Sunday, 17 May 2015

Alex, You Better Live To Be 100 Plus

For me, one of the most depressing incidents of recent memory was the result of the Independence Referendum on September 18th 2014. It was not just the fact that over 2 million Scots voted against independence, what was even more depressing was the unadulterated glee and triumphalism of the No campaigners, as the results came in and area after area recorded overwhelming opposition to what the majority of nations regard as normal. I couldn't help thinking, "What kind of people are we, that we celebrate the opinions of the metropolitan elite, the English media and the political establishment, contending as they do, that Scots are too poor to even contemplate independence?" That doesn't even begin to touch on the opinions of the Kelvin McKenzies and Boris Johnsons, speaking for large sections of the English people, who regard Scots as perpetual whiners, subsidy junkies and wasters. I thought, "It is one thing to accept, secretly if we must, that alone of almost every other nation on earth, Scots lack the smeddum, the intelligence, the desire even, to govern ourselves. But to celebrate it as if we had just been liberated from years of occupation by a cruel and vengeful enemy, at the end of a bitterly contested war; what the hell happened to self-confidence, self-respect, dignity?"

The aftermath, the enormous growth in membership of the SNP, the "Party of Independence"; the daily repetition on social media of a new found desire for independence, on the part of many who had been energised by the referendum to participate in politics for the first time, began to renew my hope that many Scots were beginning to realise they had made a mistake by voting "No". The result of the election on May 7th took everyone by surprise, not least the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon wasn't just playing safe when she reminded party activists that "Every seat above eleven will be a record for us" and when she urged caution on being told the results of the exit polls on the day of the election itself. When the first result was announced for the constituency of Kilmarnock and Loudoun, "SNP 30,000" I knew something special had happened. I should have been over the moon but as the night wore on - my wife and I were there until the end - we both realised we weren't, in fact we felt quite flat. We finally realised the reason for that feeling was the almost total absence of the word "independence". Newly elected SNP MPs, some with unbelievable majorities, came to the mike to speak about "progressive politics", "Scotland's voice will be heard", "stronger Scotland" but few if any, spoke about independence.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership in general, gave ample warning that "this election is not about independence", "it is not about another referendum", "even if the SNP were to win every seat, it would not be a mandate for independence or even another referendum". In interview after interview since the election, she has reiterated that stance, agreeing with Andrew Marr when he said, "What you are saying is that the SNP is a National party and not a Nationalist party". That is to do no more than state the obvious, given the number of the party's leadership who have consistently eschewed Nationalism in favour of class politics, but the SNP in the past, never saw any contradiction and always considered the party to be a National party - hence the title.Older members, those of them who always considered themselves to be Nationalists, may find themselves disappointed as independence is put on the back, back burner, where it has been for the past twenty five years or a whole political generation.

Nicola Sturgeon summed up her approach in an interview with the Sunday Herald on 3rd of May, when she said, "My immediate objective and priority in politics is to try and make things better for all of us who live in Scotland right now. If I was to judghe everything all the time on looking two or three steps ahead - what does this mean for the SNP's ultimate goal? - we'd very quickly lose all the trust that people in Scotland have in us. It would be totally counterproductive. The most important thing is to  do the best you can for the country as you see it in the here and now". In other words, short termism rules OK. I don't believe people would lose trust in the SNP if they thought every policy position was mindful of the ultimate goal of independence. At least they would know where they stood and, more importantly, party activists of long standing would believe the party actually wanted independence.

Perhaps also, there would be fewer contradictions in SNP policy if more thought was given to how current political decisions affected the prospects for independence. We all know the last five years have seen real suffering among the working class; the food banks, cuts in welfare, job losses, and a general reduction in living standards for large sections of our population are hardly a sign the country is doing well. But it is giving false hope to Scots to suggest that short term measures such as a "few more powers" are going to provide any lasting benefit. If the SNP really believes Scotland cannot prosper to its full potential, until we have complete independence - which means total control of our resources - why adopt political positions which will delay that day to some time in the distant future, if it is attained at all? Independence has been on the back burner for the past twenty five years; how much have we lost in oil revenues in that time? Norway started its oil fund in 1990 and it is now worth an estimated £450 billion. For the past thirty years Scots economic growth has been 0.5% lower each year, than the UK as a whole - a measurement which is reduced by including Scots growth levels, thereby disguising the true disparity - therefore how much have we lost in job opportunities, increases in welfare and so on?

The SNP has always rejected, with good reason, the Unionist argument that to leave the rUK would mean economic disaster, enormous job losses, loss of trade etc. Why in Heaven's name therefore, is the only argument we have heard from the SNP in opposition to leaving the EU,  the loss of jobs? There is no difference between Better Together's argument for remaining in the UK and the SNP's argument for remaining in the EU. People are treated as no more than factors of production, with no interest other than "jobs, jobs and more jobs". The fact that over 100,000 jobs have been lost in the Scottish fishing industry alone, the Scottish steel industry was destroyed as the price of entry to the Common Market, as it was then, are totally ignored. There is no mention of the democratic deficit, the centralisation of power, the supremacy of EU Law over Scots Law and the fact we are powerless to negotiate trade deals with those countries outwith the EU. Despite their protestations - quite rightly - that David Cameron has no right to deny Scots another referendum on independence, the SNP seems to think it has the right to deny Scots a referendum on whether an independent Scotland should be in the EU. Despite opinion polls which contradict them, the SNP continues to peddle the myth that Scots are much more pro-EU than the rest of the UK. If that is the case they should have no fear of an in-out referendum.

