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Showing posts with label Nicola Sturgeon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicola Sturgeon. Show all posts

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!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Latest YouGov poll – and that stark arithmetic, Ed …

The numbers still say the same thing, Ed – you need the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. Even the Queen’s getting worried by the possible outcome of a hung Parliament. No point in going to see her unless you’re sure, Ed.

Don’t even think about a “Government of National Unity” with Tories – look what getting down and dirty with Tories during the independence referendum did to Scottish Labour. The same fate awaits UK Labour – don’t do it, Ed.

LATEST YouGov POLL

YouGov

Here’s the previous Newsnight Index poll and the YouGov Nowcast poll. (last blog).

I averaged them, perhaps invalid, but polls are a snapshot with error margin, so probably gives a good idea of state of play.

Poll Ave April 9th 2015

ANALYSIS (as per previous blogs)

Net out Sinn Fein and the Speaker leaves 644 voting maximum, so 323 minimum necessary for single party overall majority or voting deal combined majority, in coalition, confidence and supply or informal vote-by-vote, issue-by-issue basis.

Neither Ed Miliband nor David Cameron are remotely likely to have an overall seat majority as single party.

Any way you slice it – since SNP won’t do any deal with or vote with the Tories – Ed Miliband can’t ignore the SNP, whether Labour is the largest or second largest party.

If he leads the largest party, his choice is either minority government – with huge risk – or deal with SNP. If he’s not the largest party, his choice is either let the Tories in or deal with the SNP.

Quite simply, the SNP – with the help of Plaid and Greens as bloc - can make him PM on either outcome.

Since coalition is firmly ruled out, his options on an SNPbloc/Labour deal are therefore confidence and supply – a pre-deal delivering support on negotiated conditions – or informal issue-by-issue, vote-by-vote haggling with SNP bloc.

NICOLA POSTER

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Indy fundamentals – winning the debate

I received an invitation on Monday from a very distinguished journalist from outside the UK, one whose work I have long admired, to take part in a pre-recorded radio discussion later in April on what has been happening in Scotland since the referendum and analysis of the election.

I said I would be delighted to do so, providing I knew in advance the format and who else was taking part, and also that I was introduced as a supporter of SNP and independence, but simply as a voter and online activist without any official role in the party.

I received a reassurance on my status point, but when two of the other participants were named (with a fourth still to be selected) I declined to take part.

I offered the following reason for declining, without specifying any participant.

EMAIL EXTRACT

POSTSCRIPT. At this critical stage in Scotland's politics, SNP activists who are not politicians (who are constrained, as elected representative, by other expectations from media) have really only one criterion to satisfy - would my participation in this forum as structured offer useful debate and analysis valuable to the Scottish electorate? My judgement is no, but others will make their own decisions.

Perhaps this edit of a recent 'debate' will give you some idea of where I'm coming from -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9sNS3NouNs

I was deeply disappointed not to feel able to take part, given the reputation of the journalist and the country and media channel he represented. I feel that it may be worth explaining just a little further why I declined to take part in this one.

MEDIA DEBATES

I am as capable  of holding my own in debates and discussion as the next man. I prefer structured debate between rational men and women with some concept of how constructive debate is conducted, but I can play the noisy, talking-over, point-scoring, flyting, special pleading, heckling game with the best – and even enjoy it up to a point. No one with my background – both social and professional – could fail to play this game well. But what does ‘well’ mean in context?

The question is not can I hold my own in such debates, but whether I should enter them in the first place, without asking the question – what if anything will they contribute to my key medium-term political objective – the independence of Scotland – and my immediate objective, the success of the SNP in the pivotal and historic 2015 general election?

Like every other committed voter, I watched and listened to many debates and engaged in some, both live and online. Some made a valuable contribution to understanding, and forged the formidable Scottish independence electoral force – to all intents and purpose the SNP - that is now astonishing UK and world media.

But many were negative and counter-productive in my view, and the root was always the same – one or more participants who dragged the debate down to the lowest level and, in some cases, dragged more responsible debaters into their own gutter.

Such unedifying displays alienate many men - and most women. There are no winners and there are few positive outcomes. Their adversarial nature may satisfy certain journalistic objectives of providing ‘good’ radio or television in terms of liveliness and spectacle. I choose to avoid ones where the structure and participants seem to me to make such an outcome likely. Politicians can’t avoid them: some even seek them out as a vehicle for their particular repertoire of bluster and bludgeon.

They’re not for me anymore …

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Nicola versus The Union Mob – democratic politics?

 

This is a light-hearted edit of the BBC Scottish Leaders' 'Debate' on Sunday Politics Scotland today - nothing changed in sequence or content - just left the action in!

