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Showing posts with label Murray Pittock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Murray Pittock. Show all posts

Sunday, 1 April 2012

“Events, dear boy, events …” A long, turbulent week in independence politics

I haven’t blogged for a while, although I’ve been active on Twitter and YouTube. The reason is that the events of the last week have been so egregious that not even the unionist media could ignore them, indeed, The Sunday Times – journalists first and unionists second, unlike, say, the Scotsman or Scotland on Sunday - have been the main vehicle for the revelations about our deeply corrupt political system in the United Kingdom. The media coverage has been intense and immense, so there was little I could add.


The Letters Page of the Scotsman provides a vehicle for panic-stricken unionists, especially the Tory variety, to give vent to inchoate cries of pain as they see Scotland moving towards independence. A new note has crept in, that of recognition of the inevitability of the process, which now manifests itself in the extraordinary demand that the SNP should voluntarily disband after independence.

The rationale for this is that the SNP was and is a one-issue party, and having achieved its aim now has no role, and should leave the way clear for Labour, Tories, LibDems to lick their wounds and resume business as usual in the new Scotland. Had, for example, India and Pakistan, two of the great nations who threw off the dead hand of the British Empire followed this route, one of the oldest political parties in the world, the party of Gandhi and Nehru – the Congress Party – would now not exist.

(I have some knowledge of the Congress Party. When I got married 52 years ago yesterday, few of the guests who attend our wedding in Drumchapel Parish Church and the subsequent modest, steak pie and chips reception above the City Bakeries in Great Western Road, Glasgow, would have known that the handsome young Indian guest Hari was the son of Lal Bahadur Shastri then Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, and subsequently the successor to Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister of India.)

The other argument advanced, including by  a tweeter yesterday, is that the SNP “contains left-wing, centre and right-wing politicians” and therefore should leave the field clear after independence for the ‘true’ left, right and centre parties. I had to gently point out that all large parties contain left-wing, centre and right-wing politicians, and therefore by this logic, they should all disband and leave the field clear for – what, exactly? The pure-as-the-driven-snow minor parties, riven by mini-feuds over obscure dogma points?

This also ignores the fact that there are no major left or right parties anymore – the Tories, Labour and the LibDems now all occupy a position somewhere right of centre, and are in effect one large Establishment Party, as the infamous Coalition to defend the Union against Scotland’s independence now exemplifies.

The Save England from the Tories theme

The other theme of the moment is that Scotland should stay in the Union to save the people of England from a permanent Tory hegemony caused by the loss of Scottish Labour MPs after independence.

This specious nonsense was first propounded recently by Douglas Alexander, and has subsequently been taken up enthusiastically by Johann Lamont and, amongst others, Kenny Farquarson, political editor of Scotland on Sunday. Kenny appears to be convinced that a large number of Scots share this unselfish democratic concern for the fate of poor England if Westminster loses its Scottish Labour MPs.

It is a proposition – I will not dignify it by calling it an argument – which most English voters would consider risible, if not deeply insulting. Most Scots fall about laughing at the proposition.

What it says is that the democratic preferences of a country of some 60 million people should be perverted by the political fiat of a country of some 5 million people.

Of course, this is exactly what has happened to Scotland from 1979 to 1997, with a Tory Government that they had decisively rejected.

In 1997, Scotland got a UK Labour Government, and was a Tory-free zone for a time. Unfortunately, this Labour Government out-Toried the Tories, led us into two disastrous conflicts and almost bankrupted the economy, while making many of its ministers filthy rich in the process.

Then in 2010, Scotland again decisively rejected the Tories, returning only one MP, yet thanks to John Reid’s TV interview destroying Gordon Brown’s attempts to stitch together a Rainbow Coalition, we wound up with the present incompetent Tory/LibDem administration.


This blew up this morning because of the competing UK and SNP Government online consultations in progress, with allegations by Labour that the SNP online poll is deeply flawed, because it permits multiple responses, anonymous responses, etc. (I call it a poll, because it is online polling through a series of questions to establish the opinions of individual voters).

