Thursday, 16 October 2014

How To Torpedo "The Leaders Debates" In One Easy Step

You may remember that at the last Westminster Election, three of our television companies finally managed to put together a proposal to our leading politicians that satisfied our leading politicians and the regulators.  So what has gone wrong this time?

The first thing to recognize is that four years ago, the format was not perfect but was the best fitting compromise available.  Yes, the SNP and Plaid Cymru were excluded from the debates – and arguably their vote suffered as a result (though their undignified but justified winging probably did not help their cause).  However the biggest pan UK parties took part.  While it was a stretch to imagine Nick Clegg being asked to kiss hands come the day after the election, his Lib Dems were defending 62 seats and the polls were pointing to a tight election.

And I think the same format would have worked again…  just.  Three debates with Cameron, Milliband & Clegg, with maybe the only change being that the debates be a wee bit more spaced out rather than on consecutive Thursdays.  But the justification remains for excluding the pro-Nationalist parties from the main debates, even if there’s little justification for the half arsed 30 second soundbite handed to the “minor” parties as a sop to them and the regulators.  A proper right of reply is not the half assed 30 seconds they got last time around.  With those tweaks, the “Leaders Debates” could have run again.  So why the broadcasters risked the debates not happening at all by including the only party leader that wishes it was still 1957, Nigel Farage?

Lets not forget that in spite of the hype and hyperbole, UKIP only won their first by-election last week.  While the UKPR website puts UKIP’s average polling figure at 16% (double the Lib Dem’s current polling average), the don of Scottish psephology,  Professor John Curtis, sees their polling figures here in Scotland at a mighty…  4%.  All in all, it’s not exactly the performance that the SDP put in during the run up to the 1983 Westminster Election.

Indeed, what the broadcasters have done is put the series of debates at risk.  The Green Party, who will be defending Caroline Lucas’ Brighton seat next May, are already openly discussing legal action over their exclusion.  Not surprising given they will still be smarting at UKIP’s somewhat favourable exposure during the European Elections.  It also opens the door to the Nationalist alliance joining the Greens/Scottish Greens in the courts.  Given that the Scottish courts banned a Panorama interview with John Major in 1995 (broadcast the week of the inaugural single unitary council elections), certainly the SNP would have a chance of getting the debates banned here in Scotland.  And (this has somewhat eluded dear Doris here) this has added legitimacy to the SNP’s arguments to be included – give they have currently 6 times as many MP’s as UKIP.  Indeed, add Plaid to the mix and you would have 9 MP’s in that nationalist axis.  Much much more than UKIP hold, even if their 16% does translate into votes come next May.

The broadcasters clearly need to go back and rethink things.  Oh, and there should be a debate with Cameron, Milliband and the Westminster representatives of both of the nationalist parties.  In the meantime, good luck with putting the Farage genie back into the bottle…

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Lie Of The Land - Where Now For "The 45"

You know, one of the best things written about the so called “45” (crap name and technically incorrect, though the “44 point 7” is less catchy so…) was by the Scottish Green activist Sarah Beattie Smith.  So much so, I’ll not bother.

There still a lot of energy around the referendum two weeks on from it’s conclusion as various groups that sprung up around “Yes Scotland” starts to look for roles in the post referendum landscape.  The “yes” twibbons have gradually been replaced with “I voted yes” or “45” twibbons, while the “Women for Independence” group held a conference in Perth at the weekend that put the gathering Liberal Democrats in Glasgow in the shade – not that you could tell by the media coverage.  Soon though another set of choices will present themselves in front of the Scottish electorate as our politicians gird their loins for, and lets be honest here, what many Westminster politicians believe to be the main event.  You can have your pretendy referendum, but nothing will beat the battle of a Westminster election.

Many within the yes supporting constituency though believe that this is finally the opportunity to sever the Scottish electorate’s love affair with Labour.  Since the mid 1960’s and the name change from The Unionist Party to the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party, Labour have made inroads & have held on to their status as the national party of Scotland.  Buoyed by the surge in memberships of pro Independence parties and some polls showing that 37% of Labour voters voted for Independence, this has lead pro-independence supporters to predict the beginning of the downfall of Scottish Labour.  There’s just one small problem with this rational.

The SNP’s election campaign 4 years ago wasn’t quite a disaster, but wasn’t exactly a roaring success either.  Salmond’s slogan of “More Nat’s, Less Cut’s” sank without trace while the abiding memory of that campaign was Salmond & Sturgeon’s whinging at being excluded from the “Leaders Debates”.  Their share of the vote (20% of the Scottish electorate) translated into them keeping the 6 seats won in 2005, with the failure to retain their by-election win in Glasgow East the first loss for the SNP since Scotland’s MP’s were cut from 71 to 59.

