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Showing posts with label 2015 general election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2015 general election. Show all posts

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

2014AR: The way forward and the new role of the SNP

WHERE ARE WE AT?

1. YES lost the referendum – NO won it – decisively.

2. Turnout 84.6% – highest since 1910 (when women didn’t have a vote).

Glasgow and Dundee had lowest turnouts but voted YES.

East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire and Stirling were each over 90% turnout.

4. 3,619,915 Scots voted.

YES – 1,617,989 votes. NO – 2,001,926 votes. 44.7%/55.3%Winning margin – 383,937

5. The polls probably had it right all along, YES probably was never ahead at any point, and final polls were close to the result. The bookies called it right all along.

COMMENT

The above facts are the core reality, and they contradict the fantasies entertained by many YES supporters, fed by some online YES commentators, but almost certainly never believed by politicians, core YES strategists or hard-headed YES commentators.

It was always an unfair contest – a fast, fit lightweight against a heavyweight who was so out of condition that he had to call in other heavyweights and the Establishment Mob – and offer a last round bribe to win.

Pyrrhic victory is usually a sour grapes overstatement by losers, but as applied to the NO win in Scotland’s referendum, it increasingly looks like a devastatingly accurate assessment.

Labour in meltdown, Tories entering their conference in chaos, HRH pissed off at her PM, UKIP cackling maniacally, a rush into a third ill-conceived 21st century war and the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland setting their faces against the Big Bribe offered by a  Tory/LibDem/Labour front led by Gordon Brown(!) to try and appease rebellious Scots.

If we add to that a massive and quite unprecedented surge in SNP membership (75,000)  a  re-energised, confident  YES campaign, and mass demonstrations at Holyrood, then Pyrrhic victory seems a rather apt description.

The YES Campaign (as distinct from YES Scotland) is a strange and fascinating construct – one large, long-established, highly disciplined Scotland-only party, the SNP with  its raison d'être independence, the Scottish Green Party with  its raison d'être environmental, with independence for Scotland being one means to that over-arching, worldwide goal, the Scottish socialist parties – small, recently riven by faction and the actions of one charismatic leader, and a plethora of other groups covering almost every conceivable interest group one could think of, across party, sex, artistic, religious and demographic lines. Added to this rich mix are those of no party or group affiliation whatsoever – the individual activists committed only to YES.

There are the think tanks and the theorists (e.g. the now split Jimmy Reid Foundation and Common Weal), National Collective, Radical Independence, Business for Scotland, Labour for Independence, Women for Independence – I could go on, ad infinitum.

From another perspective, however, I see a still inchoate democracy of newly-politicised, organised, enthusiastic but mainly politically naive voters reaffirming their core commitment to YES, but searching for a new focus and looking for leaders.  They are wide-open to three kinds of approaches –

1. the new leader (or old leader re-cycled) approach

2. the crowd-fund new initiative approach (often old initiative repackaged)

I see real dangers in the first two but real opportunity in the third.

3. radically new approaches to YES organisation - as yet in embryo stage - in this new 2014AR era.

The balancing factor in this may well be the great surge in SNP party membership (and to a lesser extent Green and SSP membership).

This can be interpreted as simply a massive thank you to the party that delivered the referendum, put Scotland on the world stage, yet still managed to govern competently for seven years in the face of shrinking budgets and a wall of hostility, or it can be seen as a recognition that single focus campaign/protest politics has now entered a more complex phase, and the time has come to commit to traditional political structures.

But it can also be seen as a wish to reclaim politics from the political anoraks and careerists, by  engaging with party politics in a radically new way while retaining the local autonomy, fellowship and focus of individual YES groups and  all their democratic dynamism.

I hope to explore this latter approach in some more detail, but first I will outline what I see as the dangers of the first two.

THE NEW LEADER and crowd-funded initiatives.

