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Sunday, 29 March 2015

SNP Spring Conference 2015 – there’s never been a party conference like this one!

Angus Robertson MP and Stewart Hosie MP, the two stalwarts of the lonely advance guard of six SNP MPs, who have spent years as a tiny embattled group on the Commons benches, surrounded by the hostile forces of unionism, alternately abused and patronised, facing the full wrath and hostility of all unionist parties, including abuse from their fellow Scots in Labour, LibDems and Tory ranks, exhausted by commuting to and from their constituencies and demanding party duties in Scotland.

Here they set the scene for Conference and for Nicola, and calmly nail – hopefully  once and for all(!) - the repetitive distortions and simplistic questions and soundbytes directed at us by hostile and often deeply confused unionists – on party leadership, on Westminster leadership and on Westminster strategy and the questions of a second independence referendum.

It is not a an exaggeration to say that no other political party has such clarity of policy, objectives and tight focus.

Scotland, the party and the massive new SNP membership owe them a debt of gratitude for their incalculable contribution to party strategy and the success of the SNP, especially to Angus Robertson, the modest hero of the SNP, the architect of so much of its success - our leader in Westminster. We owe so much to this man.

We won't forget - and after May, you'll never be lonely again, guys - massive reinforcements are coming!

There has never been a party conference like this. It let the world see what Scotland and Scots are really like - open and determined. There's a simple explanation for SNP's success and poll position - it understands Scots, Scotland and politics better than the opposition.

HUMZA: "We are nobody's branch office. Nobody puts Scotland in a box. No one puts Scotland in a corner." And so say all of us ...

If you're a lifelong Labour supporter (I was!) but increasingly realise that the SNP is the party that now represents your values - join us!

If you voted NO at #indyref but are having second thoughts, now's the time! Join the SNP - you'll be welcomed and immediately among friends.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Westminster 2015 – politics, polls and possibilities: the current state of play

I thought I’d have a crack at updating my February blog – May 8th 2015 – when the hard bargaining starts

Polls are remarkably consistent in pointing to a hung Parliament – now virtually a certainty rather than a possibility. Again, I offer my understanding of the arithmetic and dynamics of this, but happy to be corrected on errors or points of detail!

Conservatives           303
Labour                       257
Liberal Democrat       56
Democratic Unionist   8
Scottish National          6
Sinn Fein                       5
Independent                 3
Plaid Cymru                  3
Social Dem & Lab.        3
UKIP                               2
Alliance                           1
Green                              1
Respect                           1
Speaker                           1

Total no. of seats  650


After a general election, the leader of one of the parties has to demonstrate that he or she can command a majority of the votes in the House of Commons on major issues i.e. impose the democratic will of the Government on dissenting voices in the House and govern this increasingly Disunited Kingdom - a practical necessity and constitutional requirement - the leader has to convince the Queen as Head of State.

If one political party has this capacity, its leader de facto becomes Prime Minister, subject to the Queen’s ratification, but if no single party has the requisite number of seats – even though one may have more seats than any other single party – then either

a deal has to be struck with another party or parties, or

the party with the majority of seats has to risk governing as a minority government, or

a hung Parliament effectively  exists and another general election has to be called.

The party leader with most seats (but short of overall majority) gets first crack at forming a government

Last time, I used the first Newsnight Index – this time I’ll use the latest Skye/Thrasher poll projections of the hung Parliament possible seat outcome.

Sky Hung poll

Labour largest party on 283 seats  - way short of the magic 321-323 seats to give an overall majority - Tories 272, SNP 53, Others 23, LibDems 17, UKIP 2

Thee are 650 seats in the House, a simple majority requires the aspirant governing party or parties to be able to command 326 seats (half of 650 + 1)– but since Sinn Fein doesn’t take up its five seats, that becomes 323 (half of 645 +1).  Sinn Fein could of course put a green cat among the Brit pigeons at any time by deciding to turn up! And they might just do that, worried by DUP influence (currently 8 seats, maybe 9 after May?)

There is the question of the Speaker (actually speakers, with deputies). The Speaker only votes on a dead heat, and then by tradition for the governing party, so theoretically that throws another one vote potentially in contention!)