Nicola is an oasis of calm intelligence in this Unionist desert. This is what passes for a moderated (sic) debate at not-very-Pacific Quay!

Andrew Marr forecasts the end of the Union within lifetime of 2015-2020 Parliament. YES, YES,YES!

ANDREW MARR: "We are in circumstances right now, where during the lifetime of the Parliament at Westminster that we are about to elect, it's perfectly possible at least, that Scotland and England will finally go their separate ways." 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Polls: Newsnight index and YouGov Nowcast - and average, April 9th 2015

Here’s the latest Newsnight Index poll and the YouGov Nowcast poll.

I averaged them, perhaps invalid, but polls are a snapshot with error margin, so probably gives a good idea of state of play.

Poll Ave April 9th 2015

Net out Sinn Fein and the Speaker leaves 644 voting maximum, so 323 minimum necessary for single party overall majority or voting deal combined majority, in coalition, confidence and supply or informal vote-by-vote, issue-by-issue basis.

Neither Ed Miliband nor David Cameron are remotely likely to have an overall seat majority as single party.

Any way you slice it – since SNP won’t do any deal with or vote with the Tories – Ed Miliband can’t ignore the SNP, whether Labour is the largest or second largest party.

If he leads the largest party, his choice is either minority government – with huge risk – or deal with SNP. If he’s not the largest party, his choice is either let the Tories in or deal with the SNP.

Quite simply, the SNP – with the help of Plaid and Greens as bloc - can make him PM on either outcome.

Since coalition is firmly ruled out, his options on an SNPbloc/Labour deal are therefore confidence and supplya pre-deal delivering support on negotiated conditions – or informal issue-by-issue, vote-by-vote haggling with SNP bloc.

Nicola has made her pre-deal conditions and voting intentions abundantly clear.  Stewart Hosie expertly analysed the various options today on the Daily Politics, eventually in the face of an increasingly agitated Andrew Neil on Trident/NATO aspect.

The Referendum and the opposition to Scotland’s independence has always centred on defence, (see link below) the nuclear deterrent and Trident, as I noted some years ago. We didn’t win our freedom on September 18th 2014, but now Scotland is playing the Westminster game on their ground – but fully democratically and constitutionally on our terms with our democratic voting independence.

It’s the nukes, stupid!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

SNP Spring Conference 2015 – there’s never been a party conference like this one!

Angus Robertson MP and Stewart Hosie MP, the two stalwarts of the lonely advance guard of six SNP MPs, who have spent years as a tiny embattled group on the Commons benches, surrounded by the hostile forces of unionism, alternately abused and patronised, facing the full wrath and hostility of all unionist parties, including abuse from their fellow Scots in Labour, LibDems and Tory ranks, exhausted by commuting to and from their constituencies and demanding party duties in Scotland.

Here they set the scene for Conference and for Nicola, and calmly nail – hopefully  once and for all(!) - the repetitive distortions and simplistic questions and soundbytes directed at us by hostile and often deeply confused unionists – on party leadership, on Westminster leadership and on Westminster strategy and the questions of a second independence referendum.

It is not a an exaggeration to say that no other political party has such clarity of policy, objectives and tight focus.

Scotland, the party and the massive new SNP membership owe them a debt of gratitude for their incalculable contribution to party strategy and the success of the SNP, especially to Angus Robertson, the modest hero of the SNP, the architect of so much of its success - our leader in Westminster. We owe so much to this man.

We won't forget - and after May, you'll never be lonely again, guys - massive reinforcements are coming!

There has never been a party conference like this. It let the world see what Scotland and Scots are really like - open and determined. There's a simple explanation for SNP's success and poll position - it understands Scots, Scotland and politics better than the opposition.

HUMZA: "We are nobody's branch office. Nobody puts Scotland in a box. No one puts Scotland in a corner." And so say all of us ...

If you're a lifelong Labour supporter (I was!) but increasingly realise that the SNP is the party that now represents your values - join us!

If you voted NO at #indyref but are having second thoughts, now's the time! Join the SNP - you'll be welcomed and immediately among friends.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Westminster 2015 – politics, polls and possibilities: the current state of play

I thought I’d have a crack at updating my February blog – May 8th 2015 – when the hard bargaining starts

Polls are remarkably consistent in pointing to a hung Parliament – now virtually a certainty rather than a possibility. Again, I offer my understanding of the arithmetic and dynamics of this, but happy to be corrected on errors or points of detail!

