Thursday, 28 May 2015
Thursday, 9 April 2015
Here’s the latest Newsnight Index poll and the YouGov Nowcast poll.
I averaged them, perhaps invalid, but polls are a snapshot with error margin, so probably gives a good idea of state of play.
Net out Sinn Fein and the Speaker leaves 644 voting maximum, so 323 minimum necessary for single party overall majority or voting deal combined majority, in coalition, confidence and supply or informal vote-by-vote, issue-by-issue basis.
Neither Ed Miliband nor David Cameron are remotely likely to have an overall seat majority as single party.
Any way you slice it – since SNP won’t do any deal with or vote with the Tories – Ed Miliband can’t ignore the SNP, whether Labour is the largest or second largest party.
If he leads the largest party, his choice is either minority government – with huge risk – or deal with SNP. If he’s not the largest party, his choice is either let the Tories in or deal with the SNP.
Quite simply, the SNP – with the help of Plaid and Greens as bloc - can make him PM on either outcome.
Since coalition is firmly ruled out, his options on an SNPbloc/Labour deal are therefore confidence and supply – a pre-deal delivering support on negotiated conditions – or informal issue-by-issue, vote-by-vote haggling with SNP bloc.
Nicola has made her pre-deal conditions and voting intentions abundantly clear. Stewart Hosie expertly analysed the various options today on the Daily Politics, eventually in the face of an increasingly agitated Andrew Neil on Trident/NATO aspect.
The Referendum and the opposition to Scotland’s independence has always centred on defence, (see link below) the nuclear deterrent and Trident, as I noted some years ago. We didn’t win our freedom on September 18th 2014, but now Scotland is playing the Westminster game on their ground – but fully democratically and constitutionally on our terms with our democratic voting independence.
Sunday, 8 March 2015
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 ...
Friday, 30 January 2015
SNP/Green/Plaid bloc has to buttress Miliband against the Blairites after May 7th NHS, Labour and privatisation -Labour, deeply divided into two camps on NHS - and many other key issues.
We already know what camp Murphy is in - the one inhabited by all his Blairite pals.
Scots have to choose between Labour and Tories/LibDems after May 7th, and we have to trust Labour, or least that Miliband wing of Labour that is halfway rational about the NHS, the economy, welfare and Trident. An SNP/Green/Plaid bloc has to buttress Miliband against the Blairites in his own party, and they include Jim Murphy.
Conditional trust only - for a price - in a confidence and supply arrangement, with a series of key conditions set by Nicola and Cabinet in Scotland through her team in Westminster. That's the new game ...
Tuesday, 20 January 2015
#Trident The moral and intellectual, not to mention the strategic and economic bankruptcy of the pro-nuclear case is staggeringly evident. #Trident Trident Debate 20 Jan 2015: Dame Joan Ruddock - Part 1 “A unilateralist is a multilateralist who means it!" #Trident I take my hat off to Labour MPs attending who spoke for the motion. As for the Scottish ones who didn't attend - my utter contempt #Trident Some of the arguments for retaining WMD sound like those that might be advanced by not very bright, morally deficient adolescents.
JOAN RUDDOCK: Nuclear weapons have no utility.They cannot be used to advance any cause or to secure any territory without devastating effects”
#Trident There's a grinning ghost missing from Labour benches - Jim Murphy, arch-Blairite, Henry Jackson nuclear hawk. Will he vote tonight? #Trident I continue to marvel at what prats some English Tories are, e.g. Julian Fellows. #indy George Osborne effectively confirmed today that he wants to see English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) applied to parts of the Budget #Trident The argument for having nuclear weapons is identical to the NRA's case for every American family to keep an arsenal in their homes #Trident Thanks God Labour has a tiny number of principled MPs left. Dame Joan Ruddock is one. Currently on her principled feet ... #Trident Michael Fallon, in between defending WMD as a job creation scheme, attacks Labour's alleged equivalence on at sea nuclear deterrent #Trident If ever we needed evidence that Labour and Tories are unfit to govern a civilised society, Trident debate offers it in abundance. #indy Which is the more contemptible - Labour's loss of values and principles, or its attempt to hide the loss from the electorate by lies? #indy Labour MPs absence from Trident debate says that they support WMD but are afraid to be seen to be doing so, afraid to debate. Feart. #indy Survation poll this morning shows a majority of those who expressed a view are opposed to the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons.
Monday, 5 January 2015
Coalitus? Sounds painful – maybe an inflammation caused by household fuel? Or is it a fancy name for the food craving of some pregnant women?
And coalascere ? Something Il commissario Montalbano might order as a side dish in his favourite Sicilian restaurant?
No – coalitus is the medieval Latin past participle of coalescere, meaning fusion or a coming together and coalesce and coalition derive from it.
A coalition is an alliance of some sort between two or more parties for combined action in concert in certain defined circumstances, one that is usually intended to be temporary.
Used in a political context, it is often for the purpose of forming a government.
(I am familiar with it in a negotiating context in voting behaviours with individuals and groups, and the mathematical horrors of The Banzhaf Dilemma that I used to frighten senior managers with on negotiating skills courses.)
We have lived with a coalition government in the UK for over four years in the form of the pernicious Tory/LibDem Coalition of 2010, formed in the aftermath of economic, social and foreign policy shambles left by the Blair/Brown governments of 1997 to 2010.
If we go back to 1852, the Peelites and the Whigs formed a coalition headed by Lord Aberdeen. It lasted till 1855. The noble Earl had a rash of Lords and knights in his cabinet, but he also had one William Ewart Gladstone, a fellow Peelite, of whom rather a lot was subsequently heard.
There was another short-lived LibTory coalition right in the middle of the Great War after the Gallipoli disaster: it collapsed and was promptly replaced by another under Lloyd George. It fell apart in 1922 over scandals, notoriously the blatant flogging of peerages for hard cash by Lloyd George.
The coalitions of 1931 to 1940 preferred to call themselves National Governments because by that time the term Coalition Government had a bad name(!)
The Second World War brought a Tory-led coalition under Churchill (1940-1945). It was referred to as the War Ministry, and last until May 1945, when Churchill resigned after the war ended.
It was replaced by the Churchill caretaker ministry until July 1945, when the general election resulted in a Labour landslide and the Attlee Government.
One might therefore say that the record of coalition governments has not been a stellar one, with the exception of the War Ministry Coalition of 1940-1945.
