Monday, 31 July 2017

The Suicide Note For The Yes Movement?

One of the ongoing debates in Scottish politics is what happened to the 476,867 voters who voted SNP two years ago and didn’t on June 8th, with consequences feeding into the narrative of why.

YouGov’s post election poll found it likely that those voters simply did not vote.  The competing argument comes from Michael Ashcroft’s polling, which found that 12% of the SNP’s vote in 2015 went to Labour (with half that voting Tory this time).  You pays your money and you take your choice, so to speak.

Kat Boyd:Welcome puncturer of complacent one eyed yesser perceived wisdom.
Obviously SNP supporters would prefer the narrative of their 2015 voters choosing not to vote rather than the narrative of their voters voting for a ‘Unionist’ party regardless of the SNP hierarchy stating that this election was not a vote for Independence.  While we are now seeing the SNP revert to being ‘fundamentalist’ in relation to the question of Independence, we are now seeing arguments start between ‘ideologically pure’ independence supporters – supporters who unquestionably support the SNP and actively attempt to discredit other pro-Independence parties – and supporters who see Independence as a means to an end.

We had seen this argument before, with the blogger James Kelly aggressively promoting the “both votes SNP” argument during last year’s Holyrood elections.  His argument was that only both votes would deliver a second SNP majority government – and aggressively by attempting to run both the Scottish Greens and RISE (the post referendum re-branded Scottish Scocialists and Radical Independence affiliates) off the road – and therefore would mean a second Independence referendum being on the table when conditions were favourable.  Unsurprisingly RISE failed to gain traction among voters (new party and a distinctly underwhelming campaign being the key reasons), however the Scottish Greens gained list votes.  As for the both votes strategy it was a success...  except it wasn’t. As the SNP gathered their biggest votes ever for FPTP and beat Labour’s record for list votes their success in the FPTP seats worked against them in the list seats while the thing which lost them the cherished majority was, well SNP losses in North East Fife, Edinburgh Western and Edinburgh Central which did for them. 

So thank you RISE’s figurehead Kat Boyd (above) for reigniting this argument and for eliciting such a response that I suspect that the Yes Movement is in a parlous place if such ideological thinking is mainstream among the one eyed Yessers.  Oh, and thank you as well for having the balls to speak the truth too.

Boyd popped up in a short film broadcast on the last pre-holiday Sunday Politics, Graham Stuart’s film looked at the SNP’s result and drew parallels with their response to the 2005 result (which saw them fall behind the Lib Dems).  Boyd called for the SNP to be more radical whilst defending her decision to vote Labour (and for Corbyn) in June.  This admission upset the one eyed Yessers and confirmed Boyd and her party as ‘pretend’ nationalists.  The fact that the SNP’s own policy platform has undoubtedly moved to the right since the 2014 referendum seems to have bypassed those Yessers.  That move in itself validates Boyd’s decision to vote for Corbyn. 

Boyd’s appearance provoked obviously a reaction from the one eyed Yessers and also an astonishing response from the aforementioned Mister Kelly of the Scotland Goes Pop blog.  Astonishing, because the post to all intents and purposes lays out a manifesto for an ideologically pure pro-Independence drive for votes taking Independence and independence only as the basis for your vote.  There is no concession to whether you agree with the SNP on, say, local authority funding, education, taxation or relations with the EU, you vote SNP for independence...  or you are the enemy for voting for a ‘Yoon’ party.

Kelly’s plot was well and truly lost right at the start when he said that RISE were now vulnerable, or as he put it “This episode may also be helpful to the SNP on the list vote at the next Holyrood election, because RISE (or whatever succeeds RISE) will find it even harder to pitch for 'pro-independence tactical votes' now that their commitment to independence has been shown to be rather superficial.

