Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Party Who’s Moment Has Passed

18th... 19th September. I’m sure I should be blogging about something, hmmmm.

I’m certainly not going to write about Independence, there is nothing else that can be said at the moment about a movement which seems intent on fighting an unwinnable fight, the Tommy Sheridan tribute parade at the weekend changes precisely nothing. If the SNP think that belittling ‘No’ supporters (hint: A key rule in politics is to not belittle potential voters, even if you disagree with their decision the last time) and that 62% of Scots voted to sign up to Jean Claude Junker’s vision of a United States of Europe 15 months ago will lead to an Independent Scotland, then they’re seriously up faeces valley.

Instead of that, or Wales (because I’m not Welsh so don’t really have a viable perspective on their assembly referendum 20 years ago) I’m going to talk about this small party on the brink of political oblivion. It’s the Lib Dem’s conference this week and while it feels like a lifetime ago, it was only two and a bit years ago they were in government. They did have a small but modest recovery in June’s election with a net gain of four seats from 2015. Their problem though is that their moment has now gone and that they don’t really know where to go next.

In the 90’s under Ashdown they presented themselves as a liberal centre ground party, but that was before Blair & New Labour came along and defined ‘Centraism’ in a post Thatcherite political landscape. When Charles Kennedy succeeded Ashdown, he pursued a policy of equidistance from both parties. This policy and New Labour’s movement to the right made the Lib Dem’s appear to be the most left wing of all the main parties. There were rumours that this turn of events did not go down well with Ashdown and his friends that were still in the party at the time.

By the time Kennedy was forced out of the Lib Dem leadership, there was an alternative viewpoint to the Kennedy ‘SDP’ line being formulated. These views and ideas coalesced around the so called Orange Book – a book of essays and think pieces advocating a Lib Dem version of Third way neo-liberalism edited by David Laws and featuring pieces by newly elected MP’s Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg. In this respect, a coalition between a Lib Dem party led by an Orange Booker, such as Clegg, and the Blair influenced Cameron & Osborne should have looked like a highly likely prospect in the event of a hung parliament. And so that passed.

The problem for the Lib Dem’s is that thanks to those Orange Bookers, their moment in the sun passed with very little in the way of influence. There are two policies that they can point at with justification as being Lib Dem policies, but they are intrinsically Tory minded policies. The first is the policy of raising the tax threshold at the bottom of the wage structure – cutting taxes being a Conservative aspiration. The other Tory aspiration is the cutting of regulation therefore the reforms to Pension regulations fits nicely into that narrative. Other than that, their reputation is of being doormat’s in the face of Tory attacks on.

Fast forward to the election of 2017 and we see that the Lib Dem’s have a very real problem. Since they lost almost 50 seats in the 2015 election, there has been a cleaving of the political landscape. Labour has hit the reset button – to much resistance from their own Neo-Liberal wing –and are in the process of re-emerging as a party of the left once more. The Tories are also in the process of resetting themselves as a party of the right, with the issue of leadership a piece in their jigsaw still to be placed (among other pieces still in the box). The Lib Dem’s remain as a resolutely pro-EU pro-Centre ground party at a time when both standpoints are not popular.

You would have thought that the Lib Dem’s pledge for a second EU referendum, to ratify the terms of divorce would have proved to be a popular policy given that just under half of the country voted to remain within the EU. Apparently not if the small increases in seats is anything to go by. Indeed, any examination of the seats gained would leave us to wonder what would have happened to the Lib Dem’s if they weren’t the beneficiaries of the SNP’s own poor campaign. As a result, a campaign which saw net gains (but below what was clearly expected) saw the Lib Dem’s force out their own leader within a week of the June election.

Farron’s replacement is the man formally known as the Sage of Twickenham, Vince Cable (above). The man who keeps telling us he saw the financial crash coming, even though those in the know (like for example, my ex) saw it coming as well. It’s just they didn’t have media profile or a natty line in juxtaposing Mr Bean and Stalin within witty repartee. For a politician who is intent in recasting himself as a keeper of the liberal flame, he has a hell of a lot of work to do to rebuild his own reputation. Never mind his party’s fortunes.