I’ve been alive during three of the six of them, witnessed the end of two of them and hope to witness the end of another on May 7th 2015.
The question is – will we see another coalition government sometime after May 8th 2015 – and should we want one?
SNP Westminster strategy
The SNP’s core strategy for GE2015 is to contest all Westminster Scottish seats and get as many SNP MPs elected as possible.
Its preferred outcome for the UK-wide ballot is Labour as the party with the largest number of seats, but without an overall majority, and the end of Cameron’s Tory/LibDem Coalition Government.
This outcome would leave UK Labour with three choices -
govern as a minority government, with no formal arrangement with any other party, but making ad hoc deals to secure a majority on specific votes with any party or group of MPs it could secure
enter into a confidence and supply arrangement with a party or parties to offer committed support on agreed issues
form a coalition government with one or more parties and form a cabinet that included ministers appointed from those parties
It would however be a mistake to think that this would all instantly be Ed Miliband’s choice to make. As Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary involved in the 2010 untidy and acrimonious negotiations that led to the Cameron/Clegg Coalition, has pointed out on Sky News, things were not as straightforward in 2010, and are unlikely to be straightforward after May 7th 2015.
But if it is Miliband’s choice, and he chooses a deal rather than minority government, and if the logic of that deal centres on a new and impressive bloc of SNP MPs, what deal might he choose – confidence and supply or coalition ?
If I were in his shoes, and I wanted to neuter the SNP influence in Westminster, I would unhesitatingly choose coalition.
Well, for a number of reasons.
1. I would invoke the spirit and the words of Lyndon Johnson when faced with having J.Edgar Hoover in or out of his government – “I’d rather have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”
2. Having the SNP in government, in cabinet – and with cabinet responsibility -could be presented as de facto acceptance of the finality of the 2014 independence referendum outcome and embracing the Union.
3. If the SNP broke ranks in coalition, and breached joint cabinet responsibility for a policy decision or action, they could be presented as deeply irresponsible and unfit for government.
4. In Miliband’s position, I would rely on the seductive influences of ministerial office, the status and perks, and the illusion of acting on an international stage to blunt the edge of the SNP’s ambitions for Scotland and damage their reputation and electoral standing with their core constituency.
In a nutshell, if I were Ed Miliband I would do to the SNP what Cameron has done to the LibDems – reduce them to an object of contempt and an electoral rump of a party.
In contrast, governing UK as a minority government would be a far more risky enterprise than governing Scotland in a devolved Parliament was for Alex Salmond 2007-2011, and a confidence and supply deal would place him in the mode of supplicant every time a significant vote arose and crucially, at every budget.
The SNP’s current position – as I understand it – is that they hope for a Labour win with no overall majority, and a subsequent confidence and supply deal. If - as many thought – Stewart Hosie was flying a cautious kite for coalition, then it is for the SNP to justify such a course of action.
But can they – and more importantly – will they?
The SNP could argue that it cannot commit to what it would and wouldn’t do until the result of GE2015 is known. That is true up to a point, and the SNP - and Alex Salmond’s - legendary pragmatism card would be played. It takes two to tango, and this tango might include more than two, and shift towards a threesome - or a foursome reel.
However, the SNP has found no problem in specifically excluding any kind of a deal with the Tories or UKIP in stating its forward intentions for GE2015. There is nothing that I can see that stops them precluding a coalition with Labour either, but pursuing a confidence and supply deal.
My guess is that the SNP ministers, MSPs and the Parliamentary candidates have their brief by now on how to play this at the hustings and with the media, and it will be a stonewalling response – “impossible to say at this stage, situation will have to be evaluated after May 7th, wouldn’t want to tie the party’s hands, too much at stake …” etc.
The fate of Craig Murray over a vetting question will not have escaped the candidates, and I would guess they’ll be right on message on this hot potato. Not one will say they’re opposed on principle to a coalition.
Is this the right approach? Only the electorate can answer that. I’m opposed to a coalition, but even the SNP publicly stating they fully intended to pursue one wouldn’t stop me voting SNP on 7th May. But I’d be worried if they did, and I believe there are some former Labour voters who shifted painfully to the SNP, with many reservations and much personal agony, who might react differently.
As I said in a tweet on the day Stewart Hosie appeared to raise the coalition question – I want SNP arses on the green benches post-May 7th, but I don’t want them on the front benches of the Westminster Parliament we campaigned so hard to get out of.
Sunday, 29 June 2014
A friend in England who takes a keen interest in Scottish affairs, and has lived and worked in Scotland, said that I should not expect too much from independence, and that it might not be Shangri La. I replied as follows -
Whatever an independent Scotland's future is, it will have a few certainties -
1. It won't have weapons of mass destruction based in its waters, threatening the environment and the largest population centre in Scotland.
2. It won't have to bear the cost of the irrelevant weapons system.
3. It won't have a support a proportion of the corrupt, inflated and undemocratic House of Lords.
4. It will have located in Scotland a large number of a offices, functions and services with associated jobs that we currently pay for, but are located in S.E.E.
5. It will have a defence force that is truly a defence force, not an attack force, one that is proportionate to our needs and to real threats, not the "induced paranoia threats" required to justify the armaments industry and grease the lucrative revolving doors between the MOD, private industry and government.
6. It will prioritise its spending and use of resources on the needs of the people, especially the poor, sick and vulnerable, however limited its budgets and resources are.
7. It will continue to run an NHS that is free at the point of need, and not privatised by the back door to line the pockets of politicians and their partners in private healthcare.
8. It will recognise its role in protecting the environment and the planet, not pay lip service to it while despoiling it.
9. It will maintain an education system based on ability to learn, not ability to pay.
10. And lastly, whatever it does will be done to itself, by itself, with the governments it elects - every time, not the ones chosen by rUK. In a word, it will be an independent nation.
I'll settle for that.
Thursday, 6 December 2012
Sunday, 28 October 2012
Scientists sometimes talk of the tyranny of the dominant theory, or in another manifestation, the complacent invulnerability of the established system. Theory - scientific, economic, medical, social or political - often plays a key role in decision making, and decision making affects lives.
In religion, theory becomes dogma and as history shows, the tyranny of religious dogma can be oppressive, stultifying and at its worse, murderous. Political theory can manifest all the characteristics of religious dogma, with equally appalling results, as the history of the 20th century demonstrates, and we are well on our way to repeating the horrors with a lethal mix of old religious dogma and new political dogma in the 21st.
