Friday, February 5, 2010

Scotland is not a nation, advises Rod Liddle

It was a slightly peculiar experience watching the discussion on Scottish independence on Wednesday night's Dinner With Portillo, with the only person I really had to cheer on being a decidedly right-of-centre historian. I must admit, though, that although I may not have agreed with Michael Fry on every point, he is a very effective and passionate debater, and given the circumstances thank heavens he was there. The most bizarre segment of the programme offered us yet another unwelcome opportunity to take a wander around the frightening terrain that is Rod Liddle's psyche. "Scotland is NOT a nation," he thundered repeatedly. You might assume such a startling claim would be backed up with a sophisticated and considered argument, but instead what we got was - "on the east coast of Scotland they speak like Northumbrians, on the west coast they speak Gay-lick". Yes, I must admit every time I visit Dundee I really have to pinch myself to remember I'm nowhere near Lindisfarne, and come the weekend I enjoy nothing more than a trip to Troon to sample the very best the GĂ idhealtachd has to offer. Seriously, though, is Liddle really offering up the continued survival of one of Scotland's indigenous languages as evidence that Scotland is less of a nation than it would otherwise be?

Vernon Bogdanor is of course a much weightier figure than Liddle, but even he seems to be stuck in the nineteenth century, talking of his "regret" that Ireland left the United Kingdom. You'd think he might have got over it by now. Underlying this of course is the stubborn idea amongst some traditionalist unionist thinkers that it would have been a more desirable outcome had Home Rule for Ireland headed off calls for full independence. That seems an utterly incredible worldview to hold in 2010 - does Bogdanor also think devolution for India within the UK would have been a more rational, progressive outcome in 1947?

This is the joint 42nd best blog in Scotland, apparently!

Many thanks to everyone who nominated and voted for this blog in the inaugural Scotblogs awards. These awards have been lots of fun - they even got a little mention on Newsnight Scotland a week or two back, and the best thing about it has been the opportunity to discover some extraordinary blogs I hadn't previously been aware of (Everyone I Ever Kissed stands out).

And many congratulations to Jeff on his well-deserved victory. Given the mythology that's grown up about the supposed Cybernat scourge, it seems rather apt that the blog voted the best in Scotland is written by such a polite, tolerant and thoroughly ecumenical SNP member!

Why Jon Cruddas just might be Labour leader

My ears pricked up (figuratively speaking) when I read Iain Dale's headline 'Why Jon Cruddas won't be Labour leader', because a few weeks ago for Political Betting's annual prediction game I had taken a wild guess that Cruddas might be the party leader twelve months from now. So I was curious to see if there was something blindingly obvious that I'd overlooked. But of the three 'reasons' Dale provides, two relate to his own prejudices about why Cruddas shouldn't be Labour leader, including one that is utterly risible (namely that he allegedly lives in Notting Hill rather than Dagenham). The third reason is a bit more pertinent - that there is a danger that Cruddas might lose his seat to the Tories at the general election. But if Dale's level of confidence that the Tories will win that seat is so high that it totally precludes even the possibility of Cruddas becoming party leader, why does he rather amusingly feel the need to end his post by begging for cash for the local Tory campaign?

For my money, Cruddas is the one potential leader that might just have a chance of restoring Labour's standing in public esteem. He's a likeable, straight-talking conviction politician who, rather novelly, actually seems to believe in at least some of the things a social democratic party is supposed to believe in. He once mischievously said "I'd like to see us lurch to the centre-left". It's a thought.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

SNP seem set to complete full four-year term in office

Around a year ago, after the Scottish budget had passed at the second attempt, I pondered here on whether the SNP government had just come through its defining trial, and effectively secured its full four-year term in office. Although there was still the obvious test of one more budget to come, I thought it was highly unlikely that the opposition parties would seek to bring down Alex Salmond's administration when a) a Westminster election is so close and b) there is only one more year to go until the next Holyrood poll. A few months later, the emergence out of nowhere of the Megrahi controversy made such a prediction seem - temporarily at least - quite foolish and premature. And yet, here we are, with this year's budget passed and with no more hurdles that we know about needing to be jumped between now and May 2011.

