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Showing posts with label 2016 Holyrood election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2016 Holyrood election. Show all posts

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

2014AR: The way forward and the new role of the SNP

WHERE ARE WE AT?

1. YES lost the referendum – NO won it – decisively.

2. Turnout 84.6% – highest since 1910 (when women didn’t have a vote).

Glasgow and Dundee had lowest turnouts but voted YES.

East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire and Stirling were each over 90% turnout.

4. 3,619,915 Scots voted.

YES – 1,617,989 votes. NO – 2,001,926 votes. 44.7%/55.3%Winning margin – 383,937

5. The polls probably had it right all along, YES probably was never ahead at any point, and final polls were close to the result. The bookies called it right all along.

COMMENT

The above facts are the core reality, and they contradict the fantasies entertained by many YES supporters, fed by some online YES commentators, but almost certainly never believed by politicians, core YES strategists or hard-headed YES commentators.

It was always an unfair contest – a fast, fit lightweight against a heavyweight who was so out of condition that he had to call in other heavyweights and the Establishment Mob – and offer a last round bribe to win.

Pyrrhic victory is usually a sour grapes overstatement by losers, but as applied to the NO win in Scotland’s referendum, it increasingly looks like a devastatingly accurate assessment.

Labour in meltdown, Tories entering their conference in chaos, HRH pissed off at her PM, UKIP cackling maniacally, a rush into a third ill-conceived 21st century war and the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland setting their faces against the Big Bribe offered by a  Tory/LibDem/Labour front led by Gordon Brown(!) to try and appease rebellious Scots.

If we add to that a massive and quite unprecedented surge in SNP membership (75,000)  a  re-energised, confident  YES campaign, and mass demonstrations at Holyrood, then Pyrrhic victory seems a rather apt description.

The YES Campaign (as distinct from YES Scotland) is a strange and fascinating construct – one large, long-established, highly disciplined Scotland-only party, the SNP with  its raison d'être independence, the Scottish Green Party with  its raison d'être environmental, with independence for Scotland being one means to that over-arching, worldwide goal, the Scottish socialist parties – small, recently riven by faction and the actions of one charismatic leader, and a plethora of other groups covering almost every conceivable interest group one could think of, across party, sex, artistic, religious and demographic lines. Added to this rich mix are those of no party or group affiliation whatsoever – the individual activists committed only to YES.

There are the think tanks and the theorists (e.g. the now split Jimmy Reid Foundation and Common Weal), National Collective, Radical Independence, Business for Scotland, Labour for Independence, Women for Independence – I could go on, ad infinitum.

From another perspective, however, I see a still inchoate democracy of newly-politicised, organised, enthusiastic but mainly politically naive voters reaffirming their core commitment to YES, but searching for a new focus and looking for leaders.  They are wide-open to three kinds of approaches –

1. the new leader (or old leader re-cycled) approach

2. the crowd-fund new initiative approach (often old initiative repackaged)

I see real dangers in the first two but real opportunity in the third.

3. radically new approaches to YES organisation - as yet in embryo stage - in this new 2014AR era.

The balancing factor in this may well be the great surge in SNP party membership (and to a lesser extent Green and SSP membership).

This can be interpreted as simply a massive thank you to the party that delivered the referendum, put Scotland on the world stage, yet still managed to govern competently for seven years in the face of shrinking budgets and a wall of hostility, or it can be seen as a recognition that single focus campaign/protest politics has now entered a more complex phase, and the time has come to commit to traditional political structures.

But it can also be seen as a wish to reclaim politics from the political anoraks and careerists, by  engaging with party politics in a radically new way while retaining the local autonomy, fellowship and focus of individual YES groups and  all their democratic dynamism.

I hope to explore this latter approach in some more detail, but first I will outline what I see as the dangers of the first two.

THE NEW LEADER and crowd-funded initiatives.

The YES Campaign presented an opportunity to those outside of conventional party politics to gain a platform and a profile, indeed it almost demanded that such figures should emerge, and they duly did,  some prompted, some invited, and some simply stepping uninvited on to the new platforms offered.