But let’s leave religion and look briefly at economic theory, since it intimately affects the geopolitical climate, and appears to have failed humanity in a spectacular fashion in the very recent past. Since I am neither political scientist nor economist and certainly not a mathematician or statistician, bear with in my layman’s analysis as I struggle to understand ideas that perhaps a new PPE graduate could easily expound on …
For most of the last century, the dominant economic theory has been the theory of utility. As best I can express it, utility theory makes the base assumption that all decisions are made rationally, and analyses – and attempts to predict – all decisions based on the value (utility) that the decision maker places on the elements in the decision.
The problem is that this is not how people actually behave when they make real decisions, as the the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman – and many others – has conclusively demonstrated. The work of the games theorists took this further in the 1950s and 1960s, and anyone who enjoyed the Russell Crowe portrayal of John Nash in the film A Beautiful Mind might want to try the dense, complex book on which the film was based about the work of John Von Neumann and John Nash at Princeton and the RAND Corporation (CIA)
Suffice to say that the utility theory didn’t roll over easily and give up when confronted with the incontrovertible new evidence and new theory, any more than the financial traders of Wall Street shut up shop when they were confronted by equally incontrovertible evidence (from their own trading records, rigorously statistically analysed) that stock trading has a success rate over time slightly less successful than random picks, and that, as Daniel Kahneman has observed, a blind monkey throwing darts at a board would have had a better hit rate. Similar reactions came from clinicians when confronted with disturbing analysis of diagnostic and treatment success, and from experts in a wide variety of disciplines who got into deep doo-doo when they ignored the numbers and trusted their experience, gut feel and ‘expert’ judgement alone.
What has all this got to do with a pound of mince and Scotland’s politics? Well …
DEMOCRATIC POLITICS AND POLITICAL DECISIONS
A thought before I continue … The fate of the world may soon be in the hands of a US President, Commander in Chief of awesome nuclear destructive forces, of the CIA, of the American military and effectively of NATO, who believes that a young American had an angel appear to him in the early 1820s in upstate New York and lead him to a place where he dug up gold tablets with a holy book inscribed on them, which amongst other things, said that one of the lost tribes of Israel found its way to America.
The gold tablets mysteriously vanished, there is not a shred of historical evidence of any kind for the claims, and all that is left is The Book of Mormon, translated from the mysterious tablets. The rest of Mitt Romney’s beliefs about the world, current affairs, social matters, economics, etc. are now a matter of embarrassing - and often hilarious – record, but the people who will vote for him appear unbothered by all this.
Perhaps we should bear all this in mind when we remember the SNP’s recent vote to join NATO, and when we are tempted to hope that democratic politics is even half way rational. But I do live in hope …
NUTS AND BOLTS
I have long experience, covering decades, of the political and organisational behaviour of trades unions, including some brief but intense experiences as union member, a union representative and a committee member, including the formative experience of being on strike.
But my experience of political party membership and of party democracy is very much briefer, superficial , and in itself, one from which no deep conclusion could be drawn about wider political behaviour.
My experience of politics and the behaviour of political parties as a citizen and voter, however, crosses eight decades, from the 1940s to the ‘teens of the 21st century, and throughout all of that time I have maintained an active interest in current affairs and politics, both as a voter and a citizen, and in my professional life because of the high relevance of politics to my work. You must judge the relative value of what I say in that context against that of commentators who have much deeper inside knowledge of politics, including activists, politicians and specialist academics.
In making that judgement however, try to bear in mind my opening preamble on the tyranny of the dominant theory – and therefore the dominant theorists and practitioners – and the complacent invulnerability of the established system.
Democratic politics are imperfect, but the alternatives have been consistently shown to be much, much worse by the lessons of history - and democratic processes can be improved. Scotland has a long, honourable record of contribution to democracy, in fact can be seen as a cradle of democracy, and there is no reason why the contribution should stop in the new age that we are entering.
Recent events have forced me to focus, as a voter, on some aspects of that democracy and, since I am a nuts and bolts man by background and instinct, I’ll leave the endless theorising about neo-liberalism and macro-economic theory to the think tanks, academics, assorted lefties, righties, gandy dancers and railroad men who revel in that kind of arcane discourse. But there is a kind of dominant theory of how political parties operate in a democracy, about their role in elections and in government, and a feeling of complacency about the way the party and branch systems operate, especially in relation to policy formation when a party is in government.
Perhaps that dominant set of assumptions should be challenged.
Consider the role of parties in an elective democracy. The Founding Fathers of American democracy didn’t want them, because party is faction – groups with a core common political agenda who act in concert when they can. The Founding Fathers did their best to avoid them, by separation of powers between the judicial, legislative and executive functions, by federalism, and by having a President elected indirectly by an electoral college.
Despite all this, political parties are what they wound up with.
In the UK, a constitutional monarchy, at least the fiction of being without faction, i.e. party, could be maintained, and while first-past-the-post still operates at UK level as the system of election to Westminster, the pretence can be maintained that voters elect the person, not the party. In the case of someone standing as an independent, this is still true. The ballot paper asks the voter to choose between named candidates, not political parties.
But with the advent of proportional representation in its various forms, this ceased to be true, and party now has an overt role. Indeed for many years there have been electoral rules governing party election expenditure and other matters in the UK.
PARTY AND SCOTLAND
The method adopted for proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament is the d’Hondt method. Candidates stand either for an individual constituency seat or are placed on a list by their parties. After the initial results are in, the parties are ranked on by the number of votes cast, the votes in each region are divided by 1 + number of seats won, and each party is ranked and re-ranked on a ranking list by an iterative process
One example should suffice to demonstrate how the d’Hondt method works. Party gets 100,00 votes and wins one seat - 100,000 divided by 1+1 = 2. Party’s vote is now 50,000, and it is re-ranked on the list, and so on until process complete and list seats allocated.
If you don’t understand this, don’t worry – all you need to know is that some MSPs are elected as individuals (73 in total) by voters for a specific constituency, and some are allocated a seat by the outcome of a list computation (56 in total), and are known as list MSPs. Each voter therefore has two votes – the constituency vote and the regional vote – and one constituency MSP but seven regional list MSPs for each of the eight regions.
