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Friday, 22 May 2015

What if ……?

We won a landslide victory, gaining 56 seat out of 59 , almost 95% of the Westminster Scottish seats. The three main unionist parties are each reduced to a token single member in the Commons. This is unprecedented, and the benefits are very tangible indeed.

Westminster benefits of having 56 SNP MPs

Scottish National Party will chair the UK Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and Scottish Affairs Select Committee. However, there were earlier indications that Tories and Labour will attempt to abolish the Scottish Affairs Committee.

The party will be entitled to £6 million over the next Parliament because it took so many seats in the election. It will receive between £1 and £1.2 million from the Treasury each year in what is known as short money.

The GE2015 landslide vote is not a mandate for a referendum” NICOLA

If more than 50% of the electorate voting for a party committed to independence get 94.9% of the seats for their country is not a virtual mandate for independence, what would be?

(I covered some possibilities in my May 1st blog before the election.)

Nicola's argument, quite deliberately, rather dances round this key point, by saying that some very significant event or events - e.g. BREXIT - the exit of UK from the EU - would be required to reactivate the question of a referendum. She rests her assertion on the related facts that 

1) the manifesto did not commit to a referendum and did not make independence a core issue, and

2) a proportion of the electorate voting SNP (unknown) must have included voters who voted NO in the 2014 referendum and still firmly wish to remain part of UK

That group had every right to vote in the belief that, although they were voting for a party whose core long-term objective is independence, the Scottish electorate firmly rejected independence on September 18th 2014 and the SNP accepted that democratic result, and both the former and the current First Ministers had expressed personal views that there would be no referendum in a generation, however one defines that. But those views were personal, albeit widely shared, and they could not bind the people of Scotland, as both Nicola and Alex Salmond have subsequently stated.

NICOLA “The People decide

Although Nicola is right to say that, democratically, the people decide on independence in a referendum, their ability to do so only comes if the independence party they support explicitly commits to independence during the lifetime of the Scottish Parliament - if elected - in their manifesto before the 2016 election. (The People, in practice, decide very little, except at the ballot box, and once in a while, during revolutions!)

In other words, if  Nicola and the Party place such a commitment in the 2016 Holyrood manifesto and win decisively, the aggregate case for an independence referendum would be well-nigh unanswerable.

She won't, because whatever these figure say about a mandate to call a referendum, there is no certainty that she would win. Alex Salmond,  a risk-taker and a gambler, took the political gamble in the 2011 manifesto - and was right to do so. The risk is huge – another NO vote would kill independence aspirations stone dead – or lead to something that no one would care to predict …

We came close to winning. But Nicola is not a political gambler: she will only take carefully judged risks with a high chance of success in the light of the previous failure. She will seek to get more powers, something close to federalism, and will postpone independence till Scotland is independent in all but defence and foreign affairs.

The $64,000 question is - will the SNP’s massive membership permit the Party to exclude such a commitment from the 2016 manifesto or will they pass branch resolutions demanding one?

Nicola's authority and popularity are at their very peak right now, but another mood may develop which, while retaining respect for her and her authority, begins to lose the fan/celebrity awe – a mood in which members are prepared to constructively flex  branch muscles, and democratically question strategy.  That, after all, is how party democracy is supposed to operate.

Will it happen? Who knows? Despite the massive membership, as any Branch Chair or Secretary knows, at any given time only a small minority of members are actively committed to attending branch meetings and influencing branch democracy. But in the SNP, on key decisions, the entire branch can vote online or by post, as for example on the selection of candidates for election.

Additionally and perhaps crucially, there are still campaigning organisations out there committed to independence who are not necessarily SNP supporters or members, e.g. Radical Independence, Common Weal, the Scottish Socialist Party, and party politically unaligned activists and voters, and also supporters and members of nominally unionist parties who nonetheless may support full independence or devomax or federalism within UK.

Depending how event unfold in the next 11 months, and dependent on how Scottish Labourand its ousted MPs – re-group and re-define themselves, all sorts of possibilities exist.