The impact of this on next years Westminster elections is that it will be more difficult for the SNP to make inroads in Labour’s block of MP’s.  Of Scottish Labour’s MP’s, a swing of 10% will only bring the grand total of three Labour seats.  Most vulnerable will be Gordon Bank’s Ochil & South Perthshire seat, a swing of 5.2% will see this seat change hands.  To put that into context, nationwide there has only been three elections where there has been a swing of over 5% between parties (Thatcher’s win in 1979 was based on a swing of 5.29%, Blair in 1997 achieved a swing of over 10% while Cameron’s win was based on a swing of 5.17% from Labour).  Mind you, the SNP’s win at Holyrood three and a half years ago was built on a swing from the Lib Dem’s of 4.1% and a total swing to the SNP of 6.25%.

So, as a yardstick, what would that swing get the SNP were it to be replicated.  Well, they’d certainly unseat Mr Bank’s and…  well that’s it really.  Among the Lib Dem seats, Malcolm Bruce’s (soon to be) old seat of Gordon and the Argyll & Bute constituency are the most vulnerable, but the SNP would be projected to fall short (by 0.25% in the case of Gordon) of taking these seats.  What the SNP need would be a sea change, something like the energy harnessed by the unsuccessful “Yes” campaign.  Something like that hinted at with the latest Panelbase poll.

SNP – 5 Target Labour Seats

Labour Vote
Labour Share (%)
SNP Vote
SNP Share (%)
SNP Swing required (%)
Ochil & South Perthshire
Dundee West
Ayrshire North & Arran
Aberdeen North
Vote & share as at Westminster Election – 6 May 2010

Panelbase’s poll puts the SNP at 34% in terms of Westminster voting intentions with a swing of 12%.  That would see the SNP make real inroads into Labour’s seats, taking 6 Labour seats.  Not only would Bank’s Ochil seat fall, but also the controversial seat of Falkirk – Eric Joyce’s seat and Dundee West.  With that swing though, the SNP would fall 0.2% short of taking Michael Connarty’s Linlithgow & Falkirk East seat.

Not that this sort of swing would only damage Scottish Labour – though the loss of 6 seats would not help Milliband’s push for Number 10.  On this sort of swing, the SNP would take half of the Lib Dem’s Scottish representation.  Of the six Lib Dem seats, obviously I’ve mentioned Malcolm Bruce’s Gordon seat as a faller, but third on the list would be the seat of  Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey.  That of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.  A swing of 11.0% would see his removal as MP.  On top of the 6 existing MP’s – on this swing SNP representation would go up to a record 18 seats.

A swing like that would also bring into play future SNP targets – many of them in Labour central belt.  There are currently 20 Labour seats that would require a swing between 12-18% for them to change hands.  If the SNP managed the swing hinted at by Panelbase, these seats would become Labour marginal’s & would shake up Scottish politics.

SNP – 5 Target Lib Dem seats

Lib Dem Vote
Lib Dem Share (%)
SNP Vote
SNP Share (%)
Argyll & Bute
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross
Aberdeenshire West & Kinkardine
Vote & share as at Westminster Election – 6 May 2010

Of course all of this is subjective.  For one thing, as I’ve said previously, the SNP have never really gotten to grips with how to play Westminster Elections in the devolution era.  Hence while they’ve formed a successful government at Holyrood, they only polled 20% in the Westminster election half way through their first term.  Secondly, they’ve never really come close to replicating their result from the General Election 40 years ago this Sunday – when the SNP upped their representation to 11 MP’s from the 7 elected in the February election.

The third reason is, of course that those area’s that voted for Independence are safe Labour areas.  While Glasgow got a lot of the headlines for voting for Independence lets not forget that 2 of the 10 safest Labour seats in Glasgow are Labour seats (Iain Davidson’s Glasgow South West seat Willie Bain’s and Glasgow North East).  Indeed the “easiest” seat for the SNP would be Tom Harris’ Glasgow South seat – “winnable” on a swing of 15.8%.

If the energy amassed is not to be for nought for the SNP, the hard work and the planning starts here for next May for the ousting of those “Red Tories”.  The SNP’s performance in 2010 has given them a mountain to climb if they wish to target serious amounts of Labour seats.  Whether the predicted meltdown in the Lib Dem vote will help the SNP remains to be seen, though that in itself won’t be enough to make the advances desired by elements within “the 45”.  What is certain is that this referendum will impact on next years Westminster election, we just don’t know how.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Slow Slow Death Of Scotish Labour

Act in haste, repent at leisure” – proverb

Why, It's The Man Who Saved The Union
If I’m honest, one of the reasons I voted the way I did on Thursday was the speeches given by Gordon Brown in the final 10 days re-iterating the promise of more powers for Holyrood.  With all the, on the face of it, impressive talk of timetables and motions and the liberal sprinkling of touchstone Scottish dates…  I wasn’t alone here in thinking that this was Grade A horseshit from Brown was I?

Well apparently I was, because enough people bought it for to keep their vote firmly in the “no” camp.  Those people will, I suspect, be looking out the receipts for their votes as I type this.  Even more so in the coming months if Cameron’s speech at just after 7am on Friday morning (below) is anything to go by.  Essentially Cameron tied the whole devolution question to the Tories own bugbear – English votes for English People.  It is of course designed to trap Labour, but watching them during the referendum debates willfully walking into bear traps has become something of a forte for Labour politicians and Scottish Labour in particular.

