Monday, 20 February 2017

Asking The Question

Last week on BBC Parliament, there were a series of one man shows by the Independent & Guardian columnist Steve Richardson. In these talks, on the six big Prime Ministers over the past half century, there are trends that emerge, Rules if you will. What was new was the talk about space.  Richardson talked of Thatcher knowing when she had no space to do the things she wanted to do (at the start of her time in No 10, when she only had a 40 odd seat majority and she hadn’t managed to manoeuvre her like minded people into key positions yet), but instinctively knowing when she had the space to do things (Richardson pinpoints the formation of the SDP as the start of Thatcher’s ‘Imperial phase’ rather than the win in the Falklands the following year). Conversely Richardson talks of Blair not being aware of the space he had to do the radical things he could have done. Richardson in effect thinks of Blair as being overly cautious at the start of his time as PM – though interestingly he doesn’t expand on this during the Blair programme.
Sturgeon's conference announcement that the Indyref bill will be
written, 13th October 2016

Richardson's talks may be about UK Prime Ministers, but the lessons can be applied elsewhere. No more than here in Scotland where the talk is of a Second Independence Referendum. The pro-Indy fundamentalists firmly believe that the First Minister should call the referendum, preferably as soon as possible but are happy with the sainted Alex Salmond’s own preferred timetable of an Autumn 2018 plebiscite. There has, it is argued, been a "material change" in Scotland's circumstances which invalidates the last referendum so we should have a new one now. This is how the logic goes.

The big glaring problem with this argument is that the First Minister does not have the political space at this moment to ask the question once again of the Scottish people.  There are two reasons for this.  Firstly you might remember that in last years Holyrood election, the SNP failed to gain a second overall majority.  It is notable that for all the hype surrounding the “both votes SNP” online and real world campaign that it was the huge wins in the FPTP elections which cancelled out the SNP’s huge second vote.  If anything the SNP’s progress was checked by losing seats in the east to the Lib Dems and to the Tories.  In effect the SNP no longer have the right to vote for themselves for a referendum.  Granted there is now a pro-Independence bloc in Holyrood if you count the Scottish Greens.  However their leader Harvey has a reputation of being the sensible, moderating voice on Independence.  At least that was the case… well before the EU Referendum anyway. 

Just before that referendum, I’d argued that for the First Minister to successfully make the case that a material change had taken place in the event of a Leave vote, then the pro-EU vote here in Scotland had to be at least 65%.  Given that the majority of the Scottish Political classes advocated a remain vote, given that Remain voters also constituted people who voted to remain in that other union in September 2014 and given that 35% of her own voters voted to leave the EU, then the eventual 62% result gives Sturgeon no space whatsoever to demand a second Independence referendum.  Apart from one outlier, polling has since backed this theory up with a majority of Scots outside or blocked off from the Indy fundamentalists twitter echo chamber not keen on a second Independence referendum at the moment and with no sign of a pro-Independence majority.

That’s not to totally dismiss the SNP’s arguments about Westminster disrespecting the SNP totally.  However in spite of the SNP’s arguments about the EU referendum, nothing has changed and a re-run of 2014 would result in…  well a re-run of the 44.7% – 55.3% result.  If the SNP were to ask the question again however, I think their best chance of winning will be after the UK has left the EU.  By then we will know the terms of divorce, we will know whether Johnson, Fox & co’s boasts of countries lining up for trade deals are hot air or not. And we will also know if the EU itself survives.  For all the siren voices from the EU supporting an Independent Scotland’s not even on the drawing board yet application to join, those same siren voices might turn sinister if they are too vociferous about ‘punishing the UK’ for leaving their club.  Brexit is a two way process and while we may speculate how this will impact on the UK, the EU could fracture as well, especially if the leadership persist in the ostrich book of leadership.

Another reason for waiting for a better opportunity is that the current Westminster government will provide much better, and more obvious, “material changes” than the EU referendum.  Next on the horizon will be Theresa May’s policy pledge to scrap the ECHR from law and replace it with a UK bill of rights.  This policy will be akin to wanting to remove a supporting wall from a house because it’s not liked.  The ECHR is, of course, a key foundation of Devolution Britain, with it being key to the foundation & workings of the Stormont Parliament, the Cardiff Bay assembly as well as the Holyrood Parliament.  The fear here is that the First Minister, having overplayed her hand over the EU referendum will have shown her opponents how a very real material change will go down and they will be able to change their arguments appropriately.