Under the d’Hondt system, the fiction cannot be maintained that party has no role in the electoral process – it clearly has, and a crucial on at that.
Do you get to choose the person you vote for?
Answer: No, you get to choose among the people chosen by the political parties, and if you always vote for one party, only the person chosen for you by that party.
Of course, if there is a candidate standing as an independent, a choice of the individual can be made. Among Scotland’s famous independents we may number Margo Macdonald and Dennis Canavan, both of whom are about as individual as one can get …
Or you can stand for election yourself – all you need is a deposit, and the willingness to lose if too few vote for you!
So in most cases, a voter is voting for the party and its policies and programme as outlined in its manifesto when they vote for an individual, although dependent on how deep party loyalties run, the character and record of the individual may also influence voters, especially floating voters.
To be able to stand under the banner of a political party as a candidate for a constituency, a prospective candidate must first persuade a party selection board to adopt them as candidate. To do this, they obviously must be a member of the party in good standing and agree to ‘take the party whip’ if elected, which means voting the way they are told, except on the rare free votes on matters of conscience.
(In theory, this process is controlled not by the national party but the constituency party and branch structure: in practice, party HQ often has a significant and sometimes dominant input. Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw – The Strange Death of Labour Scotland – give the following insight on page 119 into the 2006 by-election in Dunfermline and West Fife -
Labour was not aided by allegations of attempts to get the candidate the leadership wanted, with evidence of ‘a high-level “fix” to select the [Labour] candidate. This had transpired because party bosses sent out a leaflet on behalf of Catherine Stihler’s campaign hours before she was selected to fight the seat. (Sunday Herald 29 January 2005 ?)
Gerry and Eric seemed to have slipped a year here on the 2005 date of the Sunday Herald story – it must have been 2006. Catherine Stihler lost that election, but she is now an MEP, elected on a list by the d’Hondt system. When the Party wants you elected, the Party gets you elected – the voters are incidental to the process. Catherine is, of course, much in the news over the FOI request and allegations against Alex Salmond.)
Similar requirement exist for ‘getting on the list’ for possible election as a regional list MSP, with the key difference that the electorate play no role directly on electing a list MSP except by their choice of party for the regional vote. On the constituency vote, the voter may feel they have some kind of choice influence over the individual elected, but on the list appointee they have none – it is entirely in the gift of the party.
POLITICAL STRUCTURES AND MECHANISMS
Members of political parties understandably feel they have some rights over policy in the party of their choice, rights not shared by supporters who are not party members, and certainly not rights shared by the wider electorate. The world of politics belongs to the active, the committed, the involved. Even within a political party, the active branch members and officers and the active campaigners - who give up so much of their time and energy – feel that they may reasonably claim rights not shared by the wider, passive branch membership.
This is the way our democracy works – it is the way all democracies work – and one may draw close parallels with the trades unions, who operate with similar structures and who share a set of similar assumptions.
Now the true democrats in political parties and in trades unions are prepared to face squarely the sometimes unpalatable truth that democratic principles enshrine absolute power in the individual voter - the vote, and its collective expression when exercised in elections. This principle requires that the wider, passive, less participative membership of a political party or a trade union must be given clear information of choices to be made, encouraged to become involved in those choices, and to cast their vote when they are entitled to.
But observance of this principle requires an almost heroic selflessness from activists who have sacrificed time, energy - and perhaps money - to the cause, often at the expenses of their personal lives and objectives. So it is understandable that the involvement of a wider membership in vital matters that the activists understand deeply is sometimes given no more than token recognition at best, and at worst, is marginalised or deliberately ignored.
Examples of deliberate entryism in politics and trades unions abound, and simple levers and mechanisms are there to be pushed and utilised by individuals or groups who want to exercise an influence that is essentially undemocratic over nominations to office, to proposing and adopting of resolutions, to the selection of delegates or members of key committees and ultimately to the nomination of candidates.
A danger has always existed in politics and trades unionism that democratic politics shade imperceptibly into Tammany Hall and machine politics. At a time when corruption in UK political and financial institutions has brought trust in these institutions, in politicians and in democratic government itself to an all-time, highly dangerous low, it is vital that the danger signs are recognised and dangerous trends nipped in the bud before we slide towards something ugly in our national life and our democracy.
SNP POLICY FORMATION AND THE NATO VOTE
In my view, the SNP is the most truly democratic party in UK politics, with the possible exception of the Greens. Until now, they have managed to contain certain centre right (that’s being kind!) views within what is broadly an anti-nuclear, social democratic party of the left, under the over-arching objective of independence for Scotland.
But under pressure of the opinion polls, which despite the enthusiastic, optimistic and infinitely creative interpretations of supporters and the party spin machine, remain stubbornly intractable, they have begun to slip inexorably down the Blairite route of placing electability before core belief, albeit with rather more justification than Blair. The monarchy, Britishness, sterling, the social union – all defensible as policies individually– have come to seem to many as, collectively, a dangerous blurring of the line of what an independent Scotland is all about.
The wider core support, uneasy but loyal, have resorted to what I call the magic wand solution – all criticism, all differences must be subordinated, the leadership must be credited with infinite wisdom and have blind trust placed in them until 2014 and the referendum, because everything can be magically undone, modified or changed once independence comes.
In the even wider, non-SNP support for YES and independence, this manifests itself as the variant that in 2016, somehow the SNP may be magically dumped in an election which may be – if negotiations are concluded with rUK - for an independent Scottish Parliament, and similar miraculous transformations of policy can be accomplished by a government of a different political complexion. This is a two-pronged magic wand, which not only ignores the complex nature of the commitments given and the long-term, binding agreements that will be entered into to achieve that independent Scotland, but additionally conjures up a magical realignment of the parties who have up to this point constituted Better Together, the bitter opponents to independence.
A new party of the democratic left – or right - is going to spring fully formed from the head of - who or what? Henry McLeish? Jim Sillars? The Jimmy Reid Foundation? Reform Scotland? Civic Scotland? The CBI? The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations?
I won’t go over all of the lead-up to the NATO vote – my analysis and the reactions to it are well-documented in my back blogs, which I can confidently assert are revisited by a negligible amount of SNP supporters, many of whom (not all!) have a marked distaste for having their shining certainties being blurred by anything resembling facts or detailed analysis, an approach that they share with the media they hate so much.