The YES Campaign presented an opportunity to those outside of conventional party politics to gain a platform and a profile, indeed it almost demanded that such figures should emerge, and they duly did,  some prompted, some invited, and some simply stepping uninvited on to the new platforms offered.

In fact the process had already started well before the official YES Campaign was launched, initially with the election of the 2007 SNP Government – and many have forgotten just what a jolt that event was to Labour complacency – then with the defining event of the 2011 landslide, which effectively guaranteed the referendum would take place.

The first significant bloggers emerged, then the YouTube pioneers, then the social networkers on Twitter, Facebook, etc. A seminal event for many (including myself) was Pi-Camp, an alternative media workshop in Edinburgh mounted by Mick Fealty of the influential Irish blog Slugger O’Toole.

Other big figures, out of mainstream politics at that time, such as Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan, cautiously stepped back into the arena, and later becoming central figures in the YES movement. Of course, political opportunists sniffed the new political air, and the likes of George Galloway popped up, complete with hat, to try and find a niche in newly-politicised Scotland.

With the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 and the official YES Scotland structure, the YES Campaign acquired a kind of co-ordination, but made many fundamental mistakes initially, before learning hard lessons about the incompatibility of traditional organisation structures with the radically different needs of a newly empowered grassroots movement, without parallel or precedent in modern politics.

But when a large number of people become gripped by an idea, a cause, an enthusiasm, whether it be religious or political, such enthusiasm creates a hunger for a focal point, new leaders and a wish to demonstrate allegiance by tangible contribution.

These processes throughout history have produced transformational political movements, political parties, and the great world religions. The consequences have been sometimes positive, sometimes destructive and all too often exploitative.

An inevitable product of a nation gripped by an idea or by perceived injustice is that such a situation is  instantly recognised as an opportunity by people who want power or money – or both. The reasons they have for seeking power or money may be admirable or venal, but in both cases, the process involves surrender of control and autonomy by the people.

Organisation is subordination – an inescapable fact.

The essence of the great grassroots YES movement was and is democratic self-empowerment in small groups. Try to keep it that way, but with the freedom to liaise dynamically with other individuals groups in networks and events.

Radically new approaches to YES organisation in new 2014AR era.

It’s early days, but the most hopeful development I’ve seen so far is the recently formed YES Alliance. I don’t do Facebook because of security reasons (and other reasons) so this limits my involvement with them. I don’t know enough to endorse them, but I like what I read and see so far, especially their flexible, rotating leadership concept.

The key dynamic of YES groups and YES collectively in the new era in my view will be the parallel relationship with the political parties committed to independence, and by political parties I mean those parties with an existing discrete identity as a party, e.g. SNP, Greens, SSP etcetera, not groups of supporters within a UK party committed to independence, e.g. Labour for Independence,  not sub-groups of YES, e.g. Women for Independence, and not aspirant groups who might like to form a new party at some point.

I make no value judgement on the latter non-party groups, and certainly don’t challenge their democratic right to try and found a new party – my advice is based on the stark fact that the new seminal event, the 2015 UK General Election is just over seven months away (7th May 2015), the UK Parliament will be dissolved on Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 30 March 2015, in less than six months time, and to all intents and purpose, the UK parties are now in unofficial, but deadly serious and bitter campaigning mode in one of the most unpredictable and uncertain political climates I have witnessed since the 1945 General Election.

There just isn’t time for new grand initiatives and the formation of new parties – we’re now in a deadly serious mega game in which a key player will be the combined Scottish political parties committed to independence fielding candidates – and that means the SNP, the Scottish Greens and the SSP, but backed up by a giant YES grassroots organisation who have put their money on, and their commitment with political parties and party membership on an unprecedented scale.

(YES Alliance seems to understand this in a way that the other groups that mushroomed in the strange atmosphere following 19th September don’t appear to. (Some of them seem to be trying to re-invent the Referendum Campaign, or are in pursuit of worthy but completely unattainable objectives in the short term.)