Just as the currency proved to be a major stumbling block in the Independence Referendum, so Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA)is proving to be just as big a stumbling block in the aftermath of the General Election, despite the SNP's 56 seats in Scotland. The party insists that is all it needs to ensure the Scottish economy can provide the necessary increases in employment, economic growth and improvement in living standards to enable Scotland to abolish food banks, get rid of austerity and abolish the current deficit. At the same time, it totally ignores the fact that Westminster would still control the currency and that it is not possible to have FFA in a currency union. Within 24 hours of being elected as the SNP MP for East Lothian, George Kerevan wrote in The National of May 9th, "We all know that in present UK economic circumstances a fiscally autonomous Scotland would face a significant budget deficit. For Scotland to accept fiscal autonomy without inbuilt UK-wide fiscal balancing -financial transfers or subsidies  from rUK to Scotland - would be tantamount to economic suicide." While this is totally contrary to the argument presented by the SNP prior to the May election, the party is now arguing that FFA would take several years to implement, during which time the very limited new economic powers that the Scottish Government will be granted, will generate enough economic growth to cancel or at least substantially reduce the current deficit. This is economic nonsense.

Another advocate of FFA who has also changed his argument, is the founder and leader of Business for Scotland, Gordon Macintyre-Kemp. In The National of May 15th he wrote, "The best way to run the UK is to move towards increased devolution and federalism.....If Scotland then chose independence, then the UK currency zone and common market becomes a confederation. However, it seems that everyone has a different definition of Full Fiscal Responsibility and most describe full fiscal independence - something you can't actually have within a union." George Kerevan also advocated moving towards federalism within the UK. So we now have independence is really a confederation and two leading SNP supporters, one of them an SNP MP, advocating federalism.Is it any wonder that there is a petition currently making the rounds on Facebook, demanding that the SNP includes another Independence Referendum in its 2016 Holyrood manifesto? If it is included at all, we can be sure the timetable set will be indefinite to the point of being meaningless.

We will have to wait to see just how effective the SNP's 56 MPs will be in "making Scotland's voice heard" but I suspect there are many who will be disappointed at just how much impact they will have. Of one thing we can be certain, there will be no UDI. As the votes and the seats piled up on May 7th, I was reminded of the first National Council that was held after Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election in 1967. She told delegates that one of the Labour MPs, one of the few who actually spoke to her all the time she was there, said to her that he hoped she would soon settle down, to which Winnie replied, "I didn't come here to settle down, I came to settle up". Given the retreat by the party leadership from their original position of demanding the immediate implementation of FFA, I am also reminded of the question I used to ask applicants to go on the list of parliamentray candidates, "If you thought Scotland would be poorer with independence, would you still be a Nationalist"? I suspect there would not be many who answered "Yes". Alex Salmond said the "SNP's 56 MPs will shake Westminster to its foundations" I would love to think he is right, but he also said he expected to see independence "in his lifetime". Alex, you better be prepared to live to well over 100.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Is Scotland Hideously White, In Need of Cultural Diversity?

Whew, mention immigration in this country and you can be certain the roof will collapse in on you. I made two errors when I tweeted the results of the study of voting patterns in the Independence Referendum by Professor Ailsa Henderson of Edinburgh University, followed by the question, "Does open door immigration make sense?" The cardinal misjudgement was thinking immigration can be discussed sensibly or even at all, in a tweet. The intended blog for which the tweet was a lead, was unready therefore I should have delayed the tweet until it was. The second was in using the word "Scots" instead of the term "Scots born" as I meant to. Scott Macnab's article in The Scotsman, which reported the turmoil which the original tweet caused, was reasonable. Unfortunately he failed to include, as other reports did and, as I have pointed out in a letter to The Scotsman which at the time of writing has yet to be published, the response from the highly respected journalist Iain Macwhirter. The original tweet generated over a thousand responses, which continued into the following day and ranged from the crass to the acceptable.

The figures in the Edinburgh study, covering the votes of 4,500 people, showed that 52.7% of people born in Scotland voted Yes; 72.1% born in rest of UK and 57% born outside UK, voted No. I quoted those figures followed by the question. There was no mention of race, colour, religion, ethnicity or anything other than the figures quoted. Sadly, the highly respected journalist Iain Macwhirter, led the charge by tweeting, "Yes - Scotland is hideously white", followed by "Scotland also has ageing population which erodes tax base. Need young taxpayers. Any colour will do". He concluded with, "Scotland needs cultural diversity and younger population. Only immigration will do that. Nothing to do with indy/ref" The highlighting is mine. His first comment is crass, openly racist and I can only imagine the uproar if I, or anyone else, had tweeted, Kenya/Ghana et al is hideously black". No more than a dozen or so respondents raised that very issue with Mr Macwhirter, the rest - hundreds of them - either agreed with him, applauded him or simply ignored the open racism of his tweets, while the vast majority accused me of every kind of racism and bigotry. The sheer hypocrisy, to say nothing of the ignorance and stupidity of many of the responses, was quite breathtaking.