What can be plainly seen by anyone who examines the timeline objectively is that the SNP leadership driving the NATO U-turn did not expect the reaction they got, and in fact they planned a quick, low-key debate and a conclusive endorsement of the NATO proposal. They got something rather different …
My concern here is to examine the events and the party structures that led to the voting patterns that resulted at Perth on 19th October.
Having launched their superficial little paper on NATO in July - having spent the earlier part of the year trying to pretend that no U-turn was planned - Angus Robertson and Angus MacNeill were stunned by the broad-based coalition against it that sprang up almost instantly. But they still appeared to retain their confidence in recent polls they quoted, but principally in the outdated Mitchell Report, (questionnaires sent out between 16th and 19th November 2007, when the SNP memberships stood at 13,203, with two other mailings up to March 2008.) which appeared to give them a 3:1 majority for their viewpoint. They appeared unconcerned by the fact that the membership had grown from 13,203 to 24,000 or so, and a number of major events had occurred since the original poll.
The point that neither they nor their support in the party seemed able to grasp - then or now - was that as the party of government, the one that would be charged with negotiating the terms of Scotland’s independence after a YES vote in 2014, they could not and should not treat such a fundamental policy shift as though it was in the gift of a few hundred party delegate to an SNP Conference, to be quietly railroaded through without consulting at least the full SNP membership, the key members of the YES Coalition and ideally the electorate.
The branches, from my anecdotal evidence gleaned from correspondents and on Twitter, were slow to react, more than a little uncertain about the significance of the NATO proposal, and substantially under-informed. This was hardly surprising, since some leading SNP figures (e.g. Alyn Smith) were boasting of their lack of knowledge – and patently of interest - in defence matters. This was not helped by the commentariat and the media, who by and large, with a tiny number of honourable exceptions, showed the same lack of interest and knowledge.
In marked contrast, the NO to NATO campaign, especially CND, were highly informed and produced detailed fact sheet after fact sheet, which appeared to remain entirely unread by at least half of the SNP membership and perhaps a significant majority, judging by the Perth debate and vote.
In among all this was a wriggling, radioactive worm in the SNP/NATO rosy apple – the question of safe havens for nuclear submarines of other NATO countries, including those armed with nuclear weapons. Put at its starkest – as it was by the sole media commentators to appreciate its significance, Gary Robertson on BBC Radio Scotland and Isabel Fraser of the Sunday Politics Scotland and Newsnicht to the First Minister – this meant that an independent and notionally nuclear-free Scotland would allow such WMD-laden vessels to come and go freely on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ basis.
Not only did the press and media fail to pick up or follow up on this, the NO to NATO campaign and the SNP conference speakers against the NATO proposal also missed it, or failed to see its vital significance.
And so the lead-up to the Perth conference and the debate.
An increasingly nervous leadership group steeled themselves for a harder time than they had planned, as the word came back that at least some of the branches were awakening from their Mitchellite trance of being ‘relaxed’ about NATO membership, Bill Ramsay of the SNP CND group was devastatingly articulate on the media, a disparate range of groups under the NO to NATO Coalition were omnipresent, a group of dissident MSPs had more and more to say, and the best efforts of SNP proxies such as George Kerevan weren’t cutting the mustard on media.
Having tried to slide the NATO U-turn paper through low key, after initially pretending it didn’t exist, Robertson and MacNeil were now trumpeting the debating and democratic party virtues of the SNP. Instead of being a triumph of party democracy, Conference was now to be celebrated as a triumph of debate.
What followed was fascinating, uplifting and encouraging in one sense, yet profoundly depressing in its outcome.
The delegates (759 from the voting outcomes) arrived in various states of preparedness for the great debate. Some were there with a free vote, presumably permitted by their branches. Many were mandated in advance by their branches. I have no statistics or information on what went on in the branches, other than anecdotal, from Twitter exchanges, and from emails and comments, many of a confidential natures.
But what I can say with reasonable confidence is this -
1. No general detailed, specific effort was made by any SNP branch to canvass and collate the views of the wider, non-active branch membership. (If there was, there was no evidence of such a consultation)
2. Some branches thought the whole affair very low key and gave it little attention or thought. They were, to use the phrase quoted again and again, “relaxed about NATO membership”.
3. Some branches gave it a lot of discussion, voted on it, and mandated their delegate or delegates accordingly. Some delegates had a very narrow mandate, based on a narrow margin, some were virtually unanimous.
4. No mandated delegates were given authority to change their minds, based on the arguments they heard in the debate. (Bear in mind, there had been no pre-conference debate mounted or indeed encouraged by the party – the debate drivers all came from the NO to NATO camp.)
The delegate group of 759 permitted in the conference hall for the debate therefore included delegates with no mandate who were at least in theory free to decide on their vote based on what they heard from the platform speakers and delegates who were pre-mandated and therefore had to be immune to reason and argument from the platform.
The debate itself was a triumph of passion, cogent argument and principled belief, but the context of the debate, especially what preceded it, was close to Tammany Hall politics. Some anti-NATO speakers came close to saying this. Some have said it to me in confidence, one which I respect. All were torn between their horror, not only at what the party was doing but also how they went about it, and an overriding imperative to close ranks for the sake of the YES campaign.
The outcome was quite simply this -
759 members of a political party that constitutes the Government of Scotland have voted to take 24,000 party members, a much wider number of party supporters who are not members, and a Scottish electorate of millions into a first strike nuclear alliance if independence is secured, and - without any vote, discussion or consultation whatsoever - into a grossly hypocritical and perhaps lethal arrangement to permit nuclear submarines armed with Trident WMDs to come and go freely in the waters of an independent Scotland.
If this is what the dominant theory of our party politics has brought us to, then that dominant theory and all its related assumption, practices and procedures require urgent revision, because this is not democracy as I want to see it in an independent Scotland. I hope my fellow Scots agree with me.
Christine Grahame – and others – have called upon John Finnie and Jean Urquhart to resign their seats as MSPs because they were elected as list MSPs on a party vote.
On the contrary, any SNP list MSP who supported the NATO U-turn should resign, because the voters who placed them in Holyrood voted for a party that was clearly opposed by policy to NATO membership, and committed to Partnership for Peace.