In fact the process had already started well before the official YES Campaign was launched, initially with the election of the 2007 SNP Government – and many have forgotten just what a jolt that event was to Labour complacency – then with the defining event of the 2011 landslide, which effectively guaranteed the referendum would take place.

The first significant bloggers emerged, then the YouTube pioneers, then the social networkers on Twitter, Facebook, etc. A seminal event for many (including myself) was Pi-Camp, an alternative media workshop in Edinburgh mounted by Mick Fealty of the influential Irish blog Slugger O’Toole.

Other big figures, out of mainstream politics at that time, such as Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan, cautiously stepped back into the arena, and later becoming central figures in the YES movement. Of course, political opportunists sniffed the new political air, and the likes of George Galloway popped up, complete with hat, to try and find a niche in newly-politicised Scotland.

With the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 and the official YES Scotland structure, the YES Campaign acquired a kind of co-ordination, but made many fundamental mistakes initially, before learning hard lessons about the incompatibility of traditional organisation structures with the radically different needs of a newly empowered grassroots movement, without parallel or precedent in modern politics.

But when a large number of people become gripped by an idea, a cause, an enthusiasm, whether it be religious or political, such enthusiasm creates a hunger for a focal point, new leaders and a wish to demonstrate allegiance by tangible contribution.

These processes throughout history have produced transformational political movements, political parties, and the great world religions. The consequences have been sometimes positive, sometimes destructive and all too often exploitative.

An inevitable product of a nation gripped by an idea or by perceived injustice is that such a situation is  instantly recognised as an opportunity by people who want power or money – or both. The reasons they have for seeking power or money may be admirable or venal, but in both cases, the process involves surrender of control and autonomy by the people.

Organisation is subordination – an inescapable fact.

The essence of the great grassroots YES movement was and is democratic self-empowerment in small groups. Try to keep it that way, but with the freedom to liaise dynamically with other individuals groups in networks and events.

Radically new approaches to YES organisation in new 2014AR era.

It’s early days, but the most hopeful development I’ve seen so far is the recently formed YES Alliance. I don’t do Facebook because of security reasons (and other reasons) so this limits my involvement with them. I don’t know enough to endorse them, but I like what I read and see so far, especially their flexible, rotating leadership concept.

The key dynamic of YES groups and YES collectively in the new era in my view will be the parallel relationship with the political parties committed to independence, and by political parties I mean those parties with an existing discrete identity as a party, e.g. SNP, Greens, SSP etcetera, not groups of supporters within a UK party committed to independence, e.g. Labour for Independence,  not sub-groups of YES, e.g. Women for Independence, and not aspirant groups who might like to form a new party at some point.

I make no value judgement on the latter non-party groups, and certainly don’t challenge their democratic right to try and found a new party – my advice is based on the stark fact that the new seminal event, the 2015 UK General Election is just over seven months away (7th May 2015), the UK Parliament will be dissolved on Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 30 March 2015, in less than six months time, and to all intents and purpose, the UK parties are now in unofficial, but deadly serious and bitter campaigning mode in one of the most unpredictable and uncertain political climates I have witnessed since the 1945 General Election.

There just isn’t time for new grand initiatives and the formation of new parties – we’re now in a deadly serious mega game in which a key player will be the combined Scottish political parties committed to independence fielding candidates – and that means the SNP, the Scottish Greens and the SSP, but backed up by a giant YES grassroots organisation who have put their money on, and their commitment with political parties and party membership on an unprecedented scale.

(YES Alliance seems to understand this in a way that the other groups that mushroomed in the strange atmosphere following 19th September don’t appear to. (Some of them seem to be trying to re-invent the Referendum Campaign, or are in pursuit of worthy but completely unattainable objectives in the short term.)

THE SNP MEMBERSHIP SURGE – IMPLICATIONS

One senior Scottish politician – Nicola Sturgeoninstantly recognised - with her usual acute political insight - the implications of an SNP membership now comprising 75,000 plus members, more than two-thirds of whom are new members, many with little or no political experience other than YES activist campaign work, and a significant proportion of whom are likely to have little understanding of how political parties work in a democracy, or even of how UK’s partial and  flawed democracy actually works.