Lastly, I’m not sure that the SNP or anyone else on the pro-Independence side are anywhere near ready to win this referendum. There has been, as far as I’m aware, no post mortem on what happened in 2014.  There has been no discussion or debate over the reasons for the loss, while the Common Weal director Robin McAlpine has said that many of the pro-Independence organising groups are not ready, or more specifically “chaotic, unorganised and… not yet prepared”.  It took two years fore the SNP to acknowledge that they might have made a mistake over their Sterlingzone policy but no real understanding about why exactly it was such a bad idea.  In his column in last week’s Sunday Herald, Iain McWhirter wrote about what pro-Independence campaigners could learn from the Brexit campaign and came to the conclusion that Yes-2 should be a deliberately vague campaign.  This is entirely the wrong lesson.  Leave won the economic argument by talking about the effect of freedom of movement on communities in terms of living standards.  If there’s any lesson, it is that economic arguments are not just confined to dry, remote, treasury statistics but to real anecdotes.  Having said that, it’s surprising that the SNP haven’t made a successful argument about the £9bn/£15bn deficit figure – their argument should be that this is an election issue not a referendum issue.

The new case for independence needs to be bomb-proof.  It needs to prove that an Independent Scotland can work, most importantly on an economic basis.  This is the most important roadblock to Independence, so for Indy fundamentalists to wilfully ignore or, worse, contemplate the use of UKIPesque/Trumpist “fake news” tactics displays a disrespect of the electorate.  There are elements that could be vague, explained under the banner of “This is an issue for when we become independent”, but that assumes that the new campaign is a genuinely cross party affair and not an SNP led and run campaign.  Economic arguments do not fall within those parameters so those above all else need to be utterly bomb proof.

Even in this fluid political climate, honeymoon periods must end.  Nicola Sturgeon’s has pretty much lasted for two years.  While there are now growing questions about her government, the prospect of a second Independence referendum is a double edged sword. It acts as a distraction to many SNP supporters, something that keeps the pro-Independence supporters united.  It also looks like a crossroads for the Sturgeon administration.  If they manage to hold the referendum when they can best win, Sturgeon will claim her place in history.  Unfortunately it looks like the pro-Independence fundamentalists will win the day and a vote will be held within the next 18 months.  If this happens it makes a second consecutive referendum defeat pretty likely.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Dead Man Walking

Huh, not just Dead Man Walking, but potentially this is the month where there is no going back for Labour.  A party of opposition and potential government…  gone.  Dead party walking.

While we can all criticise the Progress Wingers for their ritual toys throwing exercise whenever the name of Jeremy Corbyn comes up (ex-Scottish Labour staffer and ex-Political Editor of the Daily Record Paul Sinclair was the weekend’s nominated Corbyn-Bad de jour person), there does come a time when the leader has to start playing the conditions and do the job properly.  In the case of Corbyn, it is now time to tell the truth. 
Corbyn is a truly awful… awful leader.

Let’s start with his speeches.  They ramble on, lack a focus and badly need editing to have a clear & concise message.  His Commons performances veer between average and ropey, with wistful looks at the golden days of Ed Milliband a regular occurrence.  That lack of focus is also something that comes to mind in interviews.  Less kind souls would say Corbyn resembles a rabbit caught in the headlights.

And then there are his political decisions.  Well, to be specific, there’s really one issue which Corbyn has handled spectacularly badly.  That Corbyn used to be (and perhaps still is) a Eurosceptic could have been awkward for Labour, especially if he campaigned to Leave.  Instead, he was press ganged into campaigning for the Remain side but did so in the style of a surly teenager.  His displeasure at being forced to campaign for ‘remain’ was obvious to all and sundry.  It would have been better if Labour could have let Corbyn be Corbyn and let him campaign for the leave side.

Instead, Corbyn’s prescience was a sullen shadow on proceedings.  His ‘contribution’ to the Remain cause overshadowed the then Home Secretary’s equally… detached contribution to the ‘remain’ cause.  With no great surprise, almost no one mentions Theresa May’s almost withdrawal from public life, save for a less than wholesome endorsement for remaining within the EU during a TV interview, during the referendum campaign.  Then again, Corbyn has almost no supporters in the media while his media spin doctors might as well be fully paid up members of the Tory party given their uselessness.