Get your dubious principles right, please …
Saturday, 13 October 2012
Wednesday, 29 August 2012
First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meet with representatives of the anti-nuclear demonstration group. The meeting was held in the wake of the public discussion event at Renfrew Town Hall.
Sunday, 26 August 2012
It is always vital in debate – and in negotiation - to be able to state the position and arguments of the other party as objectively as possible. If the other party’s position and arguments are not clearly understood, it is difficult, if not impossible to combat them effectively.
THE SNP POSITION AND ARGUMENTS ON NATO
The defence paper and resolution of mid-July from co-signatories Angus Robertson MP and Angus MacNeil MP contains the key statement.
A long-standing national consensus has existed that Scotland should not host nuclear weapons and a sovereign SNP government will negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane which will be replaced by conventional naval forces. Security cooperation in our region functions primarily through NATO, which is regarded as the keystone defence organisation by Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the United Kingdom.
The SNP wishes Scotland to fulfil its responsibilities to neighbours and allies. On independence Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations.
In the absence of such an agreement, Scotland will work with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme like Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland. Scotland will be a full member of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union and the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).
Angus Robertson MP Elected Member
Angus MacNeil MP Elected Member
The above statement has the virtue of clarity and will be presented to Conference as a simple statement of claimed facts, statements of intent and negotiating deal-breakers. I use the following abbreviations to classify –
claimed fact CF
statement of intent SoI
negotiating deal-breaker NDB
conditional negotiating proposal CNP
Scotland won’t host nuclear weapons under any circumstance SoI
Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO CF
NATO is the primary defence security coordinating force in the region, the region being defined as Scotland/UK/Scandinavia CF
The SNP wants an independent Scotland to be a good neighbour to Denmark, Norway, Iceland and rUK SoI
A sovereign SNP government will negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane SoI
The nuclear fleet at Faslane will be replaced by conventional naval forces. SoI
The SNP Government will stay in NATO CNP if UK accepts the removal of nuclear weapons from an independent Scotland CNDB1 and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations. CNDB2
If agreement can’t be reached, an independent Scotland will join Partnership for Peace SoI
The timeframe over which this will take place, important dates within it, and the possible context at different points in that timeframe are crucial to possible outcomes.
26th August – 18th October 2012 – the period from now until the SNP Party Conference at Perth.
This period is significant because the debate that the SNP wanted to keep in house and on hold until the conference is now in full voice, with a cross-party, cross-interest coalition of opposition, the NO to NATO Coalition set up, the SNP CND group active and vocal, the dissident MSPs openly stating their positions and wide debate and coverage in the media.
Instead of a conference where the First Minister, Alex Salmond and the party’s chief strategist, defence spokesman and party leader at Westminster threw their considerable weight behind the proposal to the delegates, in the normally disciplined, consensual and amicable atmosphere of Conference to a group with only the leadership's paper to consider, they will now face a highly informed group of delegates, many mandated by branch resolutions on NATO membership. What was intended to be one topic among many will now undoubtedly be a principal topic, if not the principal one.
There can be little doubt that at this moment the party leaders in favour of the NATO U-turn are working hard to try to shape attitudes, to persuade, to cajole, to appeal to loyalty, in short, to use all the levers that a dominant leadership can to avoid this resolution being defeated. And as always in such situations, a danger exists that the very techniques of persuasion used, if ill-judged, will be counter-productive. Media scrutiny will be intense, not only in Scotland but beyond. This debates matters in fundamental ways to a wide spectrum of interest groups and individuals.
This was not how it was intended to be in the spring of this year, when the party spokespersons were playing the whole issue down, e.g. from the Scotsman on 16th April 2012 – ‘An official SNP spokesman dismissed as “mere speculation” reports that its leadership was considering proposing a change to the party’s policy on Nato.’
(If one took that statement at face value, the leadership didn’t start considering any change till 17th April at the earliest, but managed to produce a policy paper including one by mid-July!)
The other dates in the timeframe are as follows -
Late 2013 – launch of detailed policy papers on the shape of an independent Scotland by the Scottish Government
In effect, this will embrace the key negotiating objectives for the Scottish Government across a wide range of issues if they win a YES vote in 2014.
Autumn 2014 – the independence referendum
Following a YES vote, negotiations will commence almost immediately on the terms of independence, including the crucial defence issues. If the outcome is NO, or on a two-question referendum, a devo-max outcome, what follows is anybody’s guess …
May 2015 – latest date for UK general election
A change of government at this point early in the negotiations over independence would have major significance for the negotiating agenda: the idea that there would be a seamless continuation is untenable, and a new government could repudiate provisional agreements already reached and introduce new items to a still live negotiating agenda. It is highly unlikely that they would repudiate a fully-completed and signed agreement, however.
May 2016 – Scottish Parliamentary election
At this point, negotiations on the independence of Scotland could be complete (unlikely, in my view), near-complete (a possibility) or have a long way to go, especially on the defence-related issues (highly likely).
The implications of a change in the power balance at Holyrood or even a change of government are enormous and far-reaching.
Saturday, 11 August 2012
1. NATO is a nuclear organisation, committed to the possession and first-strike use of Trident nuclear missiles.
2. NATO is comprised of 28 members countries, but controlled by three of them - the U.S.A, France and the UK. Of the three, the U.S.A. is the dominant controlling entity.
3. Any proposal to NATO by the 25 non-nuclear states can be vetoed by the Big Three - the U.S.A, France and the UK. (This is my practical interpretation of the complexities of the NATO consensual decision making structure where each member country remain sovereign and has right of veto - other interpretations are possible. Please advance them if you have them)
4. Neither the consent nor the involvement of the 25 non-nuclear members is required - nor would it or could it be sought - to authorise a nuclear strike launch. Only the President of the United States, the President of France and the Prime Minister of the UK have the launch codes. No prior approval by the democratically elected bodies in these three countries would be sought prior to launch. (This is my practical interpretation of the complexities of the NATO nuclear command structure - other interpretations are possible. Please advance them if you have them)
5. The time elapsed from launch order to the missile striking its target is dependent on the location of the nuclear submarine at the time the launch order is given, but it is typically 25 minutes.
6. Any member country of NATO by definition is approving the possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction by being a member of NATO, regardless of their stated non-nuclear policy. Any member country is therefore responsible for the consequences of such an act, even though they play no part in the launch decision process.