HERALD: “The Deputy First Minister, who has no plans for a fresh referendum, said if the members and leadership were out of step it could cause issues for "the next couple of years".

However, Sturgeon - who is almost certain to succeed Alex Salmond unopposed as SNP leader and First Minister in November - said she would far rather deal with this issue than the exodus of members she believes is facing Labour.”

That’s one issue. The other key one surrounds the right of members to vote on the selection of candidates for local elections, UK Parliamentary and Holyrood Parliament. The new members would under existing rules be time-barred from voting for candidates for the 2015 General election, however, I understand that a rapid change of the qualifying period is now planned to permit them to do so.

There is another dimension to the new membership surge – the actual experience of Party branch structures. Without in any way wishing to sound negative about the committed activists who have often devoted a large party of their lives and energies to branch activities, participation and attendance is low in most branches, and the branch ability to promote – or even their enthusiasm  for promoting maximum membership involvement in the selection of delegates and candidates for election may also be low in many instances.

The new dynamic from the new members and new structures of YES groups – e.g. YES Alliance – is going to be, shall we say, interesting …

POLITICAL EDUCATION

Since our schools do it so badly – or not all – I see an urgent need for basic courses in the mechanics of democracy for YES activists and new party members, and I think this should be driven and provided by the YES movement, obviously with the involvement of the political parties but emphatically not by the political parties. I can see a clear role for Business for Scotland in this key task.

SUMMARY

So that’s my very tentative take on where we’re at. I had great difficulty with this blog – I feel it’s scrappy, incomplete and not exactly what I wanted to say, but it’s the best I can do in a situation that is changing by the day, if not by the moment …

Saor Alba!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Scotland in NATO - the core arguments against

1. NATO is a nuclear organisation, committed to the possession and first-strike use of Trident nuclear missiles.

2. NATO is comprised of 28 members countries, but controlled by three of them - the U.S.A, France and the UK. Of the three, the U.S.A. is the dominant controlling entity.

3. Any proposal to NATO by the 25 non-nuclear states can be vetoed by the Big Three - the U.S.A, France and the UK. (This is my practical interpretation of the complexities of the NATO consensual decision making structure where each member country remain sovereign and has right of veto - other interpretations are possible. Please advance them if you have them)

4. Neither the consent nor the involvement of the 25 non-nuclear members is required - nor would it or could it be sought - to authorise a nuclear strike launch. Only the President of the United States, the President of France and the Prime Minister of the UK have the launch codes. No prior approval by the democratically elected bodies in these three countries would be sought prior to launch. (This is my practical interpretation of the complexities of the NATO nuclear command structure - other interpretations are possible. Please advance them if you have them)

5. The time elapsed from launch order to the missile striking its target is dependent on the location of the nuclear submarine at the time the launch order is given, but it is typically 25 minutes.

6. Any member country of NATO by definition is approving the possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction by being a member of NATO, regardless of their stated non-nuclear policy. Any member country is therefore responsible for the consequences of such an act, even though they play no part in the launch decision process.

7. The Scottish National Party's policy proposal - which is effectively the Scottish Government's proposal - to seek membership of NATO for an independent Scotland on the condition that the UK (rUK) accepts the removal of Trident is simplistic and unrealistic, and is recognised as such by any objective and informed political commentator.

It is being presented to the SNP membership as a deal breaker, i.e. no Trident removal, no Scotland in NATO. If presented as such in the negotiations after an independence YES vote, it will be rejected out of hand by the UK (significantly influenced if not controlled by NATO and America). 

But despite the manner of its presentation to the SNP membership, it will not be a deal breaker - it will simply be an opening position in negotiation. The scope for movement by the UK(rUK) is to negotiate -

i) an immediate disarming of Trident warheads (approx. 2 days) which could be reversed in as short a time.

ii) an extend timescale for removal of Trident submarines and decommissioning of the nuclear aspects of the Faslane base - a minimum of 10 years, probably extending to 20 years - effectively never.

iii) the acceptance that an independent Scotland will provide 'safe havens' for any NATO nuclear-armed submarines and nuclear-powered submarines in perpetuity.