CURRENT STATE OF PARTIES
Conservatives           303
Labour                       257
Liberal Democrat       56
Democratic Unionist   8
Scottish National          6
Sinn Fein                       5
Independent                 3
Plaid Cymru                  3
Social Dem & Lab.        3
UKIP                               2
Alliance                           1
Green                              1
Respect                           1
Speaker                           1

Total no. of seats  650

ARITHMETIC OF FORMING A GOVERNMENT

After a general election, the leader of one of the parties has to demonstrate that he or she can command a majority of the votes in the House of Commons on major issues i.e. impose the democratic will of the Government on dissenting voices in the House and govern this increasingly Disunited Kingdom - a practical necessity and constitutional requirement - the leader has to convince the Queen as Head of State.

If one political party has this capacity, its leader de facto becomes Prime Minister, subject to the Queen’s ratification, but if no single party has the requisite number of seats – even though one may have more seats than any other single party – then either

a deal has to be struck with another party or parties, or

the party with the majority of seats has to risk governing as a minority government, or

a hung Parliament effectively  exists and another general election has to be called.

The party leader with most seats (but short of overall majority) gets first crack at forming a government

Last time, I used the first Newsnight Index – this time I’ll use the latest Skye/Thrasher poll projections of the hung Parliament possible seat outcome.

Sky Hung poll

Labour largest party on 283 seats  - way short of the magic 321-323 seats to give an overall majority - Tories 272, SNP 53, Others 23, LibDems 17, UKIP 2

Thee are 650 seats in the House, a simple majority requires the aspirant governing party or parties to be able to command 326 seats (half of 650 + 1)– but since Sinn Fein doesn’t take up its five seats, that becomes 323 (half of 645 +1).  Sinn Fein could of course put a green cat among the Brit pigeons at any time by deciding to turn up! And they might just do that, worried by DUP influence (currently 8 seats, maybe 9 after May?)

There is the question of the Speaker (actually speakers, with deputies). The Speaker only votes on a dead heat, and then by tradition for the governing party, so theoretically that throws another one vote potentially in contention!)

On the Sky/Thrasher projection, Labour would be the party with most seats, but not enough to hit the magic 323. Ed Miliband can then choose to “do an Alex Salmond 2007” and elect to govern as a minority government a high-wire act, with huge risks, which Alex was well-equipped to perform – requiring him to do ad hoc deals on every major vote with other parties or interest groups within and/or across parties. If Ed hasn’t the balls for this – or the Queen didn’t like it – he would then have three other options -

call for another general election, or

try to strike a confidence & supply deal with another party or parties – a kind of minority government with a pre-arranged support understanding, or

form a coalition government with one party or with more than one party - a Rainbow coalition

(Aficionados of the various Borgen series on BBC Four will understand all of this effortlessly, plus have an insight into the role of sex in government!)

Ed has now decisively ruled out a Labour coalition with Tories, UKIP or SNP  (it was never a preferred SNP option) and appears to have ruled out any formal deal, e.g. confidence and supply, so he must either bottle it and call another general election or govern as a minority government.

But the stark realpolitik of minority government means that he must negotiate and do deals, otherwise he risks falling  at the first fence, e.g. a budget vote.

Who will Ed’s likely partners in government be – if he chooses to have partners – and how would it play out on the above, or similar projections of a May  7th outcome?

To get to the magic 323, he needs 40 votes. For comfort – and to reassure Lizzie – he ideally needs more. The SNP can give him 53, LibDems 17, and Others 23 votes. UKIP can offer 2.

He says he won’t deal with UKIP or Tories: the  LibDems are proven carpetbaggers and will deal with anyone, delivering 17 votes – but,  of the 23 others, 6 don’t vote (Sinn Fein and Speaker) and of the remaining 17, he probably can  only deal with Plaid and Greens (and George Galloway ?). Even if he had all the Others (including Ulster Unionists?) he only musters 34.

(Breaking news is that DUP will deliver their 8 (9?) votes to anyone who offers them £1 billion. Now, who’s crying “holding the UK to ransom” now, Anna Soubry! Ah, they’re unionists!)

If Ed was mad, UKIP squeaks him another two, giving 36 but still leaving him four short of the magic figure, which in itself is a tight and risky margin.

Any way  it plays out, it seems inevitable that the SNP will be the key players, even if their actual seat fall short of the astonishing 53 seat projection.

Without going into the obvious numbers, on this projection, David Cameron has even less chance of usurping Labour as the largest party to form a government.

Of course there are other radical options, all centring round some kind of Government of  National Unity, i.e. keep the WMD, keep austerity and keep the SNP out of the power loop at any price.