As the Business Secretary, he caved in to the Taxpayers Alliance’s campaign to scrap the consumer regulator, Consumer Focus, and sanctioned the scrapping of the act which gave it the statutory powers it had, dumping them on the near charity Citizens Advice Bureau. Cable also sanctioned the across the board slashing of regulations, including building and health & safety regulations. Many on the left and some Lib Dem’s tried to pin the scrapping of regulations which (it is alleged) led to the Grenfell fire on Sajid Javed. In truth it was Cable which sanctioned this.

With both Labour and the Tories looking to reset themselves and so called ‘centralists’ on both sides looking to set up a new party entirely rather than swap parties, the Lib Dem’s look more and more lost and irrelevant. Cable and Willie Rennie’s claims that power for them is around the corner would be laughable if it wasn’t made seriously. Clegg might have taken the Lib Dem’s into power, but as they gather in Bournemouth this week that decision to sup with the devil looks more and more like a turning point in the history of the Liberal Democrats.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Devolution Britain At 20

We seem to be going through a phase at the moment where we are seeing all sorts of nostalgia for 1997. A couple of weeks ago we saw various reminiscences of the most famous drink driving car crash in history, while last week BBC Parliament repeated 1997’s other so called ‘JFK’ moment. Including the moment that has given it’s name to all subsequent high profile electoral casualties at the moment of defeat – the Portillo moment. We have also seen people revisit, thanks to an appearance at Glastonbury in June, Radiohead’s critically acclaimed/criminally overrated (delete where appropriate) album from that year.
Blair, Dewar and McConnell greet pro-devolution supporters in Edinburgh's Parliament
Square, post result: Friday 12 September 1997

One moment that seems to have evaded the nostalgists, except for viewers in Scotland (of course), is the moment where devolution began to be made flesh. Twenty years on from those twin referendum’s it is forgotten how controversial they were. But then again, there is an awful lot that is forgotten about the development of what became the Scottish Parliament.

Labour were of course, late converters to the Devolution cause. Seeing it more as something to stymie the rise in support for the SNP in the aftermath of the two General Elections in 1974, Labour then put together and proposed assemblies in Wales and Scotland. Both were put to their respective electorates in the winter of 1979, but with the campaign taking place among the backdrop of the so called ‘Winter of Discontent’ it’s debatable if the climate was conducive to a positive outcome. As a result the Welsh proposals were dismissed by their electorate. The Scottish assembly won by 51.6% to 48.6%. However thanks to a key intervention by the Islington (Labour) MP George Cunningham who successfully got his motion passed (on of all days, Burns Night 1978) stating that if less than 40% of the electorate voted yes then this ‘Scotland Act’ should be brought back to parliament for repeal. At 63.8% turnout, that 51.6% vote looked more like a third of the Scottish electorate and failed the 40% rule. The ensuing arguments brought about the fall of the Callaghan government within four weeks of the Assembly referendum and a resulting General Election which provided Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives with a 44 seat majority.

As Thatcher’s brand of Friedman/Hayek inspired Monetarism became more and more toxic here in Scotland, devolution gradually came back into fashion. A cross party, cross society, constitutional convention was set up in the late 80’s. The only people who did not contribute was the Scottish Tories, who instantly set their face against devolution, and the SNP, who at that point did not see a roadmap to Independence through devolution. It is strange to remember that the SNP spent most of the 80’s and 90’s disdainfully dismissing devolution. When Labour eventually won, and it became clear that there would be a referendum campaign, the SNP were wise to set aside their misgivings and campaign for a Scottish parliament.

Ah, the referendum. As the late Donald Dewar observed, the Scottish Parliament had become the settled will of the Scottish people by the time Blair had succeeded the late John Smith. It was therefore a shock and a surprise to see that Blair intended to hold twin referendums on both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. As Blair pointed out in his book though, this was a tactic designed to make the passage through parliament easier, not to thwart the desires of the Scottish People – “As the legislation to devolve trundled through Westminster, I knew the only way we could avoid the trap that previous governments had fallen into was to negate the possibility of the legislation being sabotaged by the House of Lords... The tactic was obvious: get the people to say yes, then the lords could not say no.”