Quite how this will assist an SNP which looks more and more Mac-New Labouresque as the days go by, and look in some trouble is beyond me.  The Scottish Greens are capable of taking votes from the SNP should they continue to drift rightwards, and this really should be RISE’s tactic too.  However, the point missed by Kelly is that RISE were canvassing for votes from the Radical Independence wing of the Independence constituency, votes that would only go to the SNP tactically anyway (in the same way that left of centre votes only went to the SNP because of the Progress tendency within Scottish Labour).  If people like Kelly are intent in destroying parties offering different policies from the SNP but on the same page as the SNP regarding Independence, then it does not bode well for the Yes coalition does it, never mind Indyref 2.

Not that the signs are encouraging anyway, judging by the First Ministers bad reading of the post EU referendum landscape.  However that desire for a ‘pure’ Independence movement is causing strains which mean that logically the next pro-Independence campaign must be a more ‘loose’ affair.  Certainly not the SNP led & managed affair that was in the offing.  There are real divisions there, and not just about policy.  Last week’s question de jour was should the pro-Independence coalition distance themselves from an English based homophobe and his chimp like followers.

The cult of Stuart Campbell raised it’s head once again last week as he took the leader of Scottish Labour, Kezia Dugdale, to court.  Dugdale had called Campbell out for being Homophobic over tweets about the Tory MSP (and son of the Scottish Secretary) Oliver Mundell during First Ministers questions.  That Campbell has form for being misogynistic and homophobic seems to have bypassed the chimps in their rush to attempt to defend the indefensible.  That there is still a debate over Campbell and his little man Trump tweets seems bizarre. Even more bizarre is that the SNP have not sufficiently distanced themselves or condemned Campbell, in spite of the damage that he and his followers are doing to the Independence cause.  The Common Space’s Angela Haggerty compares this episode to the fate of Tommy Sheridan, though personally I think the parallels are more with the ex-Tory cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken.  Like Aitken, Campbell is suing to salve his bruised ego clear his name (though Campbell is only suing Dugdale, Aitken pursued both ITV & The Guardian).  I don’t think there’s been a cringe worthy speech about using a “trusty sword of truth and the shield of British fair play” to cut out a cancer, but we can only hope..  sorry, what's that Skippy, he has said he's fighting against the "lies and smears from Unionist politicians".  Well that is Aitken-esque levels of chutzpah.  As for the other parallels...  we can but hope.

The counter argument – that he is not a member of the SNP - is stuff of poppycock.  SNP politicians regularly re-tweet and favourite his tweets and promote his posts.  In this sense, Campbell/Wings is the SNP’s own creation and his ‘success’ is the reason we have been lumbered with a second ‘personality’ providing off colour rants on social media.  For all of the outrage about ‘Brian Spanner’, he is essentially Wings for a pro-Union audience – you simply cannot criticise one without criticising the other. Dapper Laughs is almost funny by comparison.

Alongside passing so called “peak Nat”, we are now seeing that the SNP & the pro-Independence supporters have now lost control of the narrative.  Scotland has not (so far) turned to Independence in droves whilst we are now seeing more critical evidence of the SNP’s failure to get a proper grip on the task of government during their second term.  We are now also seeing the breakdown of the ‘Yes’ coalition, driven by a drive for an ideologically pure pro-Independence support to rally, unquestionably, behind the SNP.  The problem with that is that it flies in the face of the original impulse that differences were put aside in an attempt to achieve the bigger goal.  Now differences are magnified and people who deviate from the central message are chastised for doing so and ‘hurting’ the indy message.  Then again, that’s the problem with us and them.  If ‘us’ develops unlikable tendencies then criticism (however valid) will look to the hard liners as support for them.

For a party and a movement who’s aims are not the majority view in the country, both the SNP and the one eyed Yessers are failing in changing that state of affairs.  They have ostracized people who voted to leave the EU – dubbing them Tories (even if there is a perfectly sane & sensible left wing case against the EU).  They are ostracizing left wingers and people who are attracted to Corbyn’s Labour party whilst pandering to the Homophobic whims of their own little man Trump.  Even if laughably they are planning to fly in the face of those actions and present a progressive centre left version of Independence.  After the past couple of weeks, good luck with that.  If this is the moment the Yes coalition crashed and burned, then Kelly’s somewhat petulant & self indulgent post on Kat Boyd, alongside Stuart Campbell’s Jonathan Aitken moment, should be seen as it’s suicide note.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Not To Be This Time

Guest blogpost time again.  This post is from the grand fromage of, general promoter of all things Buddie and candidate in the recent council elections, Brian McGuire.  Here's his story from the inside of that campaign.

