consistent, he would regard the election outcome as having deprived the Johnson government of any moral authority to proceed with its Brexit plans - but instead he seems to think that it was actually a stonking mandate for a Hard Brexit.

A four-year old child could spot the contradiction in Bowie's stance.  In fact, a foetus could probably spot it.  Even a reasonably bright goldfish might not have too much difficulty.  Why, then, hasn't the mainstream media done its job and ruthlessly exposed the Tory hypocrisy?  In fairness, there's been the odd honourable exception like Bernard Ponsonby on STV's election night programme, but in general journalists have taken the legitimacy of the Tories' UK-wide mandate as read, while repeatedly calling into question the legitimacy of the SNP's superior mandate in Scotland.  That simply isn't sustainable if the likes of the BBC want to avoid being seen as blatantly biased.  Self-evidently, either both mandates are 100% watertight or they're both open to question.  Which is it to be, guys?

Incidentally, Bowie was missing the point in another way as well, because 65% of the vote in Scotland went to parties (the SNP, Greens and Labour) that support the principle that the Scottish Parliament should be able to hold an independence referendum if it so chooses.  At this stage, that's the only mandate the SNP are actually claiming - the mandate to hold a referendum.  It's a bit pointless for the Tories to now claim that a vote for Labour didn't count towards that mandate, given that they spent the entire campaign warning that a vote for Labour was a vote for an indyref to be held next year.  

*  *  *

Apologies if someone else has already made this point, but it strikes me as a bit rich that the so-called Labour moderates are making such an issue of the fact that Jeremy Corbyn won slightly fewer seats in this election than Michael Foot did in 1983.  That isn't a meaningful comparison, because Labour have lost Scotland since Foot's time, and that happened on the watch of the moderates themselves (when Ed Miliband was leader in 2015, to be specific).  Corbyn actually did a bit better south of the border than Foot did, and that's how he should probably be judged.  OK, there was nothing inevitable about Labour only winning one Scottish seat last week, but if the moderates think that some kind of New Labour-type leader could have won more than a handful of Scottish constituencies, they're deluding themselves.  

And it's all very well for the moderates to say that Labour has to be less ideological and move towards the centre ground where the voters are, but in fact Corbyn seems to have learnt that lesson in Scotland far better than they have.  He's at least taken some steps (however imperfectly) to make his peace with the Yes supporters who used to be Labour voters, while the "moderates" clearly feel that maintaining purity on Labour's hardline British nationalist line is more important than winning elections.  Ian Murray said as much himself - the Scottish Labour party destroyed itself in 2014 to save the Union, and it should destroy itself again now for the same reason.

*  *  *

I've expressed my worries over the last few days that the SNP leadership might prove too cautious to bring about an independence referendum if the Tory government refuses a Section 30 order.  But here's a more positive interpretation.  

The conventional wisdom is now that the 2024 election is unwinnable for Labour.  I'm not actually sure that's right, because electorates across the Western world have become more volatile in recent years.  (Witness the Canadian Liberals jumping from third place to an outright majority in 2015.)  But nevertheless the perception is that the Tories are in power until at least 2029, and that ought to concentrate minds in the SNP.  There's no point in them playing the waiting game for a Tory defeat in 2024 that they don't think will actually arrive.  If they know that sooner or later they're going to have to overcome Tory obstructionism on an indyref by some means, it might just as well be sooner.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

VIDEO: The SNP's six best results in Election 2019

So just before I give the now-world-famous "Random Totty From Freedom Square" her camera back (and a million thanks to her for rescuing the situation after I bought a useless camcorder), I thought I'd record one more video to complete my series about the 2019 election.  See if you can spot the "deliberate mistake" in this one.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Tories told voters that this election was "one last chance" to stop an independence referendum. That chance has now gone.

Just thought I'd take a screenshot of this tweet, in case it mysteriously disappears at some point.  Here we have the Tories telling voters last Wednesday that the election was "one last chance" to stop a second independence referendum.  Not a "once in a generation chance" or even a "once in a lifetime chance", but the "last" chance.  If that chance wasn't taken, the matter was settled forever.  And we know that when politicians say things like that, they're always talking absolutely literally and can be held to their word.

Just a reminder of the result of the "one last chance" election -

SNP: 48 seats (+13)
Conservatives: 6 seats (-7)
Liberal Democrats: 4 seats (n/c)
Labour: 1 seat (-6)

Crikey, what a moment.  No more chances for the Tories - ever.  Time to move on, and hold that referendum.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Tony Blair approach to making an independence referendum happen

By all means I think we should go through the formal process of demanding a Section 30 order and giving the defeated Tories a few days or weeks to squirm.  But I hope the one thing we'd all agree on is that when the "no" inevitably comes, we can't afford to follow Mhairi Hunter's preferred approach, ie. we can't say "thank you kindly for your gracious consideration, guvnor, we accept your decision", and then seek yet another mandate in two years' time, and then when that mandate is ignored say "thank you kindly for your gracious consideration, guvnor, we accept your decision", and so on into infinity.  There has to be a reckoning sooner or later.

