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.
SOME MINOR THEMES
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.
THE REFERENDUM CONSULTATION DEBACLE
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.