On the Sky/Thrasher projection, Labour would be the party with most seats, but not enough to hit the magic 323. Ed Miliband can then choose to “do an Alex Salmond 2007” and elect to govern as a minority government a high-wire act, with huge risks, which Alex was well-equipped to perform – requiring him to do ad hoc deals on every major vote with other parties or interest groups within and/or across parties. If Ed hasn’t the balls for this – or the Queen didn’t like it – he would then have three other options -

call for another general election, or

try to strike a confidence & supply deal with another party or parties – a kind of minority government with a pre-arranged support understanding, or

form a coalition government with one party or with more than one party - a Rainbow coalition

(Aficionados of the various Borgen series on BBC Four will understand all of this effortlessly, plus have an insight into the role of sex in government!)

Ed has now decisively ruled out a Labour coalition with Tories, UKIP or SNP  (it was never a preferred SNP option) and appears to have ruled out any formal deal, e.g. confidence and supply, so he must either bottle it and call another general election or govern as a minority government.

But the stark realpolitik of minority government means that he must negotiate and do deals, otherwise he risks falling  at the first fence, e.g. a budget vote.

Who will Ed’s likely partners in government be – if he chooses to have partners – and how would it play out on the above, or similar projections of a May  7th outcome?

To get to the magic 323, he needs 40 votes. For comfort – and to reassure Lizzie – he ideally needs more. The SNP can give him 53, LibDems 17, and Others 23 votes. UKIP can offer 2.

He says he won’t deal with UKIP or Tories: the  LibDems are proven carpetbaggers and will deal with anyone, delivering 17 votes – but,  of the 23 others, 6 don’t vote (Sinn Fein and Speaker) and of the remaining 17, he probably can  only deal with Plaid and Greens (and George Galloway ?). Even if he had all the Others (including Ulster Unionists?) he only musters 34.

(Breaking news is that DUP will deliver their 8 (9?) votes to anyone who offers them £1 billion. Now, who’s crying “holding the UK to ransom” now, Anna Soubry! Ah, they’re unionists!)

If Ed was mad, UKIP squeaks him another two, giving 36 but still leaving him four short of the magic figure, which in itself is a tight and risky margin.

Any way  it plays out, it seems inevitable that the SNP will be the key players, even if their actual seat fall short of the astonishing 53 seat projection.

Without going into the obvious numbers, on this projection, David Cameron has even less chance of usurping Labour as the largest party to form a government.

Of course there are other radical options, all centring round some kind of Government of  National Unity, i.e. keep the WMD, keep austerity and keep the SNP out of the power loop at any price.

My view is that such an attempt - apart from running a grave risk of triggering a schism in either the Labour Party or the Tory Party or both - would catalyse the spirit of Scottish independence dramatically and trigger an unstoppable popular demand for a  second independence referendum.

(There are even more radical scenarios than that, ones that I would not like to see provoked by such UK rashness.)

POSTSCRIPT: Alex Salmond ideas on Fixed Term Parliament Act manoeuvre

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Salmond on Marr, Soubry on Salmond, Murphy in meltdown – just another day in Scotland-dominated UK politics!

SNP membership hits 100,000, polls couldn’t be better or more consistent – and Scottish politics seem so human, vibrant, cutting edge - and Westminster politics so tired, so contemptibly predictable, locked in the past.

Anna Soubry MP   does a fine archetypal Tory woman impression of Ann Widdecombe in full expostulating, "end-of-Britain-as-we-know-it" mode.

I must give Anna full credit - she does synthetic indignation body language better than anyone littering the Tory benches today.


Stuffed full of John McTernan soundbytes, Jim Murphy falls apart under Andrew Neil's relentless professionalism - and the cold, hard facts of the polls.

Defensive, misjudging speed of delivery, lurching in typical fashion from Scottish Labour backroom brawler mode to cloying attempts to ingratiate - all in all, Murphy's painful swansong.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The “democratic principle”– and Unionist attempts to deny it when YES voters exercise it.