I was a candidate for the 2017 council elections, unfortunately, due to the way the name (alphabetical) and 3 of our same party on the ballot sheet I knew from the start it would be a struggle but in the early days I was positive.  I stood for election because I have the best interests of my area at heart.

Campaigning is done in what is called VMS (Voter Management Strategy) i.e the person who is the councillor gets less of the ward to canvass and leaflet the person whos name alphabetically suits gets around the same sometimes more sometimes less, on this occasion I was given 57% of houses to canvass, leaflet, newsletter and then send out an election address.

A monumental task considering the thousands of houses I had to deliver to.

The first part is canvassing chapping doors and seeing if they would support you, I had a fantastic response on the doors, which within a week sort of became weird as Nicola Sturgeon spoke about IndyRef2 which got voters who were voting a bit mixed up with national and local issues, once local issues were explained the public were back on track.

I never came across any person who was rude and actually knew tons of people who in the constituency knew me through the work I already do.. So the feeling was high.

Then Theresa May decided a snap election would take place and the environment of friendliness changed people became disenchanted and fed up of elections, bear in mind all this happened within just a few weeks.  So it was now Unionist against Nationalist, The Prime Minister and her media bandwagon got going and Scotland again was the weaker nation in her and her cabinets eyes, how dare we want to go alone, get back in your place Scotland.

The mainstream media changed people's perceptions and from that point onwards it was a struggle.

The campaign was successful for our group overall but not for myself but I will continue to stick up for the town via my website.

I wont be put off doing it in the future but they have to come up with a better way of randomising names, the best people for the job are being beaten if your surname ends with an alphabetically correct name. McGuire was near the bottom of the list and I could hardly see myself let alone anyone else.

I wish the new council administration all the very best and I am sure they will have the area at heart.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Slipping Through Fingers

If May’s Conservative party are the big losers from the General Election, then what are we to make then of the party who lost more seats, net, than the Tories and unlike the Tories lost votes and dropped points in the share of the vote.  They may have won their second General Election here in Scotland, and continued the winning run that goes back to the 2010 General Election, but the SNP have the look of a party in trouble and in several minds as to its direction of travel.

The media narrative blames the SNP’s ‘obsession’ with a second Independence referendum as being something that has turned voters away from the SNP.  I’ve said before that I don’t think that this policy in itself is a vote loser, that it is more the SNP’s interpretation of their “material change” and that the public’s interpretation of that policy is different, the public clearly do not see Scotland as being “ripped from the EU against our will” as the SNP clearly do.  However it is the SNP’s clear tying of the Independence issue to membership of the EU which has caused the ‘Indyref 2’ policy damage. What the SNP’s so called obsession with ‘Indyref 2’ has done is galvanise another group of voters that the SNP have alienated & disrespected, that group of voters who voted to keep Scotland within the UK, voters who are not SNP voters or bother with the fripparies of '55' twibbons or such like.

The hierarchy of the SNP seem to have not noticed that 36% of SNP voters voted to leave the EU last June as since Referendum Day, the SNP have pursued a dogmatic, narrow view of the result.  Dogmatic in the sense that they have dismissed the 1 million leave voters as xenophobes whilst presenting the 62% of Scottish remain voters as true progressives.  If we became wary rather quickly with “Strong and stable” then “Tory hard Brexit” seems to have stood a better test of time, unjustifiably so as it isn’t just the Tories who would like a “hard” Brexit. To quote Donald Tusk “there is no ‘soft Brexit’, there is only ‘hard’ Brexit or no Brexit”.

