Saturday, June 20, 2015

The grotesque end-point of unionist logic : if you don't vote in line with English norms, you've got no-one but yourselves to blame for the consequences

I was a child when I heard Jeffrey Archer say it, but even then I could see that it was an intellectually bankrupt argument from anyone who claimed to be a democrat.  He informed Scotland that it was high time we learned that if we were going to be stuck with a Tory government anyway (because England kept voting Tory), it would be in our own best interests to start electing Tory MPs ourselves, because that was the only way we'd ever get the government to listen to us.

A variant on the same theme appeared on this blog a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of our eccentric commenter "ScotBrit2014", who claims to be two (possibly three) different people.  He insisted that by voting against the London parties on May 7th, we had somehow chosen that Scotland's voice should not be heard, and therefore we had no-one but ourselves to blame for the consequences.

Democracy, UK style : You can vote any way you like, but just be aware that you'll be punished if you make the wrong choice.  You can vote unionist, or you can SUFFER.  Entirely up to you.

And now even the Liberal Democrats are inviting us to wake up and smell the coffee.  An article at Lib Dem Voice arguing that the party should be hoping that Liz Kendall wins the Labour leadership contest concludes in the following extraordinary manner -

"This won’t deal with the larger part of “the fear” that a minority Labour government would be propped up by the SNP. I don’t see this going away until the Scottish people realise that Conservative government is a consequence of their supporting the SNP in such large numbers (though they have every right to do it.) That may well take another parliament or two, unless anyone has a bright idea."

Hmmm.  Alternatively, the Scottish people may come to the more rational and accurate realisation that Conservative government is a direct consequence of their decision last September to listen to the advice of the Liberal Democrats (among others), and vote against independence.  That mistake will only take another referendum to be remedied.

Even if this guy wasn't barking up the wrong tree with his unspoken assumption that Scotland is "trapped" and will eventually learn to be more "realistic", his argument wouldn't make sense anyway.  The theory that fear of SNP influence was a decisive factor in England at the general election has yet to be credibly proved, but if there's any truth in it, the responsibility lies entirely with Labour and the Lib Dems for failing to tackle that fear head-on, rather than fuel it.  They could have had a mature conversation with the electorate, and pointed out that if it is considered desirable for Scotland to remain in the UK, it's inevitable that Scotland's democratic voice will eventually have to be accommodated and compromised with.  Our political distinctiveness is not an infection that can be stamped out, but that was the delusion they chose to peddle instead.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Straw in the wind from Ipsos-Mori suggests SNP still have an enormous lead

We're still hopelessly stranded in polling Antarctica, as the various firms lick their wounds after their humbling on May 7th.  The one full-scale Scottish poll we've had was obviously hugely encouraging for the SNP, but the fieldwork predated the death of Charles Kennedy. That might conceivably be of some importance, due to the disgraceful attempts of some right-wing journalists to exploit the tragedy to damage Alex Salmond.  However, we now have a second straw in the wind from a GB-wide poll conducted well into June, and so far there is no hint at all of the SNP surge going into reverse.  Yesterday's Ipsos-Mori Scottish subsample has figures of : SNP 56%, Labour 22%, Conservatives 17%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 1%.  As with the ICM subsample that had the SNP in the high 40s, the number of respondents is very low.  So the information for June is still extraordinarily limited, but there is certainly no obvious cause for concern so far.

Ipsos-Mori's Scottish sample report a different preference for Labour leader from respondents in the rest of Britain, narrowly plumping for Yvette Cooper over Liz Kendall by a 15% to 12% margin.  Andy Burnham, the Britain-wide favourite, trails in a poor third.  However, that may well be a freak result caused by the small sample size.

The most significant finding of the poll has only been released today - across Britain, support for remaining a member of the EU has reached a 24-year high, with the equivalent of the Yes campaign in the referendum leading by 61% to 27%.  That's based on the long-running tracker question that was asked to half the sample.  The other half were asked the actual referendum question, producing an even more dramatic result - 66% Yes, 22% No.

So is it game over before we even start?  Answer : no, or at least not until we get some clarity about the reason for the disparity between the results produced by telephone and online pollsters, which is every bit as extreme as we saw in the independence referendum (if not more so).  Recent YouGov online polls have shown a Yes lead, but a very modest one.  It's easy to jump to the conclusion that telephone polls must be more accurate, or that the truth must be somewhere in between the two extremes - in which case Yes would have a handsome lead.  That's not necessarily the case - for example, in the 2008 London mayoral election, YouGov's internet polls comprehensively got the better of Ipsos-Mori's telephone polls.

The other thing that needs to be borne in mind is that the electorate tends to behave in a much more volatile way in referendums than in regular elections.  Ipsos-Mori may never have reported a 3-1 No lead in the independence referendum, but they did report a 2-1 lead at one point.  We all know how dramatically the race narrowed afterwards.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is J K Rowling embarrassed by her broken promise?

Just for a moment, let's leave aside the details of J K Rowling's latest disgraceful attempt to smear the SNP with wild allegations based on zero evidence.  Am I the only person to recall that, during the referendum, she said something along the following lines : "I will back No in the referendum, and then I will back any party that offers Devo Max at the general election"?

Anyone would think she was trying to ludicrously smear the SNP as racists to give her an excuse for breaking her solemn promise, because of course there was only one major party offering Devo Max at the election, and it sure as hell wasn't Labour.  What more could the SNP have achieved in May with the backing that Rowling reneged upon?  Perhaps we could have turned her own city 100% Devo Max Yellow.  Such a wasted opportunity, J K.

I've been trying to avoid making the obvious point that the party Rowling actually supports issued an anti-immigration mug during the election campaign.  But she certainly must have been purring with pride last night when Andy Burnham said "the party always comes first", and Liz Kendall sanctimoniously butted in with "er, the country always comes first".  So narrow British nationalism trumps party tribalism in Continuity New Labour - that's reassuring.  I was willing Jeremy Corbyn to sniffily add "I think you'll find humanity comes first, Liz".

Heaven only knows how I would vote if I was a Labour member/registered supporter.  I would probably give my first preference to Corbyn (even though he achieves the impossible of being a Labour leadership candidate who is even more left-wing than I am), but it