'Know about' being the operative phrase - what happened with Megrahi late last summer is a reminder that there is always what Donald Rumsfeld might pithily describe as "unknown unknowns, that is to say things that we do not know that we do not know". And beyond the totally unforseeable, there is also the nightmare scenario that we've always known about of the tight Holyrood arithmetic changing - which of course could happen very suddenly. But it hasn't happened over the last three years, and the odds on it happening yet are lengthening by the day.

So if the SNP are indeed set to see out their full term of office despite holding just a one-seat advantage over the largest opposition party, it really is quite an achievement in itself. My recollection from the coverage in May 2007 is that academics were pointing out that there was no example of a minority government in the whole of Europe successfully functioning despite being so far short of a majority, and Robin Harper revealed that the general consensus at Holyrood was that the government would last for two years before being forced to seek a fresh mandate. So we shouldn't lose sight of how those early expectations have been exceeded with such apparent ease.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The most lightweight Cabinet minister ever?

I see Jeff has picked up on the debate over who might be the Secretary of State for Scotland should the Tories win power in May. I must say I favour Eddie Barnes' logic over Jeff and Malc's - it's highly likely to be David Mundell. For the reason, you need look no further than the jibe that's going to be thrown most frequently at a Tory government north of the border - that they have no mandate to rule. It would hardly help to counter that perception if they proved unable to man the Scotland Office from the directly elected ranks of Scottish Tory MPs. So that would exclude the possibility of parachuting David McLetchie into the Lords, or appointing a Scot who represents an English constituency. Of course, there may be a few more Scottish Tory MPs than just Mundell after the election - but none that would be any better suited for the job.

Which wouldn't be saying much. Indeed, it begs the question - has there ever been a Cabinet minister who has been appointed for reasons other than his own personal attributes to quite the same extent that Mundell is about to be? It's hard to think of any other circumstances in which someone of Mundell's standing would even get close to the Cabinet table. If Cameron wasn't faced with a de facto one-man shortlist for the Secretary of State role, Mundell might even currently be relishing the prospect of becoming a PPS. Unkind?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

ComRes subsample : OK, this one probably doesn't count

I'm normally fairly scathing about people who say, in Snow-esque fashion, that the Scottish subsamples of UK-wide polls are "just a bit of fun". My normal reply is that they certainly need to treated with considerable caution, but if they really were totally meaningless the figures and placings wouldn't be as relatively stable as they generally are. But the latest subsample from ComRes seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Not much comment is really needed on these figures -

Labour 50% (+11)
Liberal Democrats 19% (+4)
SNP 18% (-3)
Conservatives 9% (-11)
Others 4% (-1)

Of course, the real story from this poll is the narrowing of the gap between the Tories and Labour at UK-wide level to well within hung parliament territory. What's fascinating is the way that a number of Tory supporters are pretending this is somehow a good thing for their party, because the closeness of the race will "concentrate minds". It's a handy truism that the best way to judge if a statement has any credibility is to turn it on its head and see if it intuitively makes much sense. In this instance that would mean Labour trying to work out what would be the most effective way of getting back into the game - and concluding that what they really need is for the Tories to maintain massive poll leads right up to election day. Yep, that makes perfect sense.

Bad night for the Tories.

Monday, February 1, 2010

YouGov double-header offers mixed news for the SNP

Over the weekend there were two new UK-wide polls from YouGov, published on consecutive days. However, the fieldwork was not carried out at identical times - the first ran from the 26th to 28th of January, while the second was carried out on the 28th and 29th. The Scottish subsample from the first provided some encouragement for the Nationalists, with Labour's lead being cut from fifteen points to nine. Here are the full figures -

Labour 36% (-3)
SNP 27% (+3)
Conservatives 20% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 15% (+2)
Others 1% (-6)

However, the second poll showed that trend being reversed -

Labour 39% (+3)
SNP 22% (-5)
Conservatives 20% (-)
Liberal Democrats 11% (-4)
Others 8% (+7)

Of course, none of these changes can be regarded as meaningful over the space of a day or two - it just boils down to differences in the sampling. However, the good news for the SNP is that all recent YouGov subsamples have had them in second place. The figures from the latest ComRes survey (which sees the GB-wide Tory lead being slashed to just seven points) may be available later this evening.