Of course there was no attempt made to explain why Scotland needs cultural diversity, it was simply asserted and accepted. The results of the Edinburgh study showed that immigration to Scotland had a very obvious effect on the results of the referendum, contrary to Mr Macwhirter's claim, in response to which I asked, "Why open our doors to those more likely to vote to deny us our independence and skew vote more?" - more of which below. Migration is one of the greatest problems facing many European countries just now and the consequences of  a sudden influx of people of a different culture, race, values and mores can be horrendous, with the immigrants frequently paying the heaviest price. Thousands have lost their lives in desperate attempts to reach Europe from Africa, parts of England are in turmoil as a consequence of Labour's open door immigration policy and Scotland has still to fully come to terms with the Irish influx of the 19th and 20th centuries, while Northern Ireland has its own story to tell. We hold refugees and asylum seekers, who have already lost everything, in dentenion centres like Dungavel to the detriment of both their physical and mental health. Scotland, historically has been, and still is, rather choosey about those it makes welcome.

Just to set the scene, a few pieces of personal information are in order. Born in Perth of a Catholic mother and Protestant father, I was taught religeous tolerance from the earliest age. As I attended the only Catholic school in Perth from 1945 onwards, my earliest friends included Irish, Italian and Polish children as well as the native Scots. One of my closest friends for over forty years is Polish. My wife of fifty three years, was born in Glasgow of Irish parents, her father from Mayo and her mother from Donegal, therefore our five children are half Irish with a number of relatives still living in Dublin and Donegal. Two of our great grandchildren are half Chinese and our family from the outset, encouraged them to embrace the language, history (which I taught for several years) and culture of their father's people. The wedding ceremony included both Scots and Chinese features, including the charming "Tea Ceremony" where the newly wedded young couple pay respects to their parents and grandparents. My brother-in-law of almost fifty years is English as is the partner of one of our sons. Cultural diversity? Aye, I think I know a wee bit about it, having actually lived with it quite happily for most of my life, as opposed to just paying lip service to it in order to assert my "superiority" or parade my unco guidness, as is likely true of the majority of my critics. The Irish immigration, particularly to the West Central Belt of Scotland, has been anything but a total blessing and we could have well done without some of the obscenities of the Rangers/Celtic relationship (see my blog "Scottish Nationalism And Catholicism") but NO, I will not be singing "The Famine Song" as one cretin suggested.

So, what are the possible consequences of open door immigration, other than to rid Scotland of its "hideous white culture" as so many of Mr Macwhirter's supporters would appear to want? We have been sheltered from the consequences of Labour's attempt to socially engineer the population, by adopting open door immigration but England has not. For years the political elites ignored the expressed concerns of the English electorate about the pressures on schools, hospitals, housing, the lack of social integration and what has been termed the "ghetoisation" of several of England's major cities. The pressure on education, health, housing; the increase in zero hours contracts with the subsequent drop in living standards, were denied, denied, denied and therefore ignored. The supporters of UKIP objected strongly to being dismissed as racists until finally, Ed Miliband admitted "Labour got immigration wrong". Now the major parties have all promised to control the number of immigrants, although there is nothing they can do about those coming from the EU. People have grown tired of hearing the elites defend immigration in terms of the massive contribution immigrants make to the economy, the NHS and public transport, as if their own contributions to these things are of no account. The outcome is frequently the scapegoating of immigrants for the poor housing, unemployment, low pay and fall in living standards that have become the reality for so many ordinary people in England's worst areas of social deprivation which have been unable to cope with the growth in population. Political elites have grown accustomed to turning working people against each other, largely because they find it so easy to engineer.

Immigration has become a "No-go zone" for debate and the responses to my original tweet, are a pretty fair indication of why this should be so. The authorities have finally been forced to admit that the grooming, leading to the rape and sexual abuse of thousands of young girls in large areas of England, could have been stopped years ago, had they not been terrified to highlight the racial overtones involved. That is wrong at every level and again, the poorest and most socially deprived are the prime victims. Refusal to debate the potential consequences of an open door immigration policy in Scotland must not be allowed to take root because the elites find it uncomfortable or because it suits their purpose but of far greater importance, it must not be allowed to take root because the likely victims will be those least able to defend themselves, many of them the newly arrived immigrants. Even controlled immigration will have consequences, some acceptable, some not. Open door immigration will allow greater numbers to come into Scotland therefore the consequences will be correspondingly greater, for good or ill.

I have been accused of blaming immigration for the rejection of independence in the referendum last September. That is absolute tripe but it suits a Tory politician to make the claim. I am on record as making several statements at the time of the referendum, arguing strongly that the vote should be restricted to those people living in Scotland at the time and registered to vote, irrespective of their origin, colour or creed. I argued equally strongly that ex-pat Scots should NOT have the vote because that would link the vote to ethnicity or national origin, which would be wrong. I disagreed strongly with much of the Yes campaign because I considered it to have several contradictions, particularly on the question of the currency. My strongest criticism however, was that I considered the campaign was far more about class war than about independence. When a member and office bearer in the SNP I disagreed strongly with the political analysis of the '79 Group, several of whose ex- members now hold senior positions in the SNP and Scottish government. I am again on record as one of my main disagreements is their attitude to those natural conservatives in Scotland, who have been encouraged to feel that independence has little to offer them. Over 400,000 Scots voted Tory in 2010, although they returned only one MP because of the first-past-the-post electoral system. Only 8% or 32,000 of those natural Tory voters voted Yes for independence.