My view is that such an attempt - apart from running a grave risk of triggering a schism in either the Labour Party or the Tory Party or both - would catalyse the spirit of Scottish independence dramatically and trigger an unstoppable popular demand for a  second independence referendum.

(There are even more radical scenarios than that, ones that I would not like to see provoked by such UK rashness.)

POSTSCRIPT: Alex Salmond ideas on Fixed Term Parliament Act manoeuvre

Monday, 9 February 2015

Wedding of the Year - the impending nuptials of Ed Miliband and the SNP

The National gets better by the day: in today’s edition, it excelled itself.

From its eye-catching, ‘Russian Roulette’ front cover through its news items to its articles, analysis and readers’ letters, it provided a wealth of information on key topics for committed supporters of Scotland’s independence – and hopefully many others as yet uncommitted – that helps to make them the driving force in the best informed electorate in the world, despite the efforts of the rest of the mainstream media to misinform and mislead them.

And of course, there’s the regular Monday delight – the Greg Moodie cartoon, in my view one his very best to date. (My cartoon consumption goes back to the 1940s and includes the American funnies, sent to me by relatives in the U.S., and I was viewing the great newspaper political cartoonists from early childhood.) This one had a real story to tell, with the word balloons driving the riveting, graphic wedding narrative – the impending nuptials of Ed and the SNP.

The second part of Alasdair Gray’s series, titled Towards Democracy contained - among his musings on explosions in munitions depots  and the nuclear risk, the following gem -

Everyone wants to live as far from such things as possible, so the London Government has placed the most dangerous in Scotland.”

He also observes that “British and North American armed forces have been bombing and blighting foreigners in wars where a minority of British and U.S.A soldiers died, and this caused no explosions in their homelands before a suicidal guerrilla group destroyed the New York World Trade Centre.”

But perhaps Alasdair’s most interesting proposition was that Alex Salmond adopted the high-risk strategy of moving the SNP towards NATO membership – which almost split the party in 2012 – to stop Obama, the U.S.A. and its supporters from “directing a global blast against Scottish independence before the referendum.”

Alasdair Gray advances the idea that this was in fact counter-productive -

As a result, President Obama spoke as gently against it as the Pope. I believe the strong blast Salmond feared may have given the Yes campaign a clear majority, because a lot of Scots were getting tired of being told they could not rule themselves ..”

Well, we’ll never know – but I, for one, think Alasdair Gray may be right. But in this, as in so many other vital, pivotal judgments, e.g. the currency question, I don’t envy Alex Salmond the agonising choices he had to make. Characteristically, he made them bravely, decisively and without equivocation, not as a gambler, but as the statesman he was - and is.

Alasdair is in no doubt, and has a view on what must be done -

NATO will keep its bases in Scotland no matter how much an independent Scotland protests, but that is no reason the SNP conference should not return to its former policy of total nuclear disarmament.”  and “Alex Salmond’s amendment is less than three years old, and can be scrapped.”

However, for me, the most insightful and immediately relevant article in this fine National issue was George Kerevan’sTime to face up to reality about the role SNP MPs will play post-election”. Kerevan is one of the true political thinkers in the SNP camp, and unlike many Scottish journalists, is capable of getting right down to the structural heart of complex political issues that others shy away from.

Anyone who wants to understand the complexities of the Westminster situation Nicola Sturgeon and the new bloc of SNP MPs will face if they are returned in the numbers the polls suggest must read this article - and then read it again.

In the maze of options, from coalition (currently ruled out) to confidence and supply deals (not “supply and demand” deals as one journalist suggested elsewhere!) the voting behaviours of an SNP/Plaid/Green bloc will demand fine judgements, as Kerevan’s keen eye detects.

Yesterday, Iain Macwhirter, in an excellent Sunday Herald article In this era of Coalition, the political map has turned yellow addressed similar questions.  But he used the language of negotiation  (a language most journalists should take care to avoid, since they rarely have any understanding of the dynamics of negotiation) to describe the dilemmas facing the SNP Westminster bloc.

In examining the choices the new SNP bloc will face, the choices that Nicola will have to mastermind – having ruled out the possibility that Alex Salmond “could become the back-seat driver from hell”, he adopts what I believe to be a false premise, namely that Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out “playing politics with the Tories

Leaving aside the fact that the SNP minority government of 2007-2011 only survived because Alex Salmond deftly played politics with the Tories to get his budgets through, what Nicola has ruled out – as I understand it – is entering into coalition or any confidence and supply-type arrangement with the Tories. To do either would clearly be political suicide for the SNP in Scotland.