The problem then is what the SNP should do about their, apparently, troublesome policy.  The SNP, and in particular the First Minister, have in rushing to put Indyref 2 on the table in the aftermath of the EU referendum badly misjudged the mood of the Scottish people.  Even now, after the election, there are SNP figures saying that they should ‘park’ the issue until the Brexit negotiations have been completed, which is...  err...  the same timetable the Scottish voters have apparently taken a dislike of.  There is some polling evidence to suggest that Scottish voters would like to revisit the Independence question, but after divorce proceedings have taken place.

As I’ve pointed out, the issue isn’t about the ‘material change’ but whether a referendum is winnable in the current climate or a climate 18 months down the line.  My conclusion is that any referendum tied to EU membership, which would not be attractive to the pro-Independent supporters who do not favour EU membership, would, allied to the SNP’s reluctance to look at how they lost in 2014, be simply not winnable given the split in the pro-Independence vote. Another factor to take into account here is that polls show that Independence is still around the 45% mark of the referendum with only some polls showing an increase.  In other terms Independence has still not overhauled the Union in spite of this apparent ‘sleight’ against Scots. And for as long as the SNP refuse to come to terms with their loss in 2014 and respect that result, they will continue to do so.

The lesson that should be learned here from the SNP’s loss of support is that the next Independence campaign needs to me much more of a big tent affair than in 2014.  The SNP’s narrow view of how an Independent Scotland would work was a flawed vision, with both their vision of EU membership and Sterlingzone being serious issues. And it is the SNP’s view that Scotland should be a full member in the EU that has caused them to become unstuck again.  The next time, they should not be so much in the cockpit of the campaign, they should perhaps promote other voices (the Common Weal & Radical Independence movements did not get the exposure or influence that they should have).  It would also be helpful if there were some right wing advocates of Independence.  It can’t just be Michael Fry from the Right who supports Independence.

The current vogue among SNP ‘grandees’ is to park the ‘Indyref 2’ issue in some way and promise to return to it in the next Holyrood parliament.  It is an attractive proposition but one with serious problems.  It risks annoying and antagonising the new found ‘Fundies’ that now make up the majority of the party.  People who joined in the wake of the first referendum and are now ‘mobilising’ for another crack at independence that have been marched to the top of the hill with their “putting the band back together” memes.  While they might be placated by a postponement, I suspect that both Davidson & Rennie would much prefer that the whole referendum thing would be kicked into the long grass in a more permanent way.

Any parking would need to be done to not look like a reverse ferret, a difficult task when Sturgeon has gone so hard on the issue.  Even more so when both the leaders of the Conservatives and Lib Dems respective Scottish branch offices have put opposition to a second Independence referendum (regardless of popularity) front and centre of their last two manifestos.  Any retreat beyond the outlined timetable risks handing those two parties a PR boost, victory on a plate and conceivably enough political momentum to propel Ruth Davidson into Bute House come the next Holyrood elections.

SNP Elections under Salmond & Sturgeon’s leadership
% share
Seats won
5 May 2005 (Westminster)
17.7% (-2.4%)
6 (+2)
3 May 2007 (Holyrood)
32.9% (+9.1%)
21 (+12)*
6 May 2010 (Westminster)
19.9% (+2.3%)
6 (=)
5 May 2011 (Holyrood)
45.4% (+12.7%)
53 (+32)*
7 May 2015 (Westminster)
50.0% (+30.1%)
56 (+50)
5 May 2016 (Holyrood)
46.5% (+1.1%)
59 (+6)*
8 June 2017 (Westminster)
36.9% (-13.1%)
35 (-21)
*= FPTP seats only

The ideal route forward would be to keep reviewing the situation throughout the Brexit negotiations but indicate willingness to not pursue a second referendum if their wishes are given a fair hearing.  The SNP however have other pressing concerns, as I hinted at in the previous paragraph it’s now possible that the SNP’s stock has fallen to such an extent that they may be displaced from government and that the next occupant of Bute House may well be Ms Davidson.  Compared to Dugdale, Davidson is a shrewd operator who has manoeuvred herself into the premier protector of ‘the Union’.  She certainly hasn’t made silly mistakes like Dugdale has (though the footage of her ‘advocating’ tactically voting Tory to kick out the SNP shows no such thing and seems like a desperate attempt by pro-Indy supporters to smear Dugdale and Scottish Labour).  Davidson, unlike Sturgeon (or for that matter Dugdale) has prominent media support.  We can be certain that the Daily Mail and it’s columnist who used to work for STV will be Davidson cheerleaders from now until May 2020.