I wrote this in response to a Herald letter from a regular correspondent to Letters who echoed with uncanny accuracy the line being pursued by the UK unionist parties on YES Scotland’s (I refer to those who voted YES) temerity in not giving up after the referendum, but forging ahead with the SNP in exercising their legal and democratic rights to participate in the Parliamentary union the September 18th 2014 ballot result had compelled them to remain a part of. A great silence has followed my letter – so far …

Herald Letters March 11th 2015 

"SNP is a regional party ..." Peter A. Russell

Dear Sir,

I hardly know where to start with Peter A. Russell's letter on the SNP role in the 2015 general election. It reflects the deeply confused constitutional - not to say democratically questionable - assumptions that lie at the root of so many unionist arguments.

1. The "democratic principle" is that a government, once elected, is accountable to all the voters, not to the "majority of the voters" who may or may not have voted for the party or parties that form the government. In the 18 general elections since 1945, no single party forming a government has ever had 50% or more of the vote. The present combined Tory/LibDem Coalition had 58.08%. (As an aside, I have delivered leaflets and campaigned, at some level of involvement, in every one of them from the age of 10.)

2. The SNP has not "chosen to be" a de facto regional party in the UK". It stands candidates for the UK Parliament in Scottish constituencies determined legally and constitutionally under UK-wide law. No political party has a duty to stand candidates across the UK. It is committed to an over-arching objective of Scotland's independence, but it currently operates with a UK framework of law, offering itself to an electorate that contains voters in favour of and opposed to independence.  Once elected, SNP MPs represents all shades of political opinion within their constituency, in exactly the same manner as any MP anywhere in UK. It is clear beyond doubt that Scottish voters opposed to independence voted - and will vote - for the SNP.

3. The SNP forms the devolved government of Scotland. It can never be the main party in government of the UK, nor does it seek to be. While Scotland remains a part of UK, its objective is to represent Scotland's interests within the democratic structure and arithmetic of Westminster voting. It cannot pursue independence at Westminster, only further devolution within a UK framework. It has no intention of "dictating to 90% of the UK electorate" but will pursue an agenda for the electorate and the people of Scotland - all of them.

4. Independence can only be secured democratically by a referendum - the UK Parliament will never vote for the independence of any of its four component countries. The Scottish people rejected independence in the last referendum. If the SNP wins a large block of seats on May 7th, and subsequently wins a decisive third term majority in the 2016 Holyrood election, it will undoubtedly be a powerful democratic indicator that a majority of the Scottish people want a second referendum.

5. The UK electorate may vote for a party label, but they in fact vote for individual constituency MPs who, without exception, represent a "regional' constituency" under a first-past-the-post system. Most MPs run under a party label and accept a party whip, but in Westminster they vote as individuals MPs, whipped  or independently. That is UK democracy, however distorted on occasion by the party system.

yours faithfully,

Peter Curran

Sunday, 8 March 2015

SNP and Labour after May 7th - Coalition? Confidence and supply? Issue by issue?

SNP and Labour after May 7th - Coalition? Confidence & supply? Issue by issue?

I'm totally against coalition (remember LibDems fate), but in favour of confidence & supply or issue by issue. A Rainbow alliance without coalition? It all depends on whether Tories or Labour have the most seats, but not an overall majority for either party.

Ian Murray MP eaten alive, regurgitated - then eaten again by Gordon Brewer.

Murray tried unsuccessfully to use the non-stop gabbling approach to avoid answering the simple question - "Will you rule out a pact/deal with the SNP?"  A lame performance by the dead pan, dead-eyed Murray - all in all, a car crash of an interview.

Of course, he won't rule it out, because Miliband hasn't ruled it out, Murphy hasn't ruled it out, Labour hasn't ruled it out.

They'll do a deal alright, if their political survival depends on a deal - and it will!


I couldn't help noting the accents of the leaders of Forward Together and Scotland in Union - then was promptly ashamed of myself. But then the growling, unmistakably Scottish tones of Alan Cochrane sounded, enthusiastic about both campaigns and the Union, and I remember that Unionists are not defined by accent alone, although it can give a clue ...