But this cannot be extrapolated into saying that the SNP would never vote with the Tories on any issue. (If Nicola said this, I missed it!) One only has to illustrate by extremes, e.g. what if the Tories agreed to vote against the upgrading of Trident against a Miliband Government determined to do it?

Although such a scenario  stretches the bounds of probability, it does illustrate that distaste for the Tories cannot overwhelm common political sense, where there are key voting issues on which consensus exists. Such a distaste for the SNP from 2007 to date led the Scottish Labour group in Holyrood into utter folly, directly contributing to the decline of their party.

So when Iain Macwhirter says of voting with Tories that “Remarkably, the SNP has chosen not to do so and make clear that the only party it will play politics with is Labour” I believe him to be factually wrong.  He goes on to say that -

Sturgeon has thus handed an extraordinary advantage to Ed Miliband. He knows that the SNP will go into post-election negotiations with with precisely zero negotiating clout

I must disagree totally with this verdict of a journalist, Iain Macwhirter, for whom I have the highest admiration and respect. Politicians, lawyers (Nicola is both!) and journalists rarely have even a rudimentary understanding of negotiation, but Nicola Sturgeon is a unique politician, as is her mentor and close colleague and friend, Alex Salmond – and both, although rooted in fundamental political principles, are supreme pragmatists.

They will deal – when and how they need to deal – when the situation demands it, in the over-arching interests of Scotland and the Scottish people.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

May the 8th 2015 – when the hard bargaining starts?

All the forecasts indicate a hung Parliament as a probability rather than a possibility. I offer my understanding of the mechanic and dynamics of this to those who perhaps have never examined the matter in any detail.

If you are already well-informed on such matters, pass on – what follows is not for you, you clued-up thing, you …

CURRENT STATE OF PARTIES
Conservatives           303
Labour                       257
Liberal Democrat       56
Democratic Unionist   8
Scottish National          6
Sinn Fein                       5
Independent                 3
Plaid Cymru                  3
Social Dem & Lab.        3
UKIP                               2
Alliance                           1
Green                              1
Respect                           1
Speaker                           1

Total no. of seats  650

HARD ARITHMETIC OF FORMING A GOVERNMENT

After a general election, the leader of one of the parties has to demonstrate that he or she can command a majority of the votes in the House of Commons on major issues - e.g. the Budget, major legislation, decisions to commit the Armed Forces – in other words, impose the democratic will of the Government on dissenting voices in the House and govern the United Kingdom. This is a obviously a practical necessity and of course constitutional requirement, as the leader has to convince the Queen as Head of State.

If one political party has this capacity, its leader de facto becomes Prime Minister, subject to the Queen’s ratification, but if no single party has the requisite number of seats – even though one may have more seats than any other single party – then either

a deal has to be struck with another party or parties, or

the party with the majority of seats has to risk governing as a minority government, or

a hung Parliament effectively  exists and another general election has to be called.

This situation existed in the hectic days following the last general election in 2010, and a fascinating spectacle it was.

There have been many projections of just how the seats will play out after May 7th, and there will be many more, as poll after poll offers its forecasts, but for the purpose of illustration of the arithmetic, I’ll use a slightly dated, but useful projection of the BBC’s – the first Newsnight Index - for no better reason than that I already have a graphic for it – and it may well be as accurate as any other that comes up!

Newsnight Index projection GE2015

With 650 seats in the House, a simple majority requires the aspirant governing party or parties to be able to command 326 seats (half of 650 + 1)– but since Sinn Fein doesn’t take up its five seats, that becomes 323 (half of 645 +1).  Sinn Fein could of course put a green cat among the Brit pigeons at any time by deciding to turn up!

If we look at the Newsnight Index projection (it’s not the current one), Labour, on this projection, would be the party with most seats, but not enough to hit the magic 323. Ed Miliband could then choose to “do an Alex Salmond 2007” and elect to govern as a minority government – a high-wire act, with huge risks, which Alex was well-equipped to perform – requiring him to do ad hoc deals on every major vote with other parties or interest groups within and/or across parties. If he hadn’t the balls for this – or the Queen didn’t like it – he would then have three other options -

call for another general election, or

try to strike a confidence & supply deal with another party or parties – a kind of minority government with a pre-arranged support understanding, or

form a coalition government with one party or with more than one party - a Rainbow coalition

(Aficionados of the various Borgen series on BBC Four will understand all of this effortlessly, plus have an insight into the role of sex in government!)

Who will Ed’s likely partners in government be – if he chooses to have partners – and how would it play out on the above, or similar projections of a May  7th outcome?