If the SNP were to decide to park ‘Indyref2’, then this provides them with the ideal opportunity to freshen up their domestic policies and to regain some much needed grip on the job of government.  The reason why 12% of SNP voters from 2015 switched to Labour would be because of the SNP’s performance in Holyrood and a discernible switch to the right from the SNP since Sturgeon became First Minister.  It is true that the SNP have been the standard bearers of Social Democratic policies over the past 10 years.  However that was in the first two terms of the SNP in government.  Last year the SNP ran on an uninspiring ticket promising to do better.  There was no radical vision or legacy style policy within that manifesto, instead we have seen Sturgeon promise not to raise taxes (granted the powers under Calman does not give Holyrood the power to change separate tax bands, tax rises are across the board, however Sturgeon shut down the debate on public financing), to continue the Salmond policy of advocating a lowering of business taxes – for example Corporation Tax and APT Duty – and to u-turn on the SNP pledge from 2007 to scrap the “unfair” Council Tax.  Is it any wonder then that when a genuine left winger, like Corbyn, comes along that the MacNew Labour project that is the current SNP looks...  well... like MacNew Labour.

Alongside the lacklustre manifesto, the SNP’s big mistake at the General Election was to not promote their MP’s in the media. Instead we saw a campaign headed up by and with the public face of Nicola Sturgeon.  Rather than talk about what SNP MP’s did at Westminster and the fine work that they do, the First Minister inserted herself into a campaign...  and invited the narrative of her government’s issues to become an election issue.  Whatever you think of Angus Robertson (and I think he’s a good debater with the flaw of veering into Paddy Ashdown style piousness, though he’s not the worst in his own party) he really should have been much more prominent than he was.  His appearance at the BBC debate was too little, too late.

The SNP may have won the election here in Scotland, but it was a much more pyrrhic victory than May’s Conservatives bigger ‘victory’.  Instead of the serene march to a second referendum, there are now questions about the SNP’s direction of travel and about the political nous of the First Minister. Instead of a party with one unified vision, there is now debate. Whether it’s MacMillan’s night of the long knives followed by his own resignation, Thatcher’s obsession with reforming local authority financing and growing Euroscepticism or the chickens coming home to roost for both Blair & Brown.  Third terms are quite often the most difficult of the lot.  Unless the SNP make changes, then the curse of the third term could harm them too.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Red Shoots Of Recovery

For a change of tack, I thought it would be good to hear about the recent General Election from an insiders point of view.  So first up, we have a guest post from Lauren Gilmour from Scottish Labour.

Lauren is a Labour Party member and activist, and exiled Buddie living in Glasgow, who has a degree in Politics from UWS.  Lauren's post is about how Labour can kickstart it's recovery in Scotland.

What a difference two years make… 

We didn’t see that one coming. Even as the exit polls, proven to be very wrong at the last election, came in predicting a hung parliament, we didn’t see it coming.

We’ll be taking a look more closely at the campaign Labour ran in the general election both across the country, in Scotland and in the West of Scotland.

It wasn’t always going to be this way. Labour went into this campaign with dismal poll ratings of 25%. They were predicted to fall under 200 seats in an election loss similar to 1931. But Corbyn had a trick up his sleeve – to run the general campaign in the same, positive, upbeat way he ran his two previous leadership election campaigns, which both delivered stonking victories.

Gradually this worked. We saw Corbyn in his element – proposing not opposing. Ironically, Corbyn’s campaign events attracted more and more media attention as they grew due to a focus on the broadcast media, rather than the print media. Journalists who would push a pro-Labour line were also identified in a strategy similar to Tony Blair’s 1997 strategy.