Speaking of spin doctors, Corbyn really needed someone who would have been able to argue Corbyn’s case in the media.  He really needed a pugnacious character able to do the most difficult kind of writing – writing for a tabloid audience.  Instead Corbyn employed the Guardian’s resident Stalin apologist Seamus Milne.  Surely the man Private Eye’s totally fictitious ‘Dave Spart’ character is based on, all terrible syntax and faux high-brow language.  Is it any wonder UKIP get away with painting Corbyn as some sort of Islington elite.

The issues surrounding Corbyn seem to have crystallized around how he handled the EU referendum, how he handled the aftermath and, most pertinently, how he has handled the bill to allow the government to trigger Article 50.  I may have voted for the UK to leave the EU, but I would still have expected a socialist politician’s instincts to kick in and to make life as difficult as possible for a right wing government.  Let alone give hell to the proto-fascists in UKIP.  That Corbyn gave the May Government a blank cheque and justified this by, to all intents and purposes, appeasing UKIP’s arguments is nothing short of a disgrace and an embarrassment. 

Normally at this point in proceedings there would be a call for Corbyn to resign, or for some kind of revolt.  Given I’d previously penned such pieces calling for Lamont to go, you’d be wondering why this post isn’t called “Why Jezza Must Go”.  Well, there’s one very good reason for that.  The leader that Labour needs to help them through this difficult period and to rebuild just does not exist within their ranks.

Labour’s issues go beyond Corbyn.  The old Labour constituency is now diverging at a rate of knots.  There is the group of ex-Labour voters now agitating for a second Independence referendum here in Scotland – firmly in opposition to the line taken by their old party.  There is the group of soft Labour voters, attracted by Blair, who now look likely to return to their natural home of either the Lib Dems or the Tories.  There is now the group of Labour voters, like the English versions of now SNP voters who were left behind by New Labour now contemplating voting for UKIP post the EU Referendum.  Any possible successor to Corbyn needs to bridge these gaps.  You’d be as well asking for someone who can bridge the Grand Canyon.

The fact that the job of being Labour leader has now become the poison challis of British public life has not put off some people from putting forward their own preferences, the current favourite being an MP only a year into his first term as a sitting MP.  Clive Lewis might be a talented person, I’ve only seen him on TV a couple of times and he seems okay.  That’s not a reason to repeat the mistake that Scottish Labour made in elevating their own talented but highly inexperienced politician – Kezia Dugdale – into the post of leader.  Lewis just doesn’t look ready.

Corbyn’s rank bad handling of the Article 50 vote is, for many people, Corbyn’s own ‘Jump the Shark’ moment, the moment where we can no longer excuse the fact that the leader of the Labour party is not fit for purpose.  That this is the case should be seen as a tragedy for people of the left across the country, that the left could not produce a leader capable of taking the Labour Party back into government.  Not that they’ve ever stopped sneering, but the Progress wingers will crow even more now about how they told us so and that they are the only people with the know how to take Labour back into power, even though they are part of the problem.  Meanwhile on the horizon are two now key by-election tests, if Labour lose these two seats it could spark the end of the beginning of the end of Labour as a force in UK wide politics.  The damage will have been done by the Progress wingers, but this will have happened on Corbyn’s watch.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Dispatches From Daisley

Last week saw a story break about a politician’s attempt to remove a high ranking journalist from his position.  The story about the former Prime Minister’s lobbying of Associated Newspapers in his attempt to remove Paul Dacre from his role as Daily Mail editor sounded very familiar to Scottish ears.  However, Cameron’s failure to have Dacre’ removed from his post is not the only difference from the Daisley affair. With great irony, this affair blew up again at the weekend when the Daily Mail unveiled their new columnist as the former STV head of Digital Content.

Someone from central casting, yesterday.
Cameron’s attempted removal of Dacre was founded solely on a mutual enmity between the two.  Dacre’s loathing of Cameron began with the setting up of Leveson inquiry, while Cameron’s dislike stems from the treatment his government received from such a guttersnipe.  Events, motive and even momentum are clear – this is a story with limited legs given that David Cameron no longer enjoys a position within the UK’s poltical hierarchy.  The same cannot be said about the alleged ‘silencing’ of Wings and Spanner fanboy Daisley – surely the only person in the country to like both ‘personalities’.

Perceived wisdom dictates that the SNP MP’s John Nicholson & Peter Wishart both raised concerns about some of Daisley’s output to his bosses at STV.  One could surmise, if they weren’t in the mood for research, that Daisley’s more SNP critical output would have been the centre of the two MP’s concerns.  That Daisley then, firstly disappeared from STV’s website and then parted company with STV raised the hackles of pretend concerned citizens.  People like J K Rowling and the Observer’s Nick Cohen (writing in The Spectator...), who firmly believe that Daisley was the victim of some vile ‘nat’ plot to silence him.  If only Daisley hadn’t previously shown himself to possess, shall we say unfashionable views.

We could start with his fanboy style patronage of a certain Bath based pro-Scottish Independence website, culminating with a slot guest editing the blog for a day.  We could also include his patronage of the ‘Brian Spanner’ twitter page.  If you’ve never come across this fictitious character, he’s Wings for a pro-Union audience with much more explicitly misogynistic language. And that’s saying something.  It’s likely that it was Daisley’s re-tweeting of one of Spanner’s more off colour rants, while logged in under the STV banner, which sealed his fate rather than some pieces criticising the SNP government. 

The thing that we should be concentrating on however is Daisley’s pro-Israel views, his tweets and his columns in the last weeks of his tenor at STV were undoubtedly written through this filter.  If we were to go back far enough, this gives his ‘Hunky Jim’ tweets a new angle.  The ‘Jim’ being the former Eastwood Labour MP and former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy.  Murphy, it shouldn’t be forgotten is a member of the right wing transatlantic think tank the Henry Jackson Society and has previously expressed pro-Israel views firmly in line with US foreign policy on the subject.  Rather than cutesy ‘man crush’ tweets, the ‘Hunky Jim’ tweets look more like appreciation of a kindred spirit.

The absurd thing about the Daisley thing for me is that I’d had Daisley pegged as a one eyed ‘Wings’ acolyte…  but that was before the A Thousand Flowers piece outing Daisley as a self confessed Zionist.  On close inspection of that and Daisley’s subsequent output you’d find cause for concern & complaint if you resided on the left of the Scottish political spectrum.  The SNP, to all intents and purposes look to be big enough and ugly enough to brush off any criticisms, even if some of their supporters seem a tad thin skinned if the use of the #SNPbad hashtag is anything to go by.  The Scottish Green’s on the other hand maybe not, and might have suffered from Daisley’s targeting of their equalitarian and pro-life agenda.

The Daisley affair would have been seen as yet another embarrassing episode of London based media types looking at something happening here and getting the wrong end of the stick.  Even Private Eye managed to print the story and go for the ‘opinion writer silenced by dastardly Nats’ angle rather than the ‘opinion writer loses the plot’ angle, which is more likely to have happened.  If memory serves he kind of lost it about the time of Labour’s supposed anti-Semitic period.  That really should have been that for someone with an interesting world view.  However, like the wronged party in a breakup, Daisley has brought this episode up again.  It seems somehow fitting that his new home is the Daily Mail.  Maybe Daisley swapped tips with his new editor on how to survive political interference….

On reading the piece, it reads more like the petulant ranting of a teenager.  Lashing out at his former employers at Pacific Quay, Cosgrove’s description of Daisley on Radio Scotland as a troll seems apt as his future targets are gently lined up alongside his previous favourite subjects.  This early on, you can tell that Daisley has been signed up with the sole function of destroying ‘Civic Scotland’ with the Third Sector being lined up as Daisley’s initial targets.  Maybe Dacre’s hatred of anything Cameronian spills over to our Third Sector, which looks not a million miles away from Cameron’s vision of the ‘Big Society’. Whatever the motivation, Daisley’s appointment looks like the foundation stone to a full cheerleading role for the Daily Mail in what looks likely to be a tilt at Bute House for Ruth Davidson.

However it’s not that Daisley’s piece doesn’t raise questions, these are the same issues that anyone with a brain can identify without the patronage Daisley enjoys.  In particular the SNP’s conservative policy positions and the lack of radical policy making from any of our political parties.  Daisley’s problem is what has gone before.  In criticising the SNP, he airbrushes from history his own love in with Stuart Campbell.  Maybe if Daisley was serious, his first piece should have been a fulsome apology for his arslikahn pieces fulsomely supporting Wings and a musing over what Campbell did with the money he raised through crowd funding.

Like everything else here in Scotland, a complicated thing like the Daisley Affair was brutally simplified through the prism of post-referendum politics.  There is no other version of events allowed than either that he was the victim of a ‘Nat’ plot or that he espoused anti-government views unbefitting of his position as an editor.  There is more to this than meets the eye.  However, now that this story is back, Daisley has decided to go with the legend of being silenced as part of a vast conspiracy. Probably to huge cheers from his celebrity fans and certainly to the detriment of the facts.