At the time though, this tactic went above some people as it became rather controversial and somewhat set the template of Blair’s opinion of us. Being Scottish, going to school here and being brought up here, Blair felt like an alien in his own country, thanks in no small thanks to our own inferiority sensibility, or as he put it our chipiness. The other thought I had at the time was that this was Labour laying to rest some ghosts from 1979. In the event, Blair’s election in the May of 1997 meant that there would be significant changes to the UK constitution and that those twin referendum were now pencilled in for the 11th and the 18th September 1997.

If memory serves, it was all too obvious that we would vote for a Scottish Parliament. There were two areas where there was some doubt. The second question on the ballot paper was on whether the parliament should have tax varying powers. Pre-Indyref and pre-Calman, the original proposals were that the tax raising powers only extended to 3% difference either way. There was doubt over whether this proposal would gain approval from the Scottish electorate. The other doubt being that campaigning was essentially curtailed for a week thanks to the death of Diana in that aforementioned accident. We’ve since had campaigning curtailed by the death of Jo Cox and terrorist incidents in Manchester and London but this was the first time that campaigning was suspended in this way. The worry was whether and how would this impact on voting. In the end we shouldn’t have worried.

Scottish Devolution Referendum, 11 September 1997
Should there be A Scottish Parliament?1,775,045 (74.3%)614,200 (25.7%)
Should the Scottish Parliament have tax varying powers?1,512,889 (63.5%)870,263 (36.5%)
Turnout 60.43%

Now, looking back at that referendum, there are two thoughts that occur. The first is that while we wouldn’t want to get rid of the Scottish Parliament, there is an element of disappointment about the Scottish Parliament as a radical transformative force. Say what you like about Scottish Labour (and I’d generally agree with you) but at least they can point at some sort of legacy. Donald Dewar scrapped Clause 28, in the teeth of vicious opposition from home-grown religious fundamentalists. Henry McLeish brought in Free Care for the Elderly, in the teeth of opposition from his own party. The longest lasting of Labour’s three First Ministers, Jack McConnell brought in the smoking ban. However both Scottish Labour and the SNP have looked to protect and manage public services, but not looked at ways of making them better. Meanwhile the SNP ducked out of reforming local authority financing because, firstly they couldn’t make Local Income Tax work and then lost faith in that policy.

This of course is the frustrating thing about the SNP. Among all of our parties, their values have the highest ambition, national self determination. Yet as we found out during the Independence referendum campaign they didn’t really articulate very well what they would do differently – save for some corporation tax cuts and giving power away to Brussels and to Threadneedle Street. The really interesting and radical policy manoeuvres came from The Common Weal and Radical Independence Groups. Organisations that the SNP hierarchy would only touch with a long stick and the SNP supporting Macblogosphere have recently started to try to discredit. Now that Independence is in the long grass (until it becomes feasible and winnable), the SNP have started to do what they should have been doing two years ago, and kitefly desirable policies. On the one hand it is to be welcomed that there will be new Social Security powers to tackle inequality, free care and childcare will be extended. On the other while record investment is needed in the NHS, surely we should be looking at NHS reform & reorganisation to see if the NHS can be run better. If anything, the running sore which is GGHB’s treatment of the RAH is proof that the NHS is something that needs to be looked at, not treated as a sacred cow.

The people who should be looking back with interest at events 20 years ago are the current occupants of Bute House. As I’ve said previously and in previous posts, Indyref 2 is simply not winnable at this moment. Three years is still fresh in the memory and in most people’s minds nothing has really changed. Yes the First Minister and her supporters talk of material change having taken place last June, in the minds of most voters however this material change has not happened. The second thought that occurs is that the SNP really should be aiming to take inspiration and emulate what the campaign for a Scottish Parliament achieved twenty years ago. Independence as the settled will of the Scottish People, and on those percentage points, should be the target.

