Saturday, August 21, 2021

Some thoughts on Schrodinger's Coalition

After the election in May, I was one of the very few Alba supporters who were reasonably positive about the prospect of an SNP-Green deal.  By any objective psephological standard, the SNP had just enjoyed an astoundingly good election result - on the constituency ballot, it was the best performance ever by any party in the history of the Scottish Parliament, and was also strikingly similar to the SNP landslide in the 2015 Westminster election.  But of course the London media and political establishment are always quite happy to shift the goalposts to suit themselves, and they decreed that the fact that the SNP had won 64 seats rather than 65 somehow made all the difference and prevented there being a clear-cut mandate for an indyref.  To the extent that this was a problem, it seemed to me it could be solved very simply by forming a coalition, and then, hey presto, you'd have a majority pro-independence government that clears every hurdle in terms of an unimpeachable mandate.

But the election was the best part of four months ago, and the narrative has moved on since then.  If the media and our imperial masters do not currently take the prospect of a referendum seriously, it's no longer because the SNP are one seat short of an absolute majority, it's now because the Scottish Government themselves don't seem to have much interest in a referendum at the moment.  Until that changes, then, the impact of yesterday's deal on the prospects for independence is fairly neutral.  Having a majority government may yet help the cause when and if a bit of urgency is eventually injected - although the eagerness of both sides to eccentrically portray the coalition as a non-coalition undermines any benefit, because it needlessly raises question marks over whether the government actually has majority or minority status.

There are two pieces of fiction here.  The first is that this is not a coalition government, and the second is that the 'non-coalition coalition' wheeze is unprecedented in the UK.  A coalition is simply when there are two or more parties in government together, as the SNP and Greens now will be.  It's a rather painful insult to the reader's intelligence to be told that the agreement is between the Scottish Government and the Green group, when in fact the Scottish Government will incorporate the Green group.  Treaties concluded with oneself are always the easiest sort, although it must be a concern for SNP members that, strangely, their own party is technically not even part of the agreement at all.  And there is in fact a clear precedent for this sort of Schrodinger's Coalition in the UK - in 2016, the Welsh Liberal Democrats went into government with Labour, but both parties were insistent that the arrangement fell short of a coalition.  (That was code for a coalition deal in which the Lib Dems had sold themselves very short.)

As for the content of the deal, it's good that there's a clearly-stated commitment to hold an independence referendum within the five-year term, and also with a preference for it to be within the first two-and-a-half years.  That could be important, given that the text of coalition and confidence-and-supply agreements seem to have an informal constitutional status in the Westminster system equivalent to a majority party's manifesto (ie. as part of the Salisbury Convention).  But naturally what really matters is whether there is a genuine intention to honour the pledge, or whether it is merely a nominal 'political commitment'.  The word that makes me slightly sceptical is 'secure' - the government will 'secure' a referendum, implying that it has to be granted from elsewhere, which provides a useful get-out clause if nothing ever happens.  I'd feel happier if they'd simply promised to 'hold' a referendum.

I wondered aloud yesterday whether a formal deal would really make any difference to the obsessive identity politics agenda, given that there's clearly a parliamentary majority for it anyway.  However, the commitment to reform the GRA within one year may make a difference.  If these hugely controversial plans were ever going to be scuppered, it would probably have been due to internal pressure from within the SNP to compromise and keep the party together.  But now that's less likely to happen because the SNP are bound by a two-party agreement to see it through - which of course suits the leadership down to the ground.

One of the policy areas specifically excluded from the deal is regulation of the selling of sex - the topic of the most recent Scot Goes Popcast.  That might seem like a slightly random exclusion, but as I've mentioned before there's a weird overlap between views on the trans debate and views on the Nordic Model criminalising the purchase (but theoretically decriminalising the selling) of sex.  Gender critical feminists tend to be gung-ho in favour of the Nordic Model, and trans rights activists tend to be viscerally opposed to it.  The Greens are playing their designated role, but the SNP have somehow found themselves committed on paper to both the Nordic Model and self-ID for trans people.  It could all get incredibly messy, and there certainly won't be any unity on the subject within Schrodinger's Coalition.

Different perspectives on the deal are of course also available, and our dear old friend Chris Deerin is purple with rage about the entry into government of the "most left-wing party ever to hold power in the UK" and an agreement which supposedly has the sole purpose of bringing about independence.  Such thrilling thoughts, Chris, if only I could believe a word of them.  He fumes that the deal is "unnecessary", and has only come about because Nicola Sturgeon needs more numbers to get her parliamentary business through - which is a rather odd definition of "unnecessary". In fact it's the rationale for just about every coalition government in peacetime history.

Monday, August 16, 2021

The boundary between moderation and extremism

Given current events on the other side of the world, it might be worth pondering what it is that keeps our politics relatively moderate.  I'd suggest, above all else, it's that people of goodwill try to give each other the benefit of the doubt wherever possible and seek common ground if they can.

So, for example, you might disagree with David Davis on Brexit but you can still work with him on civil liberties issues.

You might disagree with Tony Blair on the invasion of Iraq, but you were still on his side as he worked for an agreement in Northern Ireland.

You might disagree with Christine Jardine's British nationalism, but if ever there was a chance to join forces with her to bring about electoral reform at Westminster, you'd grab it with both hands.

You might disagree with Patrick Harvie on the trans debate, but if you want to work with him to save the world from the climate emergency you can GO TO HELL because you are a TRANSPHOBIC BIGOT who must be NO-PLATFORMED and treated as a NON-PERSON and REMOVED FROM EMPLOYMENT because frankly if the world BURNS that is a PRICE WORTH PAYING to prevent a MONSTER like you from having ANY PLACE IN OUR POLITICS.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where moderation ends and extremism begins.  Much the same principle applies for the likes of Owen Jones, Kat Cary and a disturbingly large number of people in the upper reaches of the SNP.