THE SNP MEMBERSHIP SURGE – IMPLICATIONS

One senior Scottish politician – Nicola Sturgeoninstantly recognised - with her usual acute political insight - the implications of an SNP membership now comprising 75,000 plus members, more than two-thirds of whom are new members, many with little or no political experience other than YES activist campaign work, and a significant proportion of whom are likely to have little understanding of how political parties work in a democracy, or even of how UK’s partial and  flawed democracy actually works.

HERALD: “The Deputy First Minister, who has no plans for a fresh referendum, said if the members and leadership were out of step it could cause issues for "the next couple of years".

However, Sturgeon - who is almost certain to succeed Alex Salmond unopposed as SNP leader and First Minister in November - said she would far rather deal with this issue than the exodus of members she believes is facing Labour.”

That’s one issue. The other key one surrounds the right of members to vote on the selection of candidates for local elections, UK Parliamentary and Holyrood Parliament. The new members would under existing rules be time-barred from voting for candidates for the 2015 General election, however, I understand that a rapid change of the qualifying period is now planned to permit them to do so.

There is another dimension to the new membership surge – the actual experience of Party branch structures. Without in any way wishing to sound negative about the committed activists who have often devoted a large party of their lives and energies to branch activities, participation and attendance is low in most branches, and the branch ability to promote – or even their enthusiasm  for promoting maximum membership involvement in the selection of delegates and candidates for election may also be low in many instances.

The new dynamic from the new members and new structures of YES groups – e.g. YES Alliance – is going to be, shall we say, interesting …

POLITICAL EDUCATION

Since our schools do it so badly – or not all – I see an urgent need for basic courses in the mechanics of democracy for YES activists and new party members, and I think this should be driven and provided by the YES movement, obviously with the involvement of the political parties but emphatically not by the political parties. I can see a clear role for Business for Scotland in this key task.

SUMMARY

So that’s my very tentative take on where we’re at. I had great difficulty with this blog – I feel it’s scrappy, incomplete and not exactly what I wanted to say, but it’s the best I can do in a situation that is changing by the day, if not by the moment …

Saor Alba!

Friday, 16 May 2014

The New West Lothian question–the status of Scottish MPs in Westminster after a YES vote

Baroness Jay has put the cat among the pigeons with her Lord’s Committee views on the status and rights of Scottish MPs after a YES vote in the negotiation period up to independence in 2016. The YES pigeons are fluttering agitatedly, and huffing and puffing about unelected Lord, etc. instead of addressing the issue properly, something that is long overdue from both YES and No camps. (I can’t stand Baroness Jay or unelected Lords, but somebody had to say something half-intelligent about this issue, and she has at least stirred a stagnant pot.)

On the MPs question, there are mixed messages coming in both directions, and the conflicting arguments are many.

 

The Scottish Government's position, as I understand it, is that since the UK remains in existence after a YES vote till March 2016, representative government continues, and the SNP will field candidates for the election and take up seats - if elected - until Scotland becomes independent in 2016. They will continue their present practice of abstaining from Westminster votes on purely English matters, e.g. NHS, education (effectively The West Lothian Question).

There is some difference of opinion in the wider YES campaign over this position. I am inclined to think they shouldn't, for reasons that oddly are shared with the No camp (see below) but I haven't made up my mind yet.
Other parties plan to field candidates from Scottish constituencies.

TWO CRUCIAL ARGUMENTS

1. UK remains in existence after a YES vote till March 2016, representative government continues, and therefore constituents cannot be left in a representative vacuum. It would be a denial of democracy for them to be unrepresented.

There are various problems with this argument. Firstly, the Scottish Government will be negotiating with the UK Government, but a UK government effectively acting as the rUK Government on behalf of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How can SNP MPs who may well be part of the Scottish Government negotiating team sit across the table from them and at the same time be part of UK Government?

One answer to this is that the totality of Westminster MPs is not the UK Government (the Tory/LibDem Coalition), it is the UK Parliament, and therefore SNP MPs have the right to participate in the UK Parliament while the UK still exists.