I blamed an inept, class war for the defeat of the referendum on independence. Immigrants and the part they played did not even enter my mind. BUT, and this is vital, the Edinburgh study showed that the immigrant vote played a significant role because the majority voted No. In other words, the genie has been released from the bottle and no one is going to put it back in. People may be angry that the figures were released because of the implications they raise but it is how they are dealt with that is important.There were several social and age groups who voted No in the referendum, not least the over 65s and pensioners. We have to look at the reasons why immigrants and pensioners voted No but the reasons are hardly difficult to find. There is ample evidence that Unionists told immigrant groups they would be deported, while pensioners were told their UK pensions would be stopped. The Labour Party is currently distributing a leaflet that continues to make the same threat to pensioners. The number of assurances that the Unionists were lying (are still lying) had little impact. The treatment meted out to the "over 65s" in the aftermath of the No vote in the referendum, was nothing short of obscene. They were regularly attacked on social media, their tormentors caring little for their reasons for voting No. Those  responsible for instilling their fear for the future cared even less.

It has always been a fallacy that Scotland has welcomed immigrants without question, although we have been more tolerant than many countries.The Irish have always been an exception but again, had the numbers been lower, the outcome may have been different. Anyone who argues there have been no problems is either deluding themselves or wilfully distorting the truth. There are no longer signs exclaiming "NO Irish" but we still have sectarianism, we still have Celtic and Rangers. The result of the referendum was a great disappointment to me but the targetting and scapegoating of the elderly as the main cause of the No vote, left a bad taste. The Edinburgh study has identified another group which can now be scapegoated. Are those who advocate open door immigration, because like Macwhirter they consider Scotland to be "hideously white" or for some other reason, prepared to be answerable for the possible consequences? Probably not, but then, they never are, are they?

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

What Impact Will Putting Labour In Office Have On Independence? Is SNP In Danger Of Missing The Boat?

The events of the past week; with the most successful SNP conference ever, the TV "debate" between Cameron and Milliband and various statements from senior figures in politics and, of course the dissolution of parliament, set the likely tone for the general election in May. The SNP reiterated their determination to refuse to support a Tory government in Westminster "under any circumstances" and challenged Labour to commit itself, in the event of a "hung parliament", to work with the SNP to deny the Tories office. Miliband, for his part, assured Labour MPs and supporters that he would not agree to any deal with the SNP, that he and Ed Balls would be writing the Labour budget - not Alex Salmond - and both Miliband and Cameron assured us they were both expecting to win a "majority" in May. A couple of polls on Sunday suggested the result may be leaning in Labour's favour but on Monday, another poll suggested the exact opposite. We have a long way and many polls to go before we know who will be PM for the next five years.

So, what are the prospects for independence if the SNP helps to put Labour in power? Will it hinder or help the cause, or will it make no difference either way? Of course Labour will not be the only factor at play as the position and performance of the SNP will obviously play vital parts as events unfold. Immediately after the Referendum, Salmond proclaimed that May's election would not be about independence, nor would it be about another Referendum: it would be about "Home Rule" as promised by Gordon Brown during the Referendum campaign. Nicola Sturgeon, Stewart Hosie, Angus Robertson and several other SNP office bearers have all confirmed Salmond's claim, so we know that a vote for the SNP in May is not a vote for independence or even the possibility of promoting the concept of independence. At this election, a vote for the SNP is more about electing a Labour Government and making sure the Tories are denied office. It is about, according to Nicola Sturgeon, "being Labour's backbone and guts" and about "reforming Westminster" and "ending austerity" and "abolishing the House of Lords". She could have told her audience that the only certain way of ending austerity in Scotland was to get independence and that Scots would then no longer need to concern themselves about reforming Westminster and abolishing the Lords. But she didn't.

When I joined the SNP in 1955 at the age of fifteen, there were no more than a few hundred of us but it did not prevent us believing in and campaigning for, independence. The SNP was the only party that stood for Scottish independence and that was the reason I joined. Since then I have been  a hard-line, uncompromising and unapologetic Scottish Nationalist. My critics inside the modern SNP call me a "fundamentalist", an "absolutist" and an "isolationist", although they fail to explain what their terms mean. So for the benefit of them and others, my Nationalism is not expressed as a desire to annex anyone else's territory (imperialism), it is concerned only to see the nation of Scotland restored as an independent nation/state and the restoration of sovereignty to where it belongs - with the Scottish people. It extends no further than that; however, I will seek to protect the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people as we re-establish ourselves on the world stage, participating in those alliances which seek to protect and nurture the interests of other people and nations throughout the world. At the same time, creating a decent society within our own borders, a society which will seek the best outcome in all things for the Scottish people, is of paramount importance. During thirty-five years in the SNP and in literally thousands of conversations with friends and colleagues in the party, I found my aspirations mirrored those of other traditional Nationalists.. But the party changed so that now, a number of the SNP leaders, and members, reject Nationalism and prefer to see the need for independence in terms of class rather than the restoration of the nation/state. This will obviously have consequences for the fight for independence in the Westminster environment and the determination to promote a Labour government.