How they do that is really for the SNP to decide. Here though it’s worth reiterating some thoughts I’ve had both here and on twitter. It should be a broad campaign, not afraid to make contradictory left wing and right wing arguments. The SNP should not be front and centre of the campaign (James MacKenzie first made this point in the aftermath of the first Independence referendum & it’s something I completely agree with). Some right wing endorsements for Independence might not be a bad thing (is Michael Fry seriously the only right wing person in Scotland who supports Independence?). The arguments (from whichever wing) should be completely and utterly bombproof and in particular the economic argument. Though if there is anything that can be learned from the EU referendum it is that dry economic figures can be trumped (apologies for the use of that phrase) by making the link to people’s real lives. Maybe pro-Independence campaigners could use graphs and charts. After all, it seems to work for Kevin Hague...

More than Blair’s victory and the death of Diana, the twin referendums here and in Wales (followed by the Good Friday agreement) did more to change the UK than those two previous events. It has changed us, I may be disappointed at Holyrood, but that’s the failings of Holyrood politicians. It has also changed England as it has somehow become easier for the London based media to not cover events here with the nadir being McConnell’s win in 2003 garnering very little coverage in the network news. SNP victories seem to gather much more interest (can’t think why...) while coverage of the Independence referendum merely showed how ignorant the London based media were of events here. For as long as we remain within the UK, Holyrood should remain a part of the political architecture of this country and be allowed to evolve and thrive. Any attempts to remove or neuter Holyrood would therefore be akin to playing with fireworks in a garage forecourt. Be warned Teresa May.

Monday, 4 September 2017

No Job For A Novice

In among all of the heartfelt tributes to Dugdale, even from her political enemies, there were two observations missing. It is perhaps true that the leadership was foisted upon the young Dugdale or at the very least she took on the challenge of winning the leadership and then the job itself perhaps reluctantly. This does not excuse however what a poor leader she was and that her stunning inexperience shone at every opportunity.

Attacking Corbyn, ‘SNPBad-ism’, and adopting a hard line Unionist tack in the three elections she was leader all showed a leader not experienced enough to develop her own ideas. With Corbyn, it would have been prudent to have stayed silent on the subject and not claim he was unelectable (or at the very least abstain from doing your political enemies job for them, a task the Progress wingers seemed unable to resist doing when it came to Corbyn). On attacking the SNP, there should (as I pointed out at the time) have been policy ideas designed to ensure the attacks on the SNP were not just for the sake of attacks on the SNP. On the issue of a second Independence referendum, I’m just simply not convinced that there are that many votes on the left in out-Torying the Tories on this policy. It is noticeable however that the surge in votes from the SNP to Labour came when the First Minister herself said that Indyref 2 would not be an issue in that election.

That’s not to say she was poor all of the time, indeed arguably she was a harbinger of Labour’s wider left turn with her call for tax increases during the 2016 Holyrood elections. The problem with that call was that thanks to the evolving devolution settlements, tax increases were across the board and not targeted at higher earners. The policy workaround of a tax rebate fell apart under scrutiny as it was found to be unlawful. This policy was Dugdale’s big missed opportunity, and a missed opportunity for the country as a whole to debate taxation as the resultant campaign played out with the SNP successfully (as it turned out) making the argument that they were standing up for Scottish tax payers.

Mind you, maybe those criticisms are harsh. After all a lot of the left/Labour people I’ve spoken to think warmly towards her. A colleague in work said he wasn’t surprised she’d gone, her best friend had died and she’d had her private life publicised in the newspapers, it was no surprise that this had affected her. It’s somewhat telling that, as someone more leftwing than me, he did say that he rather liked her. With those circumstances in mind and the fact that “Scottish” Labour looks in much better health than it did in the aftermath of the 2015 Election near wipe-out, perhaps those criticisms are harsh. Then we remember that one of the other members of the intake from the 2011 Holyrood elections was another young female politician who also became a party leader and that two posts ago I was talking about as possibly the next first minister. Perhaps it’s better for you dear reader to judge if comparisons between Dugdale and Ruth Davidson are entirely fair.