2. The 2015 election would represent a democratic distortion if Scottish MPs from the SNP and the Scottish Labour, Tory, Green, and LibDem parties, from a country that had just voted to leave the UK and was negotiating its exit terms, was allowed to influence - perhaps crucially influence - the selection of a UK Government that one year on (2016) became the rUK Government? For example, what if Labour was elected only because of Scottish votes?

The other astonishing proposal, currently being discussed in Westminster, is that Scottish Unionist MPs elected in the 2015 general election (SNP MPs will vacate their seat in 2016) should be allowed to retain the seats (despite having no constituents!) and salaries and perks for the full life of the 2015 rUK Parliament.

However, a ancient Union is not dissolved without there being complex questions such as these to be addressed. Not the least of the problem is that the Scottish Government, the Scottish electorate and the Scottish media have been discussing these matters for several years and are highly aware of the complexities and the argument, but the rest of UK, having been in denial over the possibility of a YES vote for years, are just now beginning the appreciate the magnitude of the change that may occur, and are approaching the issue in a Ladybird Book of Politics, naive mode, not unmixed with astonishment, resentment and pique - emotions not conducive to grown-up politics, which will be vitally needed if there is a YES vote.

But at the moment, the No Campaign is still significantly ahead, the polls vary quite radically, and the outcome is unknown. 124 days is a short time, yet a week is a long time in politics, the world is a deeply unstable place, and there are always. as Harold Macmillan said "Events, dear boy, events ..."
.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A YouTube response to a Don’t Know’s questions “that haven’t been answered”

Djoly

Djoly (Please note the 'D' is silent, like the night)
I'm not so concerned about the impartiality of the different reporting bodies, (BBC and ITV) just their inability to get clear answers from our elected representatives. As the day's turned to weeks and the weeks to month, it is now clear that the explanation's I was hoping for, so I could make a balanced informed choice on: (security, borders, Europe, currency and how we elect our head of state, Queen? and so forth) are unclear.

Much of the major decisions will only become clear after the vote. (Europe and currency)

That is not satisfactory for the serious minded voters that want to make an informed decision. I asked my bank the other day what was to happen if the vote is Yes, they did not have a scooby. I've just bought a passport for £80, will it be valid for 10 years, and will I need it to travel down to London to visit my Brother. Will there be a General Election in 2015 if there is a Yes vote?

Being governed by parties we did not vote for, is a good enough reason for Independence, but why keep their head of state and currency.

People do not have long memories, a lot a people that have the vote will not remember the Second World War, and how Britain stood alone against an evil and powerful foe, together the United Kingdom managed to withstand the onslaught.

I'm a Democrat, so I believe the head of state should be elected. (sorry Queenie)

I have not yet decided my vote.

MY REPLY

I'm not surprised you're undecided if you think no one has offered answers to your questions, Djoly: they have ALL been answered - to the degree that they CAN be answered, given that we're remaking a country under intense hostility from UK parties and institutions - to my satisfaction and to that of around 1.5m "serious-minded" YES voters, based on polls (more to come).

It seems to me you are either afraid of change, and prefer to be locked in a dysfunctional and rapidly decaying UK status quo, or you are looking for a certainty that no one can give you in a rapidly changing world, least of all the present government and political parties.

But let me try to help -

Security: Scotland will be MORE secure, because we won't have a WMD base as a prime target in our country, making us a candidate for a first strike in a nuclear war - and nobody will have any reason to attack us since we won't be engaged in illegal wars and invading other countries. We will have our own defence force for domestic security, and will be a member, but not a nuclear member of NATO.

Borders/passports: There will be no border, no border posts, and no passport required to travel to England since we will be in the EU and covered by existing rules.

Europe: We are currently a member of the EU, and will still be one after a YES vote under UK till 2016. During the period Sept 2014 till March 2016 we will be negotiating a range of matters including our new status in Europe. No informed commentator or expert seriously believes we won't continue in membership.