The SNP, in their eagerness to attack Labour "from the left", created two hostages to fortune which have already come home to roost, as well as making it very difficult for the 400,000 or so Scots who regularly vote Tory, to be persuaded that independence has much to offer them. The first "hostage" was in Nicola Sturgeon's first speech as leader, to party members in Perth on 15th November 2014, when she said, in reference to propping up a Labour government, "Conference, hear me loud and clear when I say this - they (Labour) would have to think again about putting a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the river Clyde". On 7th January 2015 she said "...the SNP would never do a political deal with any party that supported nuclear weapons" and reiterated that on 9th February 2015 by saying, "It's a fundamental for me and the SNP-there wouldn't be any Labour/SNP coalition if Trident was part of it". She said a "formal coalition was "unlikely" but we could work on a "case by case basis. I'm not ruling it (a coalition) out completely, let's wait and see how people vote". There is no ambiguity there BUT on 6th March in an interview with The Guardian, Nicola Sturgeon pulled the plug on a political stance which would have stopped any kind of deal with Labour when she confirmed SNP's opposition to Trident but stated that would not prevent a deal on a "vote by vote basis".

Support for NATO at last year's conference, reversed years of SNP opposition to membership of an international organisation with a "first strike" nuclear policy at its heart. It is a short step to be prepared to prop up a party in government, which believes in keeping Trident nuclear weapons but the SNP sees that as real/politic. The second hostage is the oft-repeated commitment to refuse to deal with the Tories "under any circumstances". Angus Robertson MP and leader of the SNP in Westminster, fell prey to the logical consequences of that stance when questioned by Gordon Brewer on Sunday Politics on Sunday 28th of this month. When asked by Brewer, "Are there any circumstances in which you envisage being unable to support Labour?" Robertson was unable to give an example. Pushed by Brewer and given several opportunities to provide any example when the SNP could vote against Labour, Robertson could not give a single instance, even when Brewer suggested that Labour could more or less do as they pleased and challenge the SNP to do its worst. Robertson could at least have said Trident, but the reality is that although the SNP has said it would not support a single penny being spent on Trident, Labour's Budget will obviously involve defense spending. And that will involve spending on Trident. Will the SNP vote down a Labour Budget because of Trident or, will real/politic again dictate? Given the political postures they have struck, the language they have used, how much real influence, let alone power, will the SNP really have by propping up a Labour government?

Of far greater importance, what will keeping a Labour government in power for the next five years do for independence, particularly as the party of independence has insisted this election is not about independence? Alex Salmond was right when he said the Referendum had changed the politics of Scotland, but I suspect the change has been far, far greater than anyone in the SNP or Yes Campaign had envisaged or even hoped for in their wildest dreams.The quadrupling of SNP membership to over 100,000 since last September, the street activity of Yes supporters, the pressure and demands for change are all unprecedented. There is a mood in the streets, in places of work, in families and households that I have yearned for, for sixty years. It surpasses the excitement and demands for change that were there in the 1970's and just as then, it has caught the SNP by surprise. In light of all of this, why are the SNP not pushing for independence or at least giving Scots some hope of a reasonably short period of consolidation, instead of repeating the mantra, "The people will tell us when". Angus Brown told Gordon Brewer he did not envisage another Referendum within the next parliament. Is the SNP not listening or is it just not hearing?

I covered this in a previous blog but the point is worth repeating. The SNP is not going to be the only political party available to do deals with Labour and the Tories, whichever of the two major parties is in a position to realistically consider government. Little or no speculation has been made about the prospects of deals with the other smaller parties, and while the polls suggest the SNP could well be the largest of that group, polls have been wrong before. In any case, the concern for the majority of Scots is, or should be, the prospects for independence. The number of possible scenarious is almost endless and speculation at this juncture is pointless but there is one absolute certainty in all the speculation, if Labour ever has to choose between the Union and Scottish independence, it will choose the Union every time. For that reason, nothing will be done, no political powers granted to Scotland, that will enhance in any way, shape or form, the prospects for independence. What also must be remembered is that both Labour and the SNP have their eyes firmly fixed on the elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2016, a mere twelve months from now. Realistically, they are the only two parties with any prospect of forming a Scottish Government, although Labour would likely have to seek support from another smaller party.

Anything that is done in Westminster over the next twelve months, any votes for or against change, for good or ill as far as Scotland is concerned, will be used by both SNP and Labour either to bolster their case in Scotland or to attack the other party. This should benefit the SNP because despite Nicola Sturgeon's appeal to English voters that the SNP will be their "friends", the party does not have to concern itself too much about the reaction of English voters, unlike Labour. The English electors are more likely to take the view, "beware Greeks bearing gifts" than feel reassurance that the SNP propping up a UK government could work to their advantage. A UK Labour government, propped up by SNP support, will obviously try to avoid alienating Scots before May 2016 and, both parties will claim the accolades and credit, for any benefits that come our way. The SNP will not want to see popular changes that benefit Scotland, increase the popularity of Labour but that is always a possibility, although they will claim it is only the presence of a "strong SNP group in Westminster" that made the changes possible. Their new mantra is "the majority of Scots' preferred outcome is a Labour/SNP government" although the possibility of that arrangiement also being preferred for the Scottish Parliament, seems to have passed them by. Beware what you wish for.