The second observation missing is that Scottish Labour is, to all intents and purposes, still run by ‘Progress wing’ people. All the talk by London based commentators seems to have missed this in the aftermath of Corbyn’s mini tour of Scottish ‘super-marginal’s’. The (mis) calculation being made being that Corbyn’s visit followed by Dugdale’s departure must mean some sort of putsch. While it is true that there is now a growing ‘Momentum’ presence within Scottish Labour, Dugdale’s resignation has deprived them of the time to get their respective ducks into line. Rather inadvertently, Dugdale has ensured a ‘continuity Progress’ candidate will be her successor.

The hot favourite therefore will be the former Glasgow Central MP and current List MSP and Health spokesperson Anas Sarwar. He was Deputy Leader to Johann Lamont during the Independence referendum campaign, he was one of the people shredded by the SNP’s then Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon during Scotland Tonight’s referendum debates during the 2013/14 period. It remains to be seen if his debating skills have improved. That he will be the next leader probably won’t be in doubt, given he was seen at Corbyn’s rallies pressing the flesh, shoehorned Corbyn’s name into his Sunday Mail piece at every opportunity and may pitch himself as the unity candidate. Whether he should be the next leader is another question entirely.

Apart from being shredded by Alex Salmond’s anointed successor, Sarwar I suspect will simply repeat many of the mistakes of the Dugdale months. The top of that list would be a reaffirming of strident opposition to a second Independence referendum (in spite of the prospect of said referendum disappearing quicker than the EU’s ‘diplomatic face’). Of course, as Sarwar is a key architect of ‘SNPBad’ then we would have that back. I’d suspect that as a Progress winger, some of Dugdale’s well intentioned but doubtless knee jerk left wing policy moves will be for the bin too, which would be an opportunity not taken as the SNP might be quite vulnerable there since they’ve moved to a fiscally right wing position.

So far Sarwar has not declared his candidature. At this moment the only runner and rider in this contest is the party’s economy spokesperson Richard Leonard. One of the 2016 intake at Holyrood, Leonard’s background is from the unions and he is firmly on the left of the party. I must admit that I don’t think I’ve seen him before either on television or heard him on the radio so I can’t really tell if he’d be any good or not. It is however very pleasing that the left will have a dog in this fight.

When Dugdale was elected, I wrote that she was the most inexperienced person to have taken on such a high profile job. That Labour have recovered their position is not something I think you can ascribe as her legacy (indeed Scottish Labour’s vote increase in June was only the second election since 1997 where Labour’s vote went up in Scotland, the other election being 2010). Any legacy I suppose would begin and end with stopping the rot. With the glimpses of sympathies towards Scottish independence and her relationship with an SNP MSP, for the first time the story of a resignation may not just play out into the succession battlefield but what happens next with Ms Dugdale.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Holocaust, Climate Change, GERS?

Of all the things which lost the last Independence Referendum for the SNP, the thing near the top of the list would have been the SNP’s failure to win the economic argument.  Anything that the SNP said or planned to say was instantly obscured by their nonsensical policy of adopting the English Pound as currency.  So far, things are altogether different.

If you got past the currency issue, the SNP tended to promise all things to all people.  They offered Scandinavian style social and public service policies, which would be built not on high direct taxation (like the Scandinavians do) but on an Anglo-American model of low direct and corporate taxation.  The people driving Salmond’s vision of Irish levels of corporation tax was the pro-business Business For Scotland.  The high profile members during the referendum, namely Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp and Michelle Thomson, put forward visions of an independent Scotland reliant on low business taxes.  In other words, they were disciples of the cult of Laffer – Arthur Laffer’s theory is that there is a point where increasing tax rates will become counter productive has been replaced by a theory that lower tax rates will somehow bring higher tax revenues.

The claims that Business For Scotland made might have been feasible claims, but without any workings on show, they looked outlandish.  Although Business for Scotland were mostly up against the might of the pro-Union parties, it was the blogger Kevin Hague, and his methodical posts outlining how and why Independence could (potentially) not work and debunking BFS which, essentially torpedoed BFS’ credibility.  So much so that, I do believe that the vestiges of BFS’s credibility can still be located somewhere down the back of Hague’s sofa.  Hague’s posts, particularly on the GERS figures, made him a cause celebre among the London centric Progress supporting elites.  Personally, I thought Hague’s posts to be the benchmark for the economic debate we should be having, even if I disagreed with his conclusions that a £9 billion black hole in the finances (at that point) meant that we couldn’t be independent – my own thoughts being that the deficit would only be the jumping off point and that dealing with the fiscal black hole should be an election issue in the first Scottish General election.  After all, there are smaller independent countries with less advantages than Scotland would have that have made a successful go of being independent.