Currency: Our currency will be the pound sterling, either in a currency union with rUK or under sterlingisation - i.e. we will carry on using the pound as a tradable currency and peg it on a fixed rate to sterling.

Head of state: Our Head of state will be the Queen - a commitment already given and one that cannot be changed without a referendum after independence - and there won't be one, because all opinion polls show about a two thirds majority in favour of monarchy across UK (that's why they don't hold a referendum on it!) I'm a republican, by the way - but I'm also a democrat and a realist.

2015 General election: The 2015 election will be held after a No vote - no one questions that, since there will still be a UK till 2016 and an rUK and a Westminster Parliament after 2016

(If your bank can't answer simple questions on currency, etc. I suggest you change your bank.)

Get your own copy of the White Paper, at least scan it, use it for reference and contact information sources who know what they're talking about, instead of listening to Better Together scare stories. Be part of the future, the new Scotland. Be on the right side of history - don't go down in history as a frightened Scot who voted No to his/her country's independence.

.

Monday, 3 March 2014

The “More powers after a No vote”con trick – recognise it for what it is …

Questions that every journalist with any regard for political realities and objective reporting should be asking the Holyrood Labour, Tory and LibDem leaders and their Scottish Westminster MP claque, e.g. Jim Murphy, Margaret Curran, Alistair Carmichael, Douglas Alexander and David Mundell when the question of more powers is raised.

In the highly unlikely event of the three Scottish unionist parties ever reaching a core consensus on more powers after a No vote on September 18th -

1) How do they intend to persuade the Prime Minister of an already fragmenting Tory/LibDem Coalition (which may not hold until 2015), the Leader of the Labour Opposition, and whichever politician is currently at the head of UKIP to agree to incorporate their recommendations in their 2015 manifestos to the UK electorate, given that there is highly vocal opposition to more powers for Scotland among senior figures in all of them?

2) How do they intend to persuade them to make a definitive promises to do this to the Scottish electorate during the remaining months of the referendum campaign?

3) How do they think such a commitment would be received by an English electorate already groaning under austerity, assuming their homes are not under water because of a complete failure of their government to manage their flood defences?

4) How do they intend to persuade the MPs, the peers and the institutions who have expressed their adamant opposition to more powers for Scotland to support them?

5) And finally, how do they explain to the large group - at one point a majority – within the Scottish electorate and the institutions comprising Civic Scotland - why they denied them a second question in the referendum that would have recognised their wish for  such powers, if not for the obvious reason that UK and Westminster has no intention whatsoever of granting them?

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Spin by headline and the Herald.

Today was the second time the Herald rejected an online comment of mine. The common factor seems to be that both comments criticised the way the Herald was using headlines.

Today’s article by Kate Devlin was the case in point.

Here is the comment I posted, so far unpublished.

COMMENT

Your headline Cameron: no change to Barnett and the first line of the report DAVID CAMERON has ruled out making changes to the controversial Barnett formula are partial and misleading. The truth lies in the line "The Coalition announced that there were no plans to review the formula before the next general election"

The YES Campaign assertion (and mine) is that whatever government is in power after a No vote in the 2014 referendum will cut the Barnett formula. The pressures to do this from English voters and organisations, including local authorities - not to mention senior politicians - will be irresistible.

But with the referendum vote in September 2014, it is clearly impossible for the Coalition to do this before a general election in 2015. Labour is unlikely to include this in their manifesto, relying still on the Scottish Labour vote, but the Tories have little to lose by offering this vote winner to their English supporters, since the party is dead in Scotland.

A No vote in 2014 will not lead to more devolution - it will inevitably lead to, at best, devo zero, and at worse, a clawback, devo minus.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The SNP and NATO – an internal party matter or a question for Scotland?