To get to the magic 323, he needs 37 votes. For comfort – and to reassure Lizzie – he ideally needs more. The SNP can give him 33, Plaid two and Greens one. He definitely(?) won’t find his extra one from the Tories or UKIP, and thus is left to trawl among the LibDems, the Northern Ireland parties and the Others!

Perhaps George Galloway will see his way clear to support Ed, but probably at a price that would be unacceptable!

However it plays out, it seems inevitable, if present polling trends are accurate, that the SNP will be the key player.

But consider this possibility – the LibDem 26 plus 11 othersbut drawn from where?

I haven’t had so much fun since the 1945 General Election, where I campaigned for Labour and Attlee as a ten year-old. Now, that was fun …

N.B. The Speaker does not vote, except in deadheat votes, when the convention is that the speaker casts the tie-breaking vote in favor of the governing party.

Monday, 2 February 2015

As we wait for the Chilcot Report …

Waiting for Chilcot is a bit like waiting for Godot. Idly checking back in my past ruminations on the war, I came across these comment of mine in the Guardian, circa 2008.

Guardian, comments 18 December 2008

I have been totally opposed to the Iraq war, from the lies, special pleading and moral cowardice that led up to it and throughout the horror, mendacity and ineptitude of its dreadful progress. But I am shocked at the unrealistic and superficial attitude of many of the comments on the role of the British armed forces, from armchair critics who have never been near a battlefield, have never placed themselves in harms way, and have never laid their life on the line for their country. To compare our soldiers, directly or by implication, to Nazis, is obscene and inaccurate.

The responsibility for the crimes against humanity in Iraq lies with the politicians who initiated it, to the members of Parliament who voted for it, and to the electors of Britain who continued to return them to power after the war started, and who continue to support them in government - and to the religious factions and tribal demagogues who manipulate the tortured people of Iraq, and naive - and always young - idealists from other nations, perverting their religious beliefs and the teachings of Islam to suit their evil and self-serving ends.

There have been atrocities - a minority of serving soldiers have behaved badly, and their superiors have failed by omission or commission to prevent this. But such aberrations occur in every war, and where possible, it has been exposed and punished.

But the prosecution of the war by British forces has been conducted in as principled a way as the exigencies of any war permit. An individual serving soldier may, at great personal risk, refuse to carry out an order in a specific instance that violates accepted codes of morality and international law, but to expect serving soldiers at any level to refuse to carry out their orders because of complex political argument at levels far above them is to expect the impossible. It is simplistic and brutally uncaring.

And what of the generals? Once our generals start to pursue their own agenda and their own political beliefs by confronting their political masters, we are headed for a junta. I hold no brief for Sir Jock Stirrup, and I think he should have thought, and thought again before committing his vapourings to print, but I do not believe he should have disobeyed his order.

I am a Scottish nationalist, and I fervently wish to be free of the Union that sacrifices the brave young men and women of Scotland to serve the vaunting ambition and vanity of despicable Scots like Blair and Brown, and permits them to send young men and women to their deaths, but I have never doubted the bravery and professionalism of the armed forces. In a very real sense, it is a greater sacrifice to do your job and die for your country in pursuit of a cause you do not believe in, because the majority of the people of your country have willed that act.

Place the blame where it squarely lies - with the politicians and the people who put them there. Leave our armed forces to mourn their dead and maimed comrades, and their families to cry out against those who sent them to their fate. 

Blair, Brown, Bush and Cheney attempt to justify their actions, but the verdict of history will damn them. The ancient Greeks recognised their type, and foresaw their fate.

The gods fail not to mark those who have killed many
The black Furies, stalking the man fortunate beyond all right
Wrench back again the set of his life and drop him to darkness.
There, among the ciphers, there is no more comfort in power
And the vaunt of high glory is bitterness.

AESCHYLUS - Agammenon

It is Britain's, and the Labour Party's abiding shame that two Labour Prime Ministers initiated, supported, and still defend the enormity of the Iraq conflict.

Friday, 30 January 2015

SNP/Green/Plaid bloc has to buttress Miliband against the Blairites after May 7th

SNP/Green/Plaid bloc has to buttress Miliband against the Blairites after May 7th NHS, Labour and privatisation -Labour, deeply divided into two camps on NHS - and many other key issues.

We already know what camp Murphy is in - the one inhabited by all his Blairite pals.
Scots have to choose between Labour and Tories/LibDems after May 7th, and we have to trust Labour, or least that Miliband wing of Labour that is halfway rational about the NHS, the economy, welfare and Trident. An SNP/Green/Plaid bloc has to buttress Miliband against the Blairites in his own party, and they include Jim Murphy.