If it is true that "Fortune favours the brave" is the SNP brave enough to change the language and therefore the direction of their strategy? There are two fairly recent lessons from history which are perhaps worth remembering. Throughout 1978 the Callaghan government toiled not only with economic problems but an increasingly restless Trade Union movement, which had seen the standard of living of many of its members cut severely, while rises in incomes had been controlled. Despite this, the TUs were still prepared to support the Labour government in the expectation of a general election before the end of the year. I still remember Callaghan standing at the rostrum singing, "There was I waiting at the church", as he announced on the 7th September that there would be no election that year. It is an election that almost every commentator and pundit expected Labour to win. That decision angered the TUs and almost ensured the massive strike action that ocurred in the Winter of Discontent which followed. In November 1978 Labour still had a lead of 5% in the polls but by January the Tories had a lead of 7.9% and by February that lead had grown to 20%. The general election in March saw the return of the Tories and Margaret Thatcher. The demise of Gordon Brown was perhaps less dramatic but is said to have been equally unnecessary, had he gone to the country in autumn 2007 rather than wait until 2010.

The inability of two Labour Prime Ministers to read the political runes, led to no more than the loss of office for the Labour Party, which was well past its sell-by date in any case. If the SNP does likewise, it stands to lose a great deal more than political office, it stands to lose Scotland.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Scorpion and the Frog

"Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise" - Woodrow Wilson.

The fable of the Scorpion and the Frog is well known but for the uninitiated: a scorpion comes to a river and being unable to swim, asks a nearby frog if it will carry it over on its back. The frog is naturally afraid the scorpion will sting it to death and says so. The scorpion says, "Why would I do that as then we would both die?" The frog decides that this makes sense and therefore agrees but when they are only half way across and at the deepest part of the river, the scorpion stings the frog, who asks with his dying breath, "Why, why did you do that?" The scorpion replied, "It is just in my nature." I would ask readers to keep the fable in mind as they read on.

I raised the issue of the SNP's decision to go into a coalition with Labour at Westminster, in the event of a hung parliament, but to refuse to agree to any kind of deal or support for the Tories "under any circumstances", on 19th November 2011 in the blog "Vote SNP - And Get Labour" and again on 22nd January in, "Could a Coalition With Labour Split The SNP?" I am glad to see Ian Macwhirter raised the same issue in the "Sunday Herald" where he said, "Miliband is in a poker game with the SNP which he can't lose". The National's new columnist, George Kerevan, used his first column on February 9th to discuss the same topic. He claims to have spoken at an SNP meeting in Edinburgh, at which he asked for a show of hands of those who were opposed to a deal with Labour, even on SNP terms. Half the audience obliged. My only question is why it took Macwhirter and Kerevan so long to recognise the SNP's position is untenable?

Something about Labour, both UK and Scottish versions, which independence supporters would do well to remember: it is a long time since they had any pretensions of being a socialist party and even longer since they were supporters of "Home Rule". Labour is first and foremost a Unionist party and if any independence supporter had any doubts about that, it was surely confirmed, not just by the alliance with the Tories in the Referendum but in the very obvious delight of Labour Party members at the various counts, each time a "No" vote was registered. Despite Miliband and Balls declaring their intentions to "save the NHS" and "abolish poverty", Labour has already committed itself to the same austerity cuts championed by the Tories - £30 billion of them. Just how does Nicola Sturgeon intend to follow a "progressive and constructive" political programme with partners like that and what does it mean for Scotland?

The First Minister has said the "SNP will push Scotland's interests at Westminster" but it is difficult to see how when they have removed from the equation the most potentially effective counter to Labour the SNP have - a deal with the Tories. The SNP can forget any idea of getting rid of Trident and nuclear weapons because there is a massive majority in Westminster in favour of keeping it. Having made it a "Red Line" issue, what will the SNP do when Labour says they have no intention of getting rid of Trident or its successor? No one really expects SNP to have any success on that issue, therefore failure to achieve one of their main objectives may not do them too much damage. But what about the promises to get "extra powers" for Scotland or the "Home Rule" that Alex Salmond has said is the prime SNP objective for this election? Alex Salmond was very quick to put a dampner on the expectations of SNP supporters when he announced the May election is "not about independence" and made "Home Rule" the pinnacle of the party's ambitions. We have already had at least three definitions of Home Rule which only muddies the political water even more, making it almost impossible for the Scottish electorate to be certain of what they are being asked to vote for.