It is conceivable that rUK would seek a long-term lease of the Faslane base, or even seek to negotiate the base and relevant area as rUK sovereign territory, thus allowing the Government of an independent Scotland to claim that Scotland is a non-nuclear nation.

ANALYSIS AND COMMENT

The implications of this dangerous and far reaching proposal (Scotland's NATO membership) are of such significance that it is unacceptable that it should only be discussed and voted on by a few hundred  delegates from one political party. Once adopted by the SNP as policy, it will then be the official negotiating entry position in 2014 after a YES vote. It will not be submitted to the Scottish Parliament for approval - if it were, it would be carried by the SNP majority.

The Scottish electorate could not question it until May 2016 at the Scottish Parliamentary elections, by which time the negotiations on this item might either be concluded or at a crucial stage. A change of the power balance in Holyrood or a change of government could result in a chaotic situation under such circumstances, dependent on the voice of the electorate.

The electorate should at least be consulted now. Relying on university polls some years old (The Mitchell Report) or ephemeral opinion polls conducted with an under-informed electorate on this crucial topic is democratically unacceptable.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The SNP and NATO – an internal party matter or a question for Scotland?

Here is a little problem for a class of undergraduates studying politics and international affairs, majoring in defence matters -

ON A PLANET NEAR YOU – A SCENARIO

A political party within a democratic nation state has a long-standing policy relating to a defence alliance, of fundamental relevance to the relationship that state has with other states. The political party is in a highly unusual situation - probably unique in world affairs - for the following reasons -

1. It is currently the party in a devolved government for one of the four component countries of that nation state.

2. It only exists as a party in that country and its raison d'être is to secure its independence from that nation state.

3. The long-standing defence alliance policy is not within its devolved powers, and is reserved to the nation state, which is a member of that defence alliance.

4. The political party forming the government of the component country of the nation state has scheduled a referendum in two years time to seek a mandate from that country’s electorate to negotiate with the nation state for its independence. The nation state is totally opposed to the independence of the component devolved country, but accepts that the referendum will determine the will of its people.

5. A general election for the government of the nation state will take place in May of the year following the referendum, a period of around six months. A devolved Parliamentary election for the country seeking independence will take place one year after that, a period of around 18 months from the referendum.

6. If the result of the referendum is a YES vote for the independence of the devolved country, complex negotiations will follow and are likely to last at least two years, and will therefore cover a period embracing two critical elections, either of which could result in a change of government.

7. The crucial issue, and potentially the most complex issue in these negotiations will be the defence issue. Central to that is the issue of nuclear weapons, and a policy to possess and use these weapons.

8. The nation state is a member of a defence alliance that includes in total 28 member countries, the dominant country in that alliance being one of the most powerful countries in the world, arguably the most powerful, although that dominance is being challenged.

9. The party that forms the government of the devolved country seeking independence from the nation state has a non-nuclear policy that it will implement if it secures its independence. The devolved country hosts the entire nuclear capacity of the nation state of which it is a component part and it is virtually certain that if it refuses to host that nuclear capacity - if and after it secures its independence - the nation state will lose its nuclear status, since it has no suitable place to host the nuclear weapons systems. It will therefore lose its place among the top three countries in the defence alliance who effectively control that alliance, and it is likely also to lose its place on the Security Council of the global body that has a major impact on world affairs, especially military affairs.

10. The party that forms the government of the devolved country – with an unchallengeable Parliamentary majority – has now proposed to its membership, through its strategic leadership with the de facto endorsement of its party leader, who is also First Minister of the government, a defence policy that reiterates its non-nuclear stance but intends to reverse its long-standing policy of opposition to membership of the nuclear alliance committed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons.