In a word, it is deeply flawed, and although Labour’s attack is motivated by jealousy over the high responses rate versus that to the UK poll, and they are grinding axes, and are clearly the pot calling the kettle black, my feeling is that the referendum consultation outcome is now badly damaged by this debacle.

I could kick myself for not seeing the consultation’s inadequacies when I completed it, and for not testing its robustness – as I routinely do with other online polls/consultations – by trying additional submissions, etc. Only last night, I was urging voters to respond to the consultation on Twitter, and supplying the link.

I have done this today, and the flaws are patently and belatedly evident to me.

At base, the criticisms come down to failure to require registration or any proof of identity, failure to block multiple submissions under the same or alternative identities, allowing anonymity, etc. I have completed online polls and questionnaires by reputable newspapers, e.g. Financial Times and Guardian, where none of these things were possible, so the technology clearly exists to avoid them.

My spirits rose when Stewart Hosie appeared for the SNP to answer Anas Sarwar’s criticisms (originating with Labour’s Patricia Ferguson) but were speedily dashed when it became evident that he was ill-prepared and had no answers and, most uncharacteristically for this most considered and calm of SNP ministers, resorted to bluster to defend the indefensible.

His arguments came down to that this was how it had been done previously on other consultations by other parties, that some mysterious process by an unknown organisation after the consultation would scrutinise the responses, weed out the problem, and all would be well, and in effect, that we were no better and no worse than the unionist parties, so there – yah boo!

Not remotely good enough as answers for a process on which the SNP, Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government have all placed great significance, and one which will critically influence the structuring of the referendum ballot paper and the referendum process.

I am also deeply disappointed that my party, the SNP, has not appeared big enough to acknowledge their inadequacies on this issue, and that many online SNP supporters seem to prefer bland cover-up to addressing something that matters to Scotland’s democracy.

The rigging allegation by Sarwar is offensive, but some SNP supporters have asked how an online consultation – or indeed any consultation – can be rigged?

The answer is in the analysis of the responses and the acceptance/rejection criteria. I don’t believe for one moment the SNP would do such a thing as rigging the response, but we have left ourselves wide open to such an allegation, and no matter what we do or say now, the outcome will be fiercely disputed and the results possibly discredited – an insult to, and a betrayal of all those who honestly completed the online survey.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The GUU debate - This House believes in an independent Scotland

Last night, STV, to their credit, provided a live feed from the Glasgow University Union debate on the motion that This House believes in an independent Scotland. Unfortunately, I missed John Nicolson's and Frank McKirgan’s opening speeches for the motion and Kevin Sneader opening for the opposition. (The sound quality of the STV feed was OK but the video was appallingly poor. Quite why it should be so hard to transmit an adequate image across – in my case - miles or so, when we can transmit perfect images across the globe is not clear to me. Still …)

The motion was defeated, and that says nothing about the likelihood of Scotland achieving its independence, any more than the notorious Oxford Union debate motion of 1933, “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country", passed by 275 votes to 153, said about Britain going to war in 1939.

The general atmosphere of the debate was that of a self-congratulatory, complacent establishment elite, well lubricated by the national beverage, having a re-union with auld acquaintances, kilted, sporraned, privileged and utterly remote from the brutal realities of life for many Scots in 2011.

The underlying atmosphere, however, was a very different one, that of a complacent elite who had done very nicely, thank you, out of the United Kingdom, uneasily aware that they were fast becoming irrelevant to their country -if indeed they regarded that as Scotland - and that they were on the wrong side of history.

This was pointed up by the composition of the teams. The team for the motion included a journalist, two lawyers and a politician, and the opposing team  a vice-president of Proctor & Gamble, two directors of management consulting firms and the MD of a venture capital company: three out of four of the opposing team were not resident in Scotland and not eligible to vote in the referendum.