7. The Scottish National Party's policy proposal - which is effectively the Scottish Government's proposal - to seek membership of NATO for an independent Scotland on the condition that the UK (rUK) accepts the removal of Trident is simplistic and unrealistic, and is recognised as such by any objective and informed political commentator.
It is being presented to the SNP membership as a deal breaker, i.e. no Trident removal, no Scotland in NATO. If presented as such in the negotiations after an independence YES vote, it will be rejected out of hand by the UK (significantly influenced if not controlled by NATO and America).
But despite the manner of its presentation to the SNP membership, it will not be a deal breaker - it will simply be an opening position in negotiation. The scope for movement by the UK(rUK) is to negotiate -
i) an immediate disarming of Trident warheads (approx. 2 days) which could be reversed in as short a time.
ii) an extend timescale for removal of Trident submarines and decommissioning of the nuclear aspects of the Faslane base - a minimum of 10 years, probably extending to 20 years - effectively never.
iii) the acceptance that an independent Scotland will provide 'safe havens' for any NATO nuclear-armed submarines and nuclear-powered submarines in perpetuity.
It is conceivable that rUK would seek a long-term lease of the Faslane base, or even seek to negotiate the base and relevant area as rUK sovereign territory, thus allowing the Government of an independent Scotland to claim that Scotland is a non-nuclear nation.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENT
The implications of this dangerous and far reaching proposal (Scotland's NATO membership) are of such significance that it is unacceptable that it should only be discussed and voted on by a few hundred delegates from one political party. Once adopted by the SNP as policy, it will then be the official negotiating entry position in 2014 after a YES vote. It will not be submitted to the Scottish Parliament for approval - if it were, it would be carried by the SNP majority.
The Scottish electorate could not question it until May 2016 at the Scottish Parliamentary elections, by which time the negotiations on this item might either be concluded or at a crucial stage. A change of the power balance in Holyrood or a change of government could result in a chaotic situation under such circumstances, dependent on the voice of the electorate.
The electorate should at least be consulted now. Relying on university polls some years old (The Mitchell Report) or ephemeral opinion polls conducted with an under-informed electorate on this crucial topic is democratically unacceptable.
Friday, 10 August 2012
Scotland’s soul – as perceived in 2009 –before the Faustian bargain with ‘Britishness’ and NATO began to rot it.
Scotland's soul - before devo-max ideas, before consultants got a hold of it, before 'Britishness', before the NATO U-turn, before the removal of Trident WMDs from our waters became an ever more fuzzy concept in timing and execution, before those who had some idea of what that soul really was became described as fundamentalists and were advised to close ranks and stop rocking the boat.
The boat being rocked is, of course, a Trident, NATO-controlled, effectively American-controlled nuclear submarine carrying a destructive power beyond the understanding of some who should know better.
Saturday, 4 August 2012
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
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?
Saturday, 21 July 2012
I thought this comment and my reply warranted being pulled out on to the blog. The comment, from someone I respect, resident in America, whose commitment to a vote for independence and a nuclear-free Scotland is unquestionable, gives me the opportunity to crystallise my present position.
BLOG COMMENT AND REPLY
I am fairly rabidly anti-WMD, but I suppose I disagree with you in this. This IS something that should be debated and debated before the referendum campaign.
It is the SNP's strength, not its weakness, that it can look at policies and bring them before their conference for open debate.
Undoubtedly it should be debated, Jeanne - and it will be. Whether it can be categorised as open is another matter. It's backed by the party's strategist and defence spokesman, Angus Robertson. It's backed by Alex Salmond, the party's Superman. Dissenting voices are few, and muted (or being muted!) The party leadership simply can't afford to lose this vote, and they won't.
The party is in "Let's avoid dissent on everything until after independence - then everything will be alright" mood. But it won't be. There is a growing blandness in the party's approach and what they risk is not the loss of core activists campaigning and voting for YES (like me, in or out of party), but the increasing body of the uncommitted saying "So if so little will be different after independence, why not stay in the UK?" Without their votes, there will be no independence.
If the party votes to join/stay in NATO, I might see independence in my lifetime, but I will never see a nuclear-free Scotland. Trident decommissioning and removal will be at least 10 years away, perhaps 20 - and that means never – it will disappear into very long, polluted NATO/rUK grass.
Sorry to see you on the wrong side in this Jeanne, but at least you've got loads of company. I will be looking for a realignment on the Scottish Left (there is no such party - yet ...)
Thursday, 19 July 2012
Nicola in May 2009 in Dunfermline - only two years into the SNP's first term of minority government, filled with passion and deep anti-nuclear commitment. I wonder what she would have said then about NATO membership proposals?
If only the SNP could summon some of that clarity and vision before October, and the debate on the deeply misguided proposal to join NATO - in fact, we need more vintage Nicola, and need to hear more of her clear voice and passion for Scotland in the critical two years ahead of us.
I offer my understanding of the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties, based on help and advice from contacts. I claim no legal or academic basis for my understanding and I am happy to consider any other interpretations from experts or laymen and women. Given the fact that polarised political opinion, advised by different lawyers and academics – who somehow often manage to reflect the prejudices of their paymasters – will differ wildly on this, the lay voter has to somehow try to form an opinion based on competing claims – that’s democracy!
Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties – my comment.
Article 9 should not be a concern, either in terms of NATO membership or EU membership, as it only concerns cases where a successor state unilaterally declares treaties to continue in force.
Obligations and rights in terms of treaties of a predecessor state that are in force at the time of succession do not become obligations and rights of a successor state or other states parties merely because a successor state unilaterally declares that they do.
What this means is that if Scotland was considered merely by itself to be a successor state to the United Kingdom without any sort of domestic or international recognition of it being a successor state – say by rUK (the NATO leadership has no say in this, neither do other NATO member countries) - then it would not inherit treaty obligations and rights.
I wrote in my last blog: "the possibility that Scotland would be bound to NATO obligations under article 34(1) but could be turfed out under article 9."
I now think this may be wrong, because Scotland, at the advent of independence, either inherits treaty obligations and rights (ie. a NATO member from the beginning) or does not (is not a NATO member at all).
The NATO treaty is very short and has no provisions - like the EU treaties - for expelling a member state. If Scotland inherits the treaty rights and obligations and thus is in NATO from day one, it cannot be pushed out.