I'm reminded of Tony Blair's approach to another intractable problem twenty years ago.  Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 1997, he tried to resuscitate the Northern Ireland peace process by making a speech in which he addressed Sinn Fein directly.  "The talks train is leaving the station.  I want you on that train, but it is leaving anyway."  Perhaps surprisingly, he was praised for his forthrightness of language by the UUP leader David Trimble, who had hitherto been very reluctant to accept any Sinn Fein involvement, and less than a year later the miracle happened and the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

So I'd like to hear Nicola Sturgeon eventually say: "An independence referendum is taking place in the autumn of 2020.  We want it to take place with the agreement of both governments, but it is taking place anyway.  If you want to stop it, we'll see you in court, and remember there'll be TV cameras there to record your lawyer's explanation that the UK is a prison from which Scotland is not permitted to escape by any democratic means."

If that isn't the plan, I hope there's an equally good one.  But I just have this slight nagging worry that people close to the SNP leadership may think it's 1987 all over again, and that all they have to do to make independence the settled will of the Scottish people is hang around for ten years, just as devolution became the settled will of the Scottish people over the period between 1987 and 1997 after the arrogance of Tory rejectionism weaved its magic.  The trouble with waiting patiently for history to repeat itself is that it has an unerring habit of darting off in a different direction entirely.  In any case, Brexit is an emergency situation and we can't afford to wait a decade this time.

65% of Scots voted for parties that accept the right of the Scottish Parliament to hold an independence referendum

Having fought the election on an anti-indyref tack and slumped to a humiliating landslide defeat, the Scottish Tories' fallback position seems to be that it's OK to ignore the decision of the electorate because the SNP "only" received 45% of the popular vote.  That's a hopeless stance to defend, because Boris Johnson only received 44% of the UK vote, and seems to have no problem claiming a mandate on that basis.

But the Tories' problem goes further.  They spent the entire election campaign telling the electorate that a vote for Labour was a vote for an independence referendum next year.  Labour's actual position was a bit convoluted, but they certainly accepted the principle that the Scottish Parliament could vote to hold an indyref - albeit not, for some unspecified reason, until 2021 or later.

Labour received 19% of the Scottish vote on Thursday.  In combination with the 45% who voted SNP and the 1% who voted Green, that means a grand total of 65% of Scots voted for parties who accept that a referendum can be held if there is a mandate for it at Holyrood level.  Only 35% voted for hardline unionist parties opposed to a referendum under all circumstances.

Incidentally, the SNP won 81% of Scottish seats on Thursday.  No other party in living memory has ever matched that (apart, of course, from the SNP themselves in 2015).  The closest was Labour in the Blair landslides of 1997 and 2001, when they took 78% of Scottish seats.  

And the SNP's 45% share of the Scottish vote has only been exceeded twice since 1970 - once by the SNP themselves in 2015, and once by Labour in 1997 (when they took 45.6%).

It's a shame when someone opts out, but the rest of us have got our country's freedom to win

There are lots of things you can do.  You can scheme your schemes and dream your dreams of personal political advancement.  You can resort to sophistry about how the Holyrood voting system works.  You can be as abusive as you like on social media and pass it all off as salt-of-the-earth working class honesty.  You can spend your days obsessing about an issue that is not a priority for the vast majority of the population.  You can sue Labour politicians to your heart's content (and you might even have a point about that).  But if you're remotely serious about helping to bring about independence, there are two things you never, ever do -

1) You don't try to sabotage a successful SNP election campaign by idiotically calling upon the charismatic party leader to resign just two or three weeks before polling day.

2) You don't try to undermine a thumping, newly-won SNP mandate with absurd unionist-style propaganda about the result being a "failure" and "nothing to do with independence".

I actually doubt if Mr Campbell's extraordinary behaviour during the campaign had too much of a direct effect on the SNP vote.  Wings readers were unlikely to think to themselves "Stuart is putting the boot in, so I'd better vote Labour".  At worst it might have led to some unnecessary abstentions among independence supporters.   But there's no way we can rule out the possibility that it had a detrimental indirect effect by sapping the morale of people who would otherwise have been pounding the streets for the SNP.

As for the SNP landslide having nothing to do with independence, he knows that's rubbish.  He'll have seen the same TV debates that the rest of us did, and will know that Nicola Sturgeon didn't shy away from making the case for independence, or from insisting that a second independence referendum must take place next year.  He'll have seen how central independence was in the SNP's manifesto.  He'll have heard reports of doorstep campaigners up and down the country emphasising to voters that independence was one of the three major SNP priorities in this election.  And yet he pretends to believe that all of the above is somehow negated by a single campaign video made by a single SNP candidate in a difficult-to-win Tory-held seat.  Why?

These are not the actions of a genuine independence supporter.  They can't be, because he's intelligent enough to realise that if anyone actually bothers to pay any heed to what he's been doing, the cause of independence can only be harmed.  Somebody who wants to bring the date of independence forward as much as possible would in fact have done the complete opposite.  They'd have been willing Nicola Sturgeon on throughout the campaign, and would have eagerly emphasised that the SNP's massive victory further strengthens the existing mandate for an indyref.

It no longer makes any sense to refer to Mr Campbell as a pro-independence blogger.  He's an anti-SNP activist whose first love is the trans issue.  If you forced him to choose between independence and the overthrow of the "woke" SNP leadership, he would undoubtedly pick the latter.  How it came to this I have no idea, because his passion for independence seemed genuine five years ago.  But something has clearly changed inside his head.  

Luckily the Yes movement seems to have recognised that he's opted out, and is moving on from him.  The SNP are doing just fine - a hell of a lot more than fine, actually - without his support.  It would be great to have him back on board at some point, but in the meantime we've got our country's freedom to win.