I would like to give more time to analysis of this debate, not because it in any way predicts the outcome of the referendum – nor would it had the vote gone the other way – but because it was very revealing as to core elements of the unionist argument, and the kinds of people who are advancing it. Unfortunately, I cannot do this in full because of the speakers I missed. I hope for a repeat  of the recording, or a transcript being made available.

But I will offer my impressions, based on what I did hear.

One of the opposition speakers, Gordon Peterson, former rugby internationalist and now ‘innovation consultant’, after announcing that his wife and mother were in the audience, then opened with an anecdote of a pre-marital sexual adventure with a transexual that involved “heavy pechin’” and closed with a reference to a wet dream. However hilarious this kind of content might be at all-male rugby dinners and ‘innovation consulting’ engagements, it seemed to me not only inappropriate for a mixed audience, one containing his wife and mother, but also deeply irrelevant to the debate. But it seemed to go down well enough with the GUU audience. Perhaps standards have changed …

But let me come to a more significant point. Austin Lally, the second speaker opposing the motion made the following remarkable statement as his core argument for retaining the Scotland in the UK.

Scotland has a purpose in this world that transcends her borders … If we choose to leave the UK, we will leave behind a conservative, Atlanticist, eurosceptic, intolerant, permanently conservative rump, which will change the balance of power in England, which will change the balance of power in Europe, which will be a bad force in the world. My argument is that Scotland can lead the UK, the UK can lead in Europe, and we can make the world a better place, and fairer place, in line with our destiny.”

Austn Lally, advancing this extraordinary argument was clearly of a Labour persuasion. Leaving aside the fact that it is probably deeply insulting to the people of England, Wales and  Northern Ireland, it in fact contains the central reasons why Scotland should get out of the 1707 Union as fast as possible.

A few figures -

Out of 650 seat in Westminster, Scotland has 59 – just over 9%. The 2013 review proposes 600 seats, of which Scotland will have 52 – just under 8.7%

It doesn’t take an Einsteinian grasp of mathematics to assess just what influence that represents if the UK had a truly representative democracy, with proportional representation. But we don’t, thanks to the Tories and a significant block of Labour MPs and Lords, including our very own Lord Reid, who mounted a virulent campaign to protect the first past the post system. (Of course, this same group installed a form of proportional representation for Holyrood that would neuter the SNP. Didnae work, did it?)

As a result of this, we had a Labour Government dominated by Scots for 13 years, whose contribution making the world “a better and fairer place, in line with our destiny” was to increase the gap between rich and poor, increase child poverty and launch two destructive wars – one illegal – and wreak death and destruction on innocent men, women and children of two other countries, while killing a significant number of British soldiers in the process. So much for the morality of Labour, which may be summed up in two words – Blair and Iraq. As for the morality of Westminster, the expenses scandal that rocked the nation revealed a greedy, amoral, unscrupulous political class feathering their own nests, one in which criminal Scottish MPs and Lords featured.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the latest YouGov poll is summed up in a Scotland on Sunday headline today as English move away from being British. They have every reason to – being British - i.e. being part of the corrupt conspiracy undemocratic of wealth and power called the UK - has delivered them into the hands of unrepresentative Scottish carpetbaggers called the Labour Party for 13 years, and now an unhappy and incompetent Coalition of rich and privileged men and women who are busy destroying the jobs and the fragile economic base of the most vulnerable, while protecting the rich and their own narrow circle of friends and financial backers.

Professor Murray Pittock, closing for the proposers of the motion – the pro-independence team – summed up the debate perfectly. He observed that in the 28 years since he had first stood at the lectern in such debates, nothing in the arguments of those opposing the independence of their country had changed. “Then the argument were about devolution: now they are about independence – and they are the same arguments the same objections. The same tittle tattle of fear, bad jokes, insults and shouting …”

That about summed it up. I hope this will be re-broadcast – Scotland should hear it and judge.