Article 13 of NATO Treaty: "After the Treaty has been in force for twenty years, any Party may cease to be a Party one year after its notice of denunciation has been given to the Government of the United States of America, which will inform the Governments of the other Parties of the deposit of each notice of denunciation."
Of course, any state can just repudiate its treaty obligation and withdraw unilaterally.
Sunday, 17 June 2012
Great fault lines run through each of the three main UK Unionist parties – their San Andreas faults, so to speak, waiting to tear the parties apart.
With the Tories, it’s Europe – the Great EU Fault.
With Labour, it’s the Great Blair/Iraq Fault, with the party heading for polarisation behind Ed Miliband and the trades unions at one pole, and the right-wing, big money, shadowy interests represented by the Blair/Sainsbury supporters, now called, of all things, Progress. (This abuse of the language goes hand in hand with peace envoys and faith foundations)Unions fight Labour's Blairite faction 'in struggle for party's soul'
The LibDem fault line is the fact that the party is a deeply unstable, cobbled-together artefact (1981) of left and right, represented by the Orange Book right-wingers -Tories in all but name - and the old-fashioned liberal left. This is now compounded by the appalling mistake of the Coalition. What can we call this thing? It is really just one big fault line, so let’s name it the Great LibDem Fault and leave it at that.
Up to this point, the SNP haven’t had a major fault line. They have, of course, the kind of differences that exist in every party: some are monarchists, some are republicans, some lean to the left, some lean to the right, and views vary on the nature of Britishness.
But the great unifying factors in the SNP has been the party’s unswerving commitment to full independence for Scotland, to an anti-nuclear Scotland and to the removal of WMDs (Trident) from Scottish waters after independence, and to a social democratic vision for the nation.
It was inevitable that once the party secured a clear mandate to govern for a second term and to call a referendum on independence - with independence now within its grasp, but with a mountain to climb to shift the perceptions of the Scottish electorate towards a decisive YES vote - that the pressures of a YES campaign would shine an unforgiving, roving spotlight on every policy.
Within the party faithful - and among crucial ranks of those supporting independence who were not SNP – the question increasingly became – independence, but what kind of independence? This in turn led to two conflicting pressures: the party strategists needed to maintain a disciplined consistency of approach in a unified message to the whole electorate, one that would reassure those who feared change, and who clung to the familiar, the traditional, but it also needed to keep the faithful on board, because they were the foot soldiers of the independence movement and of the YES campaign.
I believe the party has made a number of assumptions in doing this that are dangerous, and that it urgently needs to revisit them before the autumn, when the psychologically important two year lead time to the referendum really starts.
1. In trying to flatten out different perceptions of change in the minds of the wider electorate, e.g. monarchy, currency, Britishness, NATO, etc. it has focused the attention of at least a minority of committed nationalists on exactly these differences, causing them to probe what looked initially like a minor fault line and question if it was symptomatic of something deeper. (In tyre manufacturing, a hairline crack in the sidewall revealed at the final inspection stage usually results in testing the tyre to destruction by sawing it apart in sections, since hairline cracks can be the beginning of major faults.)
2. The party has assumed that the crucial defence issue – the quiescent elephant in the room for so long – could safely be kept quiet by resounding, crowd-pleasing conference statements about unswerving commitment to an anti-nuclear policy, and the detail could be quietly ignored, with membership concerns being fobbed off by anodyne statements and reassurances. The elephant is no longer quiet, in fact it’s out of the room and rampaging around, causing mayhem and confusion on all fronts.
3. The party has badly underrated the nature of its nascent support from the non-SNP left, including the Greens, the minority socialist parties, the Scottish Labour Party and the trades union movement by failing to understand the deeply-held economic and social views that underpin the Left, and the wider forces that motivate them.
4. The constitutional monarchy issue, although it was a bullet some republicans found hard to bite on, would not in itself have been a problem (in my view, as a republican) but when allied to concepts of Britishness and the questions of the Union of the Crowns and flags, began to sit more and more uneasily with some nationalists.
It was probably inevitable that the party would look at the Obama campaign and draw lessons from it. But one lesson it appears to have misunderstood is from where it should draw its professional support.
Scotland has some of the finest intellects in the world in every professional disciplines, including psychology and political science. It would not have been hard to find a combination of these skills to advise the Party on the psychological aspects of its YES campaign messages and the presentation of policy.
Faced with this abundance of intellectual riches, the SNP chose to go here for its support – RED Co. It is not a choice I would have made, for a whole range of reasons, but since my focus at the moment is on the crucial issue of defence, I won’t go there for the moment. Today’s Sunday Herald has an article on this – Don’t Mention Independence by Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon. I can’t find a link to it at the moment – buy the paper, it has loads of excellent stuff today.
I had planned to start the day with a blog covering in detail the deliberations of the so-called Referendum on Separation for Scotland Select Committee defence enquiries. (Before the BBC bashers rush in, let me say that was the title given to it by the Labour-dominated committee, and the BBC were at pains to point this out regularly on the strapline during the channel 81 broadcast of the 13th June meeting.)
However, two stories this morning changed my agenda for the rest of the day -
The Sunday Herald front page – Goodbye Trident – a blueprint for a nuclear-free Scotland two years after independence, a report by Scottish CND ‘welcomed by the Scottish Government’.
The Sunday Telegraph with Go-ahead for new nuclear weapons by Robert Watts and Patrick Hennessy
Nowhere in the story, nor in the Telegraph Leader article on page 25 - Trident is an essential part of our armoury – is Scotland’s independence mentioned, nor the fact that the UK’s entire plans depend on the referendum outcome.
They have their heads in the sand and a nuke up their arse – not the most comfortable position to adopt …
The Telegraph Leader is instructive, in that every line of it effortlessly demonstrates exactly why we should not have nuclear weapons – not quite the leader writer’s intentions. But read it -and shudder …
For your further entertainment, I offer my unedited clips (in three parts) of the Referendum on Separation for Scotland Select Committee, where the unionist Coalition of Labour, Tories and LibDems aimed at keeping Scotland and the UK resolutely WMD-mad, and opposed to the independence of Scotland, plough their contemptible furrows, acting as straight men with feed lines for the representatives of the Coalition and the monumentally incompetent MOD.
To the credit of Nick Harvey and Peter Luff, they did not always give the Committee the answers they clearly craved. I will analyse, edit and clip these when I get time – meanwhile, eat it raw, and prepare to vomit …