With great irony, another critic of the Scottish Government’s fixation on low Corporation Taxes in the belief that they generate wealth was one Richard Murphy.  A long time campaigner for fair taxation and the closure of tax loopholes, Murphy began writing a series of posts in relation to the Tax Gap – the shortfall between tax expected and tax collected and received by HMRC.  One of Murphy’s arguments has been with HMRC, who have been slow to provide accurate numbers or had obfuscated Murphy’s attempts to find out what the exact size of the Tax Gap was.  Several years ago, Murphy estimated that the tax gap could be as high as £119.4 billion, of late HMRC have claimed that they have the tax gap under control.  Murphy remains sceptical and has continued to question the competency and the veracity of HMRC.

Surprisingly, the tax gap issue did not cross into the referendum debate.  At a time when HMRC prepared figures were being used by the Scottish Government and then fed into arguments over whether Scotland could afford to become independent, it was somewhat strange to see widespread acceptance of those figures at a point when HMRC were being accused of not being effective enough in gathering tax and spinning figures to hide the extent of the problem.  After all, if the £119.4 billion figure, which HMRC refused to confirm only saying the true figure was lower, is close to the truth then it would impact on the GERS figures.  This means that Scotland’s tax take could potentially be a lot healthier.

That Murphy then has a reputation for challenging HMRC’s figures should not have been a shock to pro-Union campaigners.  What is surprising is that the intervention in relation to the GERS figures came from Murphy himself.  Granted, it would have taken the mother and father of all reverse ferrets for the Scottish Government, however both the wider “Yes” supporting community and Business for Scotland should have made this argument.  In the wake of Murphy’s posts on GERS, both groups look to be spectators in an argument they should be in the thick of.

That intervention in the spring had essentially lit the fuse on the economic debate ahead of an at that point likely second Independence referendum.  Murphy’s posts make two arguments, continuing the tax gap argument over HMRC’s poor data gathering into specific country-by-country data that is the GERS figures themselves and by highlighting that the GERS figures themselves are “estimates”.

Yip, you read that right.  HMRC’s figure gathering does not extend to accurate figures on region/country by region/country tax receipts so all figures are estimates.

Of course, Hague does have a point that most economists produce estimates and forecasts.  The problem is that the forecast debt/deficit for Scotland on day one of Independence is not reported as forecasts or estimates.  Hague’s produced figures are reported and circulated as cold sober fact.  The pro-Union politicians talk up those figures as fact.  Pro-union journalists, including friends of Hague in the national media (yes, you Nick Cohen and you John Rentoul), talk of a profligate Scottish government running up a debt in the billions as if the Scottish Government had those powers...  with those figures as fact.  Indeed, there is something of a cottage industry surrounding these factually reported estimates that it is often forgotten that alongside the figures being estimates that economists are not the one homogenous group thinking the same thoughts.  They have different thoughts and different opinions.  As an example, Monetarism still divides opinion, though not as much as it did when it formed the economic centrepieces of the nascient Thatcher and Regan administrations.

That fact seems to have evaded Hague as any time the ‘estimates’ line is raised with him on Twitter, he deliberately attempts to denigrate Murphy’s work and smugly shows off the people who agree with him without any attempt at discourse.  On Murphy’s more pertinent point, if there was no tax gap then how does Hague explain away the conduct of one Dave Hartnett.  Consultant at Deloitte, former Permanent Secretary of Tax at HMRC and the person responsible for HMRC’s notorious sweetheart deals with such companies as Vodaphone.  HMRC not being fit for purpose regarding cracking down on tax avoidance has been a regular fixture of the pages of Private Eye for years, and yet Hague and his increasingly Wings-esque union jack brandishing supporters seem oblivious to this and HMRC’s other failings while they trumpet statistical estimates as cast iron fact in a fashion that Stuart Campbell would be proud of.