Conditional trust only - for a price - in a confidence and supply arrangement, with a series of key conditions set by Nicola and Cabinet in Scotland through her team in Westminster. That's the new game ...

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Who really won the Referendum? UK Unionists now deeply, EVELy confused …

 

It was all entirely predictable - and predicted by me, as well as many more distinguished commentators - the granting of more powers simply plays into our self-determination agenda, and feeds an appetite that will only be satified with full independence.

UK is between a rock and a hard place -

Granting more powers just increases the demand for more, and infuriates the English electorate.

Denying them guarantees an irresistible Scottish demand for the second referendum.

Ye cannae win, Westminster - we have history, the zeitgeist and right on our side. (Nov 2011 blog)

 

Murphy at his vacuous worse - and that's saying something!


NEIL: "I hope you'll be better at answering my questions when I interview you on Sunday."

MURPHY: "I'm looking forward to it, Andrew .."

NEIL: "I was - until that interview. But nevertheless ..."


Get back fast to McTernan and your new comms team, Jimbo - radical surgery is required on your media persona. And you can rely on them to make it even worse ...

Monday, 12 January 2015

Tweets on Murphyism–a new New Labour sect

Peter Curran @moridura 

Murphy seems close to adopting a heretical YES creed. But NO voters wink and tap their noses: he's brought in the Witchfinder General!

Murphy says Scottish Labour is open to indy supporters. How exactly does he plan to deliver it? By referendum? By recanting? By Irn-Bru?

The Scotsman does its best to explain Murphyism with a straight face

Jim Murphy inspires me - to throw-up, then laugh. He reaches the depths of expediency other politicians cannot reach - not even Nigel!

Even non-believers in Henry Jackson may join Murphy's New Labour. Anti-NATO? We have a place for you too! George Robertson is a donor!

Murphyism - the new health food for disenchanted Labour YES supporters. It's bland, non-nutritious, cooked up by our new chef McTernan

Enough of politics - an indy crossword clue! Politician with no beliefs and forked tongue. No entries required - no prizes offered.

New Murphy Labour - open to all! We'll adjust to anybody's beliefs because our new party has only one - believe in Jim Murphy's career

Jim Murphy - why not invite unilateral WMD disarmers to join your new creed? And flat-earthers, creationists, perpetual motion fans?

To say that Murphyism is a confused, contradictory, opportunistic creed is not to do it full justice. Anyone who swallows this is nuts

SCOTSMAN on Murphyism: "referendum has resulted in the party being overwhelmingly characterised as unionist" Fancy that! 100 towns? Irn-Bru?

Murphy says Scottish Labour is open to indy supporters. How exactly does he plan to deliver it? By referendum? By recanting? By Irn-Bru?

Monday, 5 January 2015

Coalitus and coalascere

Coalitus? Sounds painful – maybe an inflammation caused by household fuel? Or is it a fancy name for the food craving of some pregnant women?

And coalascere ? Something Il commissario Montalbano might order as a side dish in his favourite Sicilian restaurant?

No – coalitus is the medieval Latin past participle of coalescere, meaning fusion or a coming together and coalesce and coalition derive from it.

A coalition is an alliance of some sort between two or more parties for combined action in concert in certain defined circumstances, one that is usually intended to be temporary.

Used in a political context, it is often for the purpose of forming a government.

(I am familiar with it in a negotiating context in voting behaviours with individuals and groups,  and the mathematical horrors of The Banzhaf Dilemma that I used to frighten senior managers with on negotiating skills courses.)

COALITION GOVERNMENT

We have lived with a coalition government in the UK for over four years in the form of the pernicious Tory/LibDem Coalition of 2010, formed in the aftermath of economic, social and foreign policy shambles left by the Blair/Brown governments of 1997 to 2010.

If we go back to 1852, the Peelites and the Whigs formed a coalition headed by Lord Aberdeen. It lasted till 1855. The noble Earl had a rash of Lords and knights in his cabinet, but he also had one William Ewart Gladstone, a fellow Peelite, of whom rather a lot was subsequently heard.

There was another short-lived LibTory coalition right in the middle of the Great War after the Gallipoli disaster: it collapsed and was promptly replaced by another under Lloyd George. It fell apart in 1922 over scandals, notoriously the blatant flogging of peerages for hard cash by Lloyd George.

The coalitions of 1931 to 1940 preferred to call themselves National Governments because by that time the term Coalition Government had a bad name(!)

The Second World War brought a Tory-led coalition under Churchill (1940-1945). It was referred to as the War Ministry, and last until May 1945, when Churchill resigned after the war ended.

It was replaced by the Churchill caretaker ministry until July 1945, when the general election resulted in a Labour landslide and the Attlee Government.