The current coalition between the Conservatives and the Lib/Dems has demanded an extremely heavy price from the junior partner, which will lose over 50% of its seats, according to most recent polls. No matter how often Nick Clegg emphasises that the Lib/Dems have been instrumental in ensuring the UK has been sheltered from even more austerity, by blunting some of the most extreme Conservative policies, the electorate is in no mood to listen. In the election of February 1974, the Liberal Party polled 19.3% of the popular vote and returned 14 MPs, while it polled 18.3% of the vote, returning 13 MPs in October the same year. In March 1977, Callaghan and Steel agreed to the Lib/Lab Pact which allowed the then Labour Government to defeat a Conservative initiated "No Confidence" vote. No matter how much the Liberals claimed their support for Labour was for "the good of the country" which did not need another general election so soon, in March 1979 the party's vote fell to 13.8%, returning 11 MPs. Will the SNP suffer the same fate, taking the blame for Labour failures but getting no credit for any victories, bearing in mind that a "victory" for Scottish interests, almost by definition, will be at the expense of the interests of the rUK? We could write the headlines now.

The Smith Commission could not have made it any plainer; Westminster will not give up power lightly and some tax concessions granted under Smith's proposals, will be unusable because the monetary powers needed to complement the tax concessions, are absent. It cannot be said often enough, "there is no such thing as fiscal autonomy", at least autonomy that can be made to work. Any deal to support Labour and keep it in power, must compromise SNP principles - Trident being the most obvious example - and for how long will the deal last? Having decided not to play off Labour and Conservatives against each other, Labour will want any deal to have longevity. They will argue legislation takes time and the economic problems are so serious, they must take precedence over constituional issues. Smith has already been agreed and Labour may be prepared to "tweak" the edges but we can rest assured, there will be other demands from the rUK, which will be given priority. The longer the SNP keep Labour in power, the greater the contamination of the SNP there will be, but withdrawal of support, on what will be presented by the media as "the flimsiest of reasons", will be condemned outright. By then the SNP will have reached the deepest part of the river.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Could A Coalition With Labour Split The SNP?

The official election campaign for the May Westminster election has now been launched, at least by the major parties. The SNP actually launched their campaign, "unofficially" as soon as the Referendum was over last September, and when Alex Salmond, although no longer the SNP leader, announced the SNP would never deal with the Tories at Westminster "under any circumstances" but would certainly be prepared to prop up a Labour government in a "hung parliament". The significance of that statement, as opposed to the statement itself, has been almost totally ignored by the mainstream media. I have already commented that the SNP and Yes Campaign did not fight a nationalist campaign and in some respects, not even a campaign for independence and, with Salmond's simple assertion, the SNP gave notice that it intended to continue with its class campaign until May. Any one unfamiliar with the voting patterns in Scotland, could be forgiven for assuming that there would be only one significant social class - the working class - in an independent Scotland. By the same token, any one of a conservative bent, could be forgiven for believing there would be no place for Conservatives or even the middle classes who support them, in an independent Scotland.

There has been substantial "policy creep" by the SNP since last September as the willingness to "prop up" a Labour government in Westminster has now become preparedness to have a full-blown coalition. Again, according to Alex Salmond, who is still not the leader of the SNP or the leader of the SNP's Westminster group or even a Westminster MP, the election in May is not about "independence" or even another referendum. Scots who voted "Yes" last September and joined the SNP in droves in the aftermath, who have kept the demand for "independence" at boiling point ever since, are being told to expect no better than "Home Rule" at best, and no matter how many MPs are elected under the SNP banner. The latest Mori poll suggests the SNP will not only take 55 seats next May, it will also have the majority of the popular vote, while Labour will have 4 MPs and the Tories and Lib/Dems will have none. There was a time when such a result would have been considered as a mandate for the SNP to negotiate independence and present the results to the Scottish people in a referendum. It would be wonderful if it happened but not even the most blinkered Nationalist believes it will, although more realistic expectations still suggest the SNP will be the biggest party in Scotland after the election in May. If that were to happen, is it realistic to expect "Home Rule" to be granted by a Labour government, albeit one which is in a coalition with the SNP?

I firmly believe it is about as realistic as to think Labour in government, even a coalition government, would be prepared to get rid of Trident and nuclear weapons. Why do I think that? Perhaps it would be instructive to look at the inherent contradictions in the SNP's current statements and policies, and the potential effects they will have on the electorate.

* The New SNP would no longer call itself a Nationalist party, given the number of the higher echelons who claimed the Referendum campaign was "not about nationalism" not "about identity". Scottish culture was dismissed by some as "kilts and haggis", as the campaign degenerated into a class war rather than a desire for the rebirth of a Scottish nation/state.
* To say there will be no dealings with the Tories "under any circumstances" is to dismiss as of no account, the feelings and aspirations of almost 17% of Scots who voted Tory as recently as 2010, when 412,855 Scottish electors voted Tory. That was an increase of over 43,000 on the number who voted Tory in 2005. In 1997, 493,059 voted Tory, which was almost 2,000 MORE than voted SNP in 2010. Given the tenor of the Referendum campaign and subsequent statements by the SNP leadership, what incentive is there for anyone of a Conservative bent to vote SNP? Will Tory voters use their vote to support whichever party has the best chance of defeating the SNP?
* A political party, which claims to be "the Nation's party" but which cannot straddle the social classes, and seems prepared to write off the support of over 400,000 or 17% of the electorate, will find great difficulty in making a "national" argument or appealing to a feeling of "nationhood".
* The attacks on the Labour Party by the SNP and its adherents since the referendum, many of them justified, have been made in some instances, in such a ludicrous manner as to make any suggestion of a coalition between SNP and Labour quite laughable. Jim Murphy has been vilified as the Devil incarnate and has been greeted with cries of "traitor" and "quisling" when he appears in public but he will be one of Labour's Westminster MPs (assuming he holds his seat) the SNP want to put into government. After Labour voted for the Tory austerity cuts, Pete Wishart, SNP MP for North Perthshire, tweeted - "Get them out" - . That was followed by a chorus from other SNP MPs, appealing to Scots to "get rid of Labour". Why? - so that the SNP MPs that take their places in Scotland, can then put Labour in power in Westminster? That message does no more than invite derision.
* Nicola Sturgeon has made Trident a "red line issue" and has claimed no deal would be done with any party that supported Trident. That automatically excludes Labour, at least on current policy, from any coalition deal, but funny things tend to happen on the way to office. The Labour Party may find some way to keep the equivalent of Trident but call it something else, after all Jim Murphy has managed to persuade himself he is not a "Unionist"; but under no circumstances will they denude the UK of nuclear weapons. The SNP's "red line" will likely morph into a very pale orange or even yellow, if it intends to "keep Labour in power".