And of course, there are the trades unions, the STUC and campaigning groups within them, not to mention a number of groups who campaigned for YES banner under a variety of identities.

What we have is an unprecedented and varied mass movement - a mass engagement of the Scottish electorate, with its own hydra-headed structure, united by a core desire for political change in Scotland, but with significantly different views of what it should be and how it should be brought about.

Those who wonder how it will behave in the post-referendum, post-GE2015 phase we are in now, in the 11-month lead-up to the 2016 Parliamentary election might find illumination – or cause for alarm – in Eric Hoffer’s unique 1951 book The True Believer

Interesting times …

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom–Ed or David?

Important message on the continuity of the State during a political hiatus made here. (The role of the State as opposed to the Government is not well understood by the electorate).

But the real insight into the mindset of the bewildered British Establishment comes from The Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, distinguished historian, not a typical member of the British Establishment http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Hennessy but assimilated effortlessly by it.

"Specifically, the northerly wind coming from Scotland .. we haven't really caught up with the way that that northerly wind is the weather maker ... It could produce a lot of resentment on the part of the English, who would feel that we are 80% of the country, we have 80% of the economic activity and we have this endless drizzle of complaint from north of the Cheviots."

Although Lord Hennessy puts these words in the mouths of the English electorate, he chose them. One gets the feeling he stopped just short of saying "north of Hadrian's Wall" and that his choice of words, "drizzle of complaint" etc. reflects his view and those of his class.

In response to Marr saying that either Ed Miliband or David Cameron could be the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he responds

"I find that very difficult to contemplate - but you could be right."

He's astonished that "this most stable of political societies - where you have the occasional domestic row, really -  where liberal capitalism jostled with social democracy as the basis of the electoral contest - would be so complicated that we'd even be contemplating the last Prime Minister of the UK. What have we done to ourselves?"

Lord Hennessy demonstrated by his utter insular bewilderment the dictum, often quoted by Sir Tom Devine, another distinguished historian, that a historian's province is the past, not the present or the future, and that his insular southern bubble view of this disunited kingdom is badly out of date, and has been for a very long time indeed.

Friday, 1 May 2015

SNP 2016 manifesto and a second referendum – that is the question

It’s not on SNP’s agenda, it’s not on Nicola’s agenda, but it’s sure as hell is on the general election debate agenda, because the three main UK party leaders put it there. By using the question of a second Scottish independence referendum as an expedient political football, they have managed to score three own goals -

1. They’ve triggered a UK-wide debate on the independence question, a question that was at best dormant as Scots focused on trying to make UK democracy work for them after the Nationalists after lost the 2014 referendum.

2. They’ve effectively questioned the democratic right of Scots to vote for the party of their choice in a UK election.

3. They’ve catalysed English nationalism, and highlighted the political differences between Scotland and England at the very time they should have been emphasising what unites them.

The 2014 Referendum

The SNP, while reiterating its over-arching objective of independence for Scotland, did not commit to a referendum in its 2007 manifesto. During the four year life of that minority government, despite repeated “bring it on” challenges from Wendy Alexander, Alex Salmond did not set a date for a referendum or call for one, concentrating instead on the high-wire act of running the country as a minority government.

But as the 2011 Holyrood election approached, the strategy changed, and the manifesto included this explicit commitment, if elected, to a referendum bill during the lifetime of the 2011-2016 Parliament, later specified as in the second half of the term.

Ref2011Manifesto

Now, what determined this decision in go for it? Was it a great, popular demand from Scots for a second referendum? Was it a landslide victory in 2007 conferring legitimacy? Was it the outcome of a consultation exercise with the Scottish electorate?

None of these things.  There was no YES campaign, no dynamic grassroots organisation of activists as yet. The 2007 win was narrow, and had shown the possibility of a nationalist government, a giant step in itself, but not a mandate for independence. The national conversation and consultation was in the future, and the great debate on the second question had yet to come. The will of the Scottish people, now much in the mouths of politicians, was anything but clear.