One might therefore say that the record of coalition governments has not been a stellar one, with the exception of the War Ministry Coalition of 1940-1945.

I’ve been alive during three of the six of them, witnessed the end of two of them and hope to witness the end of another on May 7th 2015.

The question is – will we see another coalition government sometime after May 8th 2015 – and should we want one?

SNP Westminster strategy

The SNP’s core strategy for GE2015 is to contest all Westminster Scottish seats and get as many SNP MPs elected as possible.

Its preferred outcome for the UK-wide ballot is Labour as the party with the largest number of seats, but without an overall majority, and the end of Cameron’s Tory/LibDem Coalition Government.

This outcome would leave UK Labour with three choices -

govern as a minority government, with no formal arrangement with any other party, but making ad hoc deals to secure a majority on specific votes with any party or group of MPs it could secure

enter into a confidence and supply arrangement with a party or parties to offer committed support on agreed issues

form a coalition government with one or more parties and form a cabinet that included ministers appointed from those parties

It would however be a mistake to think that this would all instantly be Ed Miliband’s choice to make. As Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary involved in the 2010 untidy and acrimonious negotiations that led to the Cameron/Clegg Coalition, has pointed out on Sky News, things were not as straightforward in 2010, and are unlikely to be straightforward after May 7th 2015.

But if it is Miliband’s choice, and he chooses a deal rather than minority government, and if the logic of that deal centres on a new and impressive bloc of SNP MPs, what deal might he choose – confidence and supply or coalition ?

If I were in his shoes, and I wanted to neuter the SNP influence in Westminster, I would unhesitatingly choose coalition.

Why?

Well, for a number of reasons.

1. I would invoke the spirit and the words of Lyndon Johnson when faced with having J.Edgar Hoover in or out of his government – “I’d rather have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”

2. Having the SNP in government, in cabinet – and with cabinet responsibility -could be presented as de facto acceptance of the finality of the 2014 independence referendum outcome and embracing the Union.

3. If the SNP broke ranks in coalition, and breached joint cabinet responsibility for a policy decision or action, they could be presented as deeply irresponsible and unfit for government.

4. In Miliband’s position, I would rely on the seductive influences of ministerial office, the status and perks, and the illusion of acting on an international stage to blunt the edge of the SNP’s ambitions for Scotland and damage their reputation and electoral standing with their core constituency.

In a nutshell, if I were Ed Miliband I would do to the SNP what Cameron has done to the LibDems – reduce them to an object of contempt and an electoral rump of a party.

In contrast, governing UK as a minority government would be a far more risky enterprise than governing Scotland in a devolved Parliament was for Alex Salmond 2007-2011, and a confidence and supply deal would place him in the mode of supplicant every time a significant vote arose and crucially, at every budget.

SNP CHOICE?

The SNP’s current position – as I understand it – is that they hope for a Labour win with no overall majority, and a subsequent confidence and supply deal. If - as many thought – Stewart Hosie was flying a cautious kite for coalition, then it is for the SNP to justify such a course of action.

But can they – and more importantly – will they?

The SNP could argue that it cannot commit to what it would and wouldn’t do until the result of GE2015 is known. That is true up to a point, and the SNP - and Alex Salmond’s - legendary pragmatism card would be played. It takes two to tango, and this tango might include more than two, and shift towards a threesome - or a foursome reel.

However, the SNP has found no problem in specifically excluding any kind of a deal with the Tories or UKIP in stating its forward intentions for GE2015. There is nothing that I can see that stops them precluding a coalition with Labour either, but pursuing a confidence and supply deal.

My guess is that the SNP ministers, MSPs and the Parliamentary candidates have their brief by now on how to play this at the hustings and with the media, and it will be a stonewalling response – “impossible to say at this stage, situation will have to be evaluated after May 7th, wouldn’t want to tie the party’s hands, too much at stake …” etc.

The fate of Craig Murray over a vetting question will not have escaped the candidates, and I would guess they’ll be right on message on this hot potato. Not one will say they’re opposed on principle to a coalition.

Is this the right approach? Only the electorate can answer that. I’m opposed to a coalition, but even the SNP publicly stating they fully intended to pursue one wouldn’t stop me voting SNP on 7th May. But I’d be worried if they did, and I believe there are some former Labour voters who shifted painfully to the SNP, with many reservations and much personal agony, who might react differently.

As I said in a tweet on the day Stewart Hosie appeared to raise the coalition question – I want SNP arses on the green benches post-May 7th, but I don’t want them on the front benches of the Westminster Parliament we campaigned so hard to get out of.