In contrast, Theresa May’s campaign was limited to the reluctant party faithful and very sympathetic journalists who did little to challenge her. Labour election rallies were open to whoever wanted to go. Corbyn grew more and more comfortable, speaking and rallying the crowds. He moved from speaking behind a podium to being able to make off the cuff speeches with just a small black notebook to prompt him. The internet meme machine was also in full force during the election, while they weren’t alone in delivering a good result, they certainly helped to mobilise the youth vote – thought to be around 70%. The youth vote was also responsible for winning in places like Canterbury who have had a Tory MP since 1918. There were some truly historic victories during the evening of the 8th of June.

In Scotland, there was a noticeable shift in attitude towards the Labour Party. Lets face it, things couldn’t have gotten any worse after the 2015 election humiliation and finishing third behind the Tories in last year’s Scottish parliament elections. Scottish Labour was buoyed by a Corbyn boost, he appeared three times in Scotland during the six week campaign culminating in an early morning, pre-work rally the day before the general election. In 2015, Labour activists were subjected to things like being chased with chainsaws and having election events picketed by extreme nationalist fringe groups. Towns and cities were plastered with stickers saying “red tories out” and doors were slammed in faces.

Now on the doors, people were willing to listen to what we had to say and even switch from the SNP back to Labour because the SNP had been largely absent. The Labour campaign was more visible in a lot of areas and as a result, the SNP vote fractured. SNP voters either did not turn out, voted Labour or Tory.

The biggest surprise of the night was Labour winning six seats back from the SNP in addition to their now safe seat of Edinburgh South. The mood within the party was that we would be having a good night if we managed to retain Edinburgh South and win an additional seat. Some unfortunately missed out like Angela Feeney in Motherwell and Wishaw and Matt Kerr in Glasgow South West who lost by just 60 votes.

Whilst Labour exceeded expectations, there is now a feeling that we could have done better. Scottish Labour’s vote share went down in areas which until 2015, were Labour heartlands including Renfrewshire and Ayrshire. In Paisley and Renfrewshire North the Conservative vote went up by 15.3% and in it’s southern neighbour, the share of the vote went up by 11.8%. Labour in North Ayrshire were knocked into third place by the Tories.

This is in contrast to other deindustrialised areas in Scotland such as Midlothian, East Lothian and Fife who all returned Labour MPs. The experience being on the doors in these areas matched the results at the ballot box. In Midlothian the response was very positive for Labour, but in Ayrshire, not so much.

In east coast former mining areas and in Lanarkshire there is more of an industrial legacy that binds working class people together in a way that it no longer does in the West of Scotland. Particularly in Paisley and Renfrewshire – many of those who worked in the mills here have now passed on and the experiences of mill workers in Paisley exists only in the heads of those with parents or grandparents who worked there. For many in the Lothians and in Lanarkshire it is still a first hand memory.

We also have to recognise that there is more of a tradition of protestant loyalist unionism in the West of Scotland. Where these people used to vote Labour in the knowledge that the union would be safe, they now feel that the Conservative Party are best placed to preserve the union, ironically.

Seats like Inverclyde came within a whisker of going Labour once again and Paisley could once again be winnable. When we look at the campaigns run by Labour candidates in Paisley and Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and East Renfrewshire, they have a very overtly pro-union message primarily. Jobs and the economy come secondary to the union.

What lessons should Scottish Labour learn from this?

We don't have to spend lots of money to deliver victories – resources and money were pumped into East Renfrewshire to buoy Blair McDougall. Sadly, this did nothing to boost Mr McDougall's chances. Conversely, in Glasgow North East, Paul Sweeney's campaign was delivered on a shoestring budget and he won.

Indyref 2 is well and truly off the agenda now. It would serve Scottish Labour well to put it on a back burner, too. It's time for Scottish Labour to be more ambitious and aim for the SNP vote. Supporting the union is not and never was the raison dĂȘtre of the Labour Party.