Here is a little problem for a class of undergraduates studying politics and international affairs, majoring in defence matters -

ON A PLANET NEAR YOU – A SCENARIO

A political party within a democratic nation state has a long-standing policy relating to a defence alliance, of fundamental relevance to the relationship that state has with other states. The political party is in a highly unusual situation - probably unique in world affairs - for the following reasons -

1. It is currently the party in a devolved government for one of the four component countries of that nation state.

2. It only exists as a party in that country and its raison d'être is to secure its independence from that nation state.

3. The long-standing defence alliance policy is not within its devolved powers, and is reserved to the nation state, which is a member of that defence alliance.

4. The political party forming the government of the component country of the nation state has scheduled a referendum in two years time to seek a mandate from that country’s electorate to negotiate with the nation state for its independence. The nation state is totally opposed to the independence of the component devolved country, but accepts that the referendum will determine the will of its people.

5. A general election for the government of the nation state will take place in May of the year following the referendum, a period of around six months. A devolved Parliamentary election for the country seeking independence will take place one year after that, a period of around 18 months from the referendum.

6. If the result of the referendum is a YES vote for the independence of the devolved country, complex negotiations will follow and are likely to last at least two years, and will therefore cover a period embracing two critical elections, either of which could result in a change of government.

7. The crucial issue, and potentially the most complex issue in these negotiations will be the defence issue. Central to that is the issue of nuclear weapons, and a policy to possess and use these weapons.

8. The nation state is a member of a defence alliance that includes in total 28 member countries, the dominant country in that alliance being one of the most powerful countries in the world, arguably the most powerful, although that dominance is being challenged.

9. The party that forms the government of the devolved country seeking independence from the nation state has a non-nuclear policy that it will implement if it secures its independence. The devolved country hosts the entire nuclear capacity of the nation state of which it is a component part and it is virtually certain that if it refuses to host that nuclear capacity - if and after it secures its independence - the nation state will lose its nuclear status, since it has no suitable place to host the nuclear weapons systems. It will therefore lose its place among the top three countries in the defence alliance who effectively control that alliance, and it is likely also to lose its place on the Security Council of the global body that has a major impact on world affairs, especially military affairs.

10. The party that forms the government of the devolved country – with an unchallengeable Parliamentary majority – has now proposed to its membership, through its strategic leadership with the de facto endorsement of its party leader, who is also First Minister of the government, a defence policy that reiterates its non-nuclear stance but intends to reverse its long-standing policy of opposition to membership of the nuclear alliance committed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons.

It now wishes to remain in – or join – that nuclear alliance, with the pre-condition that the nuclear weapons crucial to the nation state and significant to the defence alliance be removed from its country. It proposes to debate that policy change, together with its total defence policy, at its annual conference with delegates to that conference, and if the policy is endorsed, it will then constitute the entry position to the negotiations that will follow a YES vote in the referendum two years later.

The defence policy (already extant as a party conference paper) will be presented to the country’s electorate about a year later, together with comprehensive statements about every aspect of the position of the devolved government, as part of the campaign for a YES vote to independence a year after that.

QUESTIONS FOR STUDENTS

Discuss the following in group session, then reach your conclusions and recommendations -

Consider the above scenario and the following facts -

the party of government of the devolved country will not face the electorate until after the referendum on independence

such a policy change is therefore unchallengeable by the electorate until after the referendum

it will therefore form the entry position on defence matters in the negotiation that follow a YES vote

the negotiations will have been underway for some 18 months – and may well be close to completion - before the devolved government faces the electorate

a general election will take place some six months after the referendum result and the start of the negotiations that could result in a change of government of the nation state and therefore the composition of the other side of the negotiating table

QUESTIONS

i) Is the defence alliance question a routine party policy matter, one only for delegates of that party to decide on?

ii) Is the defence policy a major or a minor matter in terms of significance to the electorate of the devolved country, or does it also have significance to the nation state, the members of the defence alliance and to world affairs?

iii) Is it it reasonable or democratic that such a crucial policy change be debated by a small number of delegates from one political party only, or should there be a wider consultation among the total electorate of the devolved country and in its devolved Parliament?