So the decision to go to the electorate with an explicit manifesto commitment to calling an independence referendum if elected was not driven by “the will of the Scottish people” but by a brave political calculation allied to a wish to make it clear to Scots that, if they voted SNP again. they were voting for a government  that was committed to offering them a legal referendum and a democratic choice over Scotland’s future somewhere around late 2013 to mid-2014. (In the event it was September 2014.)

The landslide victory of 2011 on this manifesto could not be interpreted as a mandate for independence, but it undoubtedly was a mandate to offer the people a democratic choice.

On the face of it, therefore, a similar political calculation could be made in drawing up the 2016 manifesto, with considerably more justification – a huge membership, a powerful grassroots organisation and possibly an unprecedented number of MPs elected to Westminster, an outcome that for years unionists repeatedly accepted would be a definitive expression of the will of the Scottish people because they thought it would never happen.

But Nicola Sturgeon, the most powerful and charismatic popular leader the SNP has ever had, now a national and international political figure, backed by a huge party membership, clearly has no such intent – and explicitly rejects the argument that a large bloc of SNP MPs returned to Westminster on May 8th would constitute an argument for independence or a mandate for a second referendum.

Why is this formidable and popular Nationalist politician adopting such a stance?

The answer lies squarely in the fact that there was a referendum in 2014 and we lost it. The Scottish electorate democratically rejected independence, and crying “We wuz robbed!” doesn’t alter that fact.

Nicola believed in 2014, Alex Salmond believed in 2014, (I believed in 2014!) most independence supporters believed in 2014 and most anti-independence supporters believed in 2014 that this was it – our one big chance for, if not a generation, for a helluva long time.

She recognises that, while nationalists feel a great sense of betrayal over the outcome of the referendum, given the sordid way in which the UK Government, the unionist media and Better Together conducted themselves during the campaign, Scots who voted for the Union – a majority – would feel a great sense of betrayal if they were asked to vote again on the question.

In that context, and the context that the independence movement has achieved more since losing the referendum than they did before it, I think Nicola and the SNP strategists have judged that the gradualism of the movement towards greater self-determination for Scotland is a safer bet than another throw of the dice.

Is she right? Are they right?

My answer is probably yes – and I trust her judgement absolutely over my own limited perspective as a voter.

But – and it’s a big but – I’m not sure that position can hold in the face of events changing at exponential speed: politicians do not control events – they respond dynamically to them.

Let’s get this election over, evaluate the outcome and the UK parties responses to it. Let’s give it a chance to work. Big things are at stake, big immediate issues, Trident renewal, austerity, the desperate need for investment to kick start the economy.

It’s a long, long way from May 2015 to May 2016. We have time on our side, and Nicola on our side. Let her play the ball – she has done it superbly so far, and her best days have still to come.

Vote SNP and put your faith in our party leader and Scotland’s First Minister to do the right thing –because doing the right thing is always the right thing to do!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Nicola – fearlessly abseiling down the rock faces of the Union …

I have seen and heard many political performances in my life, from the 1945 general election through to April 2015, including some great ones, but I have never witnessed a flawless one – until yesterday at the Edinburgh International Climbing Centre.

The contrast between Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party and the confused, panic-stricken, contradictory, fact-free, humanity-free utterances of Tory, LibDem, UKIP and Scottish Labour politicians could not have been more starkly evident. Her calm, informed, gently humorous and profoundly human outline of the SNP manifesto and her responses to a wide range of media question could not be really be described as a performance – it was a direct expression of core values, coming straight from an intelligent Scottish heart.

This was not a contrived media persona, but the true face of a warm, vanity-free Scottish woman who patently has no fondness for the limelight or political celebrity, but who endures both as a necessary part of realising the hopes and dreams of Scots, of all ethnic origins and backgrounds who have placed their trust in her and the party she leads. Indeed, it is a trust that now extends beyond Scotland …

Gaun yersel, Nicola!