All through 2013 when the Spare Room subsidy was brought in, representatives of the Better Together campaign who were Labour politicians for their day jobs were with stunning regularity ambushed on Scottish current affairs shows by supporters of Independence.  Labour, you see, had no position on the Bedroom Tax so when they were attacked for being in favour of the Bedroom Tax, they couldn’t respond without couching their responses in the terms of being their personal opinion.  Of course when Miliband removed the member of the shadow cabinet who thought there was no economic case to scrapping the bedroom tax (Liam Byrne), he could then change his policy.  By which time the damage had been done and Labour were shown up as being too obsessed about pandering to the swing seats than be genuinely interested in a key supporter group of theirs.

That’s Scottish Labour’s problem in a nutshell.  Since they ousted Wendy Alexander as leader…  no scratch that, since Henry McLeish’s ousting as the leader of Scottish Labour group on the Mound, Scottish Labour have been more focused on the concerns of “Middle Scotland” and not rocking the boat with their Westminster colleagues and have abandoned their raison d’être.  What will have shocked so many people – about 35% of Labour voters if Michael Ashcroft’s polling is correct about those that voted for Independence – is the comfort that Labour politicians felt in spouting Conservative attack lines.

“Too wee, too poor” is the SNP characterization of Scottish Labour’s rebuttal of Independence – something Better Together distanced themselves from which in itself was a tacit confession that the slogan was untruthful.  What was interesting about the whole “Project Fear” episode was that, save for a few tweaks here an there, most of it will be re-run next year by Cameron & the Conservatives trying to repel Milliband from power.  Indeed one wonders what Ian Murray’s thoughts will be if the power companies come out and describe Milliband as some sort of mad Stalinist for having the temerity to stick his oar into the power market – given he thought that companies who advised employees to vote against Independence were indulging in their democratic duty to flag up their concerns.

Cameron, about to put a large spanner in The Brown Plan
Sorry to disappoint Mr Murray and the rest of the “Scottish” Labour mafia, but if that happens I’ll just be laughing at hapless ineptitude and inability to see it a coming around the mountain.

What the Independence referendum showed was that Scottish Labour has become something that it only defines itself in terms of what it is against.  It is against separation and is against the SNP.  That’s about your lot, which for a party who’s biggest success is recasting Thatcher’s three governments as the Bogeyman made flesh says it all.  Fear keeps the troops in line and keeps them voting Labour.  Lamont keeps saying that the SNP have put government on hold, so hopefully now that the referendum is over we will see what policy initiatives Scottish Labour have for both next year’s Westminster Election and the battle for Holyrood in 20 months time.  And that’s the problem.

There are no policy initiatives.  There are no fresh ideas.  Lamont has positioned Scottish Labour to the right of the SNP, so she talks about targeted help but uses crude methods that will only put off those who need aid and assistance from the help they need.  She also falls into the trap of repeating a Daily Mail agenda – hence why the “Something For Nothing” speech was so offensive to many people.  Lamont is a lame duck leader and Scottish Labour is tottering on the precipice on her watch.

I’m not even sure that if Labour actually fulfil their promise to enact their (pitiful) devolution proposals to the Brown timetable that this would save them.  If they didn’t though, it would exacerbate things greatly.  After all only 1,617,989 people voted for Independence.  I’m sure those people can be easily ignored…  er…  So for Milliband to play politics with the Scottish people is disgraceful.

Since the demise of the SSP there has been a vacuum on the left in Scottish Politics.  The SNP occupy a sort of centre ground/MacNew Labour position but both the Lib Dem’s and Scottish Labour have vacated the centre left ground.  For Labour, this move has proved disastrous and will prove even more disastrous as the pro-Independence groups look to fill that ready made ground.  At least events like an Independence referendum only happen once in a lifetime…

Except as I’ve already said, I think there will be another referendum.  Cameron’s tying of devolution powers to reform of the House of Commons under the UKIP friendly banner of “English votes for English laws” has made it even more difficult to push through the Brown plan.  Cameron’s speech has I think sown the seeds of discontent that will lead to another referendum within 10 years.  Next years General Election will be another flashpoint – as we see how hopeless Milliband is.  Those people looking to punish New Labour for Thursday really should be formulating a sort of decapitation strategy for next May – target key constituencies - rather than spread resources over 40 odd Labour seats.  Then there’s Holyrood 2016 where the lame duck get’s roasted.

Scottish Labour is in all sorts of trouble.  Not even fighting a referendum covered that particular fig leaf.  I’m not even sure that had we voted for Independence that would have saved Labour – as has been claimed.  All that would have happened is that the Murphy’s, the Alexander’s and the other members of the Compass Group wing that are Scottish would have decamped north.  The Emperor has no clothes and it is our duty to let everyone know about it.