I find it incredible that any Nationalist party in Scotland (SNP) would announce months before the election in May, it will enter a coalition with a Unionist party (Labour), in the hope of being given more powers for Scotland. To also announce no deal would be made "under any circumstances", with the only other Unionist party likely to garner enough English votes to form the next UK government (Tories), either on its own or as the senior partner in a coalition, removes the bulk of the pressure from the SNP's intended partner. Assuming the SNP will keep its intention to have no deal with the Tories, why would the Labour party feel particularly threatened or under any pressure to offer the SNP any more powers than are already on the table from the Smith Commission? For this to happen, a number of assumptions are being made, some of which almost beggar belief. It is assumed:-

* The SNP will increase its representation substantially, at the expense of Labour mainly, and the Lib/Dems.
* The Tories will gain insufficient seats in England and Wales to form a government, either on their own or in another coalition.
* The Labour Party will not win enough seats to form a government on its own
* The Lib/Dems, UKIP, Plaid Cymru, NI MPs play no part in the negotiations held to form a government. This may be because they are not interested (unlikely) or their numbers are insufficient to make them relevant (also unlikely). If they do play a part, they will be in agreement with whatever demands the SNP makes and will vote accordingly.
* Labour will concede every demand, including the demand for Home Rule, made by the SNP, which in turn will be required to concede little or nothing (doubtful).

Notwithstanding the contradictions in the SNP message, as outlined above, all of which are going to have to be explained away to an increasingly sceptical electorate the closer we get to May, there will be a large number of SNP supporters who will require to be persuaded to accept a coalition with a Unionist party. They will fall into two camps; the traditional SNP supporters who still see themselves as Nationalists and, the converts who have joined since the Referendum. The kind of unthinking obedience to the leadership line that characterised the SNP and Yes Campaigns during the Referendum campaign, may not be so easily imposed between now and May. Many of those new SNP members who have already come across from Labour, have let it be known they would not be happy to see Labour kept in office, given the track record of that party in Scotland and its attitude to Scottish independence, which drove it to campaign alongside the Tories. Traditional Nationalists opposed the party line in 1987, when the "hung parliament" scenario was first launched and there may be even stronger opposition this time, given the greater possibility of a hung parliament actually happening. The very idea of perhaps taking a majority of Scottish seats, then being asked to keep a Unionist party in power, in order to be given no more than "Home Rule" will be anathema to them. They want independence, not to be the catalyst that allows Unionists to claim that Devolution works.

What could be the alternative for a substantial number of SNP MPs in a hung parliament scenario? For a start, there is little hope of Labour granting "Home Rule" and the best the SNP can expect is perhaps a few extra powers over and above those suggested by the Smith Commission. Alex Salmond led a minority government in Holyrood between 2007 and 2011 and has made much of the experience he gained. The term of office was highly successful, albeit the Tories supported the SNP when it mattered. Salmond not only gained experience in running a minority government, he would also learn where and when pressure can be applied effectively, what issues can be forced through and which can be sacrifised. The SNP will first have to decide whether it is prepared to push for independence or if it is content with a few increased powers; to make devolution work or make life difficult for Westminster to function. The decision by Nicola Sturgeon to vote on the issue of the NHS in England makes sense because whatever happens, will effect the budget for the NHS in Scotland. But how far will the SNP continue with helping a Labour government to be successful in England, knowing success in England will invariably have a knock-on effect in Scotland? Will the SNP begin to like Westminster enough to attempt to stay there in numbers because Labour will drive a hard bargain if there is to be a coalition?

To date, all the speculation has been about the SNP holding the balance of power, with little or no mention being made of the other parties. The reality of the May election is unlikely to match the speculation so far but it is safe to assume the SNP will increase their number of MPs. By how many is the question but unless there is an electoral disaster for the party, the increase should be substantial and how they are used will be vital. The Scottish independence movement is in no mood to be conned, either by the Unionist parties or by the SNP, particularly not by the SNP. Expectations are running high, perhaps too high, but the electorate will know very quickly if it is being sold short. Woe betide the party responsible for the sell out.