It now wishes to remain in – or join – that nuclear alliance, with the pre-condition that the nuclear weapons crucial to the nation state and significant to the defence alliance be removed from its country. It proposes to debate that policy change, together with its total defence policy, at its annual conference with delegates to that conference, and if the policy is endorsed, it will then constitute the entry position to the negotiations that will follow a YES vote in the referendum two years later.

The defence policy (already extant as a party conference paper) will be presented to the country’s electorate about a year later, together with comprehensive statements about every aspect of the position of the devolved government, as part of the campaign for a YES vote to independence a year after that.

QUESTIONS FOR STUDENTS

Discuss the following in group session, then reach your conclusions and recommendations -

Consider the above scenario and the following facts -

the party of government of the devolved country will not face the electorate until after the referendum on independence

such a policy change is therefore unchallengeable by the electorate until after the referendum

it will therefore form the entry position on defence matters in the negotiation that follow a YES vote

the negotiations will have been underway for some 18 months – and may well be close to completion - before the devolved government faces the electorate

a general election will take place some six months after the referendum result and the start of the negotiations that could result in a change of government of the nation state and therefore the composition of the other side of the negotiating table

QUESTIONS

i) Is the defence alliance question a routine party policy matter, one only for delegates of that party to decide on?

ii) Is the defence policy a major or a minor matter in terms of significance to the electorate of the devolved country, or does it also have significance to the nation state, the members of the defence alliance and to world affairs?

iii) Is it it reasonable or democratic that such a crucial policy change be debated by a small number of delegates from one political party only, or should there be a wider consultation among the total electorate of the devolved country and in its devolved Parliament?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The ‘Scotsman’ propaganda mill continues to pump out the anti-independence nonsense

I meant to comment on this piece from the Scotsman anti-independence propaganda conveyor line on Tuesday, but other events got in the way, notably the Commons vote on the English NHS bill. 

A new West Lothian conundrum

The facts behind this piece are that the referendum is in 2014, the general election (assuming the incompetent Coalition doesn’t collapse before then) is in 2015 and the Scottish Parliamentary elections are in 2016 – and, of course, The West Lothian Question – Guardian

Peter Jones, the author of the Scotsman piece, poses three scenarios -

Prompted by yet another London expert, Prof. Robert Hazel of University College London, he asks what the Scottish SNP MPs elected to Westminster in 2015 for only a year - if the referendum delivers a YES vote in 2014 – will do in that year, before they “disappear back to Scotland to look for another job”. Would they vote on purely English matters. e.g. the UK NHS, and would the unionist Westminster MPs let them?

As Peter Jones well knows, despite his faux-naïf question, they have already “imposed a self-denying ordinance on themselves that they would not vote on anything that didn’t affect Scotland”. But this very week, they departed from that self-denying ordinance to vote against the pernicious UK NHS Bill that will destroy the NHS in the rest of the UK, because it will impact on the Scottish budget, and is therefore not a purely English matter.

Far from being prevented from voting on it, they were actively lobbied to vote on it by Labour and LibDem rebels, and have received their subsequent expressions of gratitude for their principled departure from their normal WLQ abstention.

Jones’ next point asks if in this pivotal year of 2015, the last year in which Scotland will have to send MPs to Westminster, if there was an election outcome that threatened a hung Parliament, would the SNP MPs enter into coalition with a UK party to prop up a new UK Government?

My informed guess is that they wouldn’t, for the obvious reason that, as Jones points out, such a coalition’s coat would be on a one-year shaky nail, and would collapse when the SNP MPs went in May 2016. There is also the fascinating point that such a government would be the one negotiating and ratifying the Scottish independence settlement! But who knows what the tactical demands of that time will be?

Peter Jones’ last point relates to the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2016. If the details of the negotiated settlement are known – or leaked – by that time, would this turn the Scottish election effectively into a referendum on the negotiated settlement terms?

Interesting questions – except that Isabel Fraser, interviewing the First Minister, got there before Peter Jones, as this clip reminds us.

Unionist run about in confusion and panic faced with such questions – nationalists just get on and answer them …