I had started this post in April and had thought of the title at the time as Hague had taken to calling pro-Independence supporters “GERS deniers”.  A couple of weeks ago, during a spat with your’s truly, he went as far as drawing parallels with climate change sceptics, holocaust deniers and GERS sceptics. Instead of discourse, Hague attempt’s to lure people into a cut’s versus tax argument.  All very Osbornesque, intolerant and deeply petulant.

The problem with Hague’s tax versus spend argument is that the question of what you’d cut, a favourite question among pro-union econo.. coment... bloggers, is a simplistic one.  Independence means the opportunity to start afresh and raise revenue that would be to the benefit of the Scottish people and not be tied to the structures of the UK’s tax architecture.  Looking at how we gather money in, it must surely be in the interests of Independence supporters to look at ways of raising living standards as a whole and raise the income tax take purely through higher wages and generating jobs rather than glib 'We could all have had a bar of gold if we were independent' thinkpieces from MacIntyre-Kemp.  After 10 years of stagnant wage growth, an average wage of £27,820 seems a tad small (even if this is just above the UK average).  Of course the other area that could be looked at could be some form of land tax system.  Of which the Scottish Greens no doubt have several thoughts on that subject.

Much like everything else in Scottish politics, this debate is deeply coloured by the debate on Independence where everything is either right or wrong depending on where you sit on the great divide.  While we do not need Hague’s penchant for hallucinogenic graphs to tell us that Independence would be a bumpy ride at the start – and for that matter the SNP & BFS’s disingenuousness on this subject only feeds the cult of Hague.  We surely should have known before Murphy’s spring intervention that HMRC as a tax gathering and tax reporting organisation is simply not fit for purpose.  What Murphy has successfully done therefore is to create reasonable doubt surrounding the GERS figures.  Something the combined forces of the SNP and Business for Scotland failed to do in 2014.

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Next First Minister?

Of all the reaction’s I had received from last month’s record breaking post, the most thought provoking was one from Ergasiophobe who wondered if the infighting which infects losing parties would infect the SNP.  Thought provoking because I hadn’t thought about any internal disputes regarding the SNP.

The daddy of political splits and acrimony is still the Labour Party, It somehow seems astonishing that they should put on 10% points in the middle of something you can describe as a civil war.  We do forget though that the SNP have had periods in the past with serious disagreements over direction.  The most serious being in the early 1980’s when the SNP has a classic left versus right split.  More pertinently there has also been a split between ‘the gradualists’ – people who believed that the route to Independence was a process and that the best route was through a Scottish Parliament and powers coming to that parliament – and the ‘fundamentalists’ – people who want Independence yesterday. This debate rumbled on within the SNP for years and was only won by the ‘gradualists’ in the mid 1990’s when the possibility of a Scottish Parliament became real.  Except that now in the post Indyref climate, everyone in the SNP is pretty much a fundamentalist.

In this respect, there looks as if there are two potential flashpoints that could trigger some infighting or introspection.  The most likely point being the loss of Indyref 2, which as I’ve discussed previously looks less and less winnable in the light of the SNP’s rush to tie EU membership to the Independence question.  The other flashpoint of a possible SNP civil war breaking out would be a possible defeat at the next Holyrood elections in 2020. Of course, we have seen some disagreements among SNP members since the election with SNP members (most recently the former MP Michelle Thompson) noticing that there are issues with the party’s Chief Executive being married to the party’s leader.  If it’s taken SNP members nigh on three years for that particular penny to drop, then we better get used to a long wait for the SNP to discuss elections that they’ve lost.

That there is now outright contemplation of the end of the first SNP government at Holyrood is an indication of the trouble that the SNP are in.  Never mind a second Independence referendum, there is the possibility of the SNP being turfed out in three years time.  Scotland’s own Mystic Moog, George Laird, at the start of the month predicted that Ruth Davidson would be Scotland’s next First Minister.  It is a brave prediction, not because Davidson won’t for certain be the next First Minister but because it’s not certain at this point that the SNP have done enough to have lost the next election.

For Davidson to win, we would obviously need to see some policies and an indication of what the Tories would do with the tax powers.  A repeat of the mantra to vote Tory to stop Indyref 2 will simply not be enough to propel Davidson into Bute House.  One thing you can count on will be that Davidson will be helped along the way by her cheerleader in chief, STV’s former IT comment person and the only person in Scotland to be a fanboy of both Wings and Spanner. There are, however, two other roadblocks to a Tory win.

Firstly and probably more importantly there is the performance from now until Election Day of the incumbent government.  While the SNP have taken the important step of putting a second Independence referendum on the backburner (where it should remain until either the SNP figure out how to win or it becomes winnable) how the SNP use the next 3-4 years will be key.  Top of the must do list should be not simply to get back to the day job but to get and retain a firm grip on the job of government.  This is two distinctly different things.  Doing the so called day job has been what the SNP have been doing since...  well 2011.  What they have not been doing is gripping the job, focusing on it firmly and being completely on top of the job.  Without the distraction of Independence, would the SNP have let education standards slide as an example.  It is really for this reason that Keith Brown is slowly emerging as, if not the heir apparent then certainly the most likely successor to Nicola Sturgeon given his steady handling of his brief at Transport & now as Scotland’s Economy minister.

The other thing that the SNP can control is of course public policy.  For all that Baby Boxes is a good sound idea...  it was the only real policy the SNP had during the last Holyrood elections.  There is a real debate to be had about reform of education and the NHS, especially pertinent given the silence emanating from Edinburgh regarding the fate of the RAH’s children’s ward, and the SNP are in prime position to start and shape that debate.  That they have not in 10 years of government adds fuel to the fire that the SNP government only wish to conserve our public services and are not interested in looking at ways where they could work better.  Sooner or later, that disinterest in reform will come back to haunt the SNP.  Quite possibly when the decision regarding the RAH is announced.

The second roadblock for Davidson will be the fate of Scottish Labour.  We saw a flavour during the election just how badly the hierarchy of Scottish Labour judged the electorate by sidelining a campaign which gathered votes in England in favour of aping the Tories ‘Tough of national self determination and tough on the causes of national self determination’ message.  If they continue along the lines of ‘SNPBad’ and continue to relentlessly criticise the SNP without putting forward any constructive critiques or policies, then you will really fancy Davidson’s chances of pushing the SNP.

However, if Scottish Labour stop trying to out ‘Yoon’ the Tories and advocate more left wing policies (sidelining the ‘No to Indyref 2’ line, saying it’s up to the Scottish people) then you could see Lauren’s “red shoots” flower into a full tilt itself at Bute House, knocking the Tories back into third place.  The one problem with this is that Scottish Labour is still very much dominated by Progress wing people who do not get Corbyn or Momentum-ism.  The very people who thought they should be running a locally focused election campaign rather than one based on Corbyn’s policies.

This fear of Corbynism also explains why SNP supporters online have turned their fire on Corbyn, he is ‘apparently’ no friend of Scotland for not wanting a second Independence referendum and for supporting Trident.  That it is his party that does want Trident renewal (Corbyn himself is not in favour of it) and that the public support Trident (or some sort of nuclear deterrent) seems to have bypassed those SNP supporters.  Similarly that Scotland is itself split on the subject of a second Independence referendum seems to have not registered with those selfsame people.  The adoption of negative arguments by SNP supporters is designed to obscure the rather bare policy cupboard that the SNP have.  If anything, it is Scottish Labour that have the policy ideas, nationalising Scotrail once Abello’s franchise is complete and putting up taxes to protect public services.  Whether they are the correct policies, or as well formed as they should be is another matter but at least there is a sort of policy debate from Scottish Labour.

Scottish Labour still has a long way to go before they are capable of putting their leader into Bute House.  Their issues though are not as insurmountable as that for the Tories and Davidson.  There is still a large constituency in Scotland where the Tories are utter poison for their role in destroying Scottish heavy industry and working class culture.  That reason above all means that the next occupant of Bute House is more likely to be Keith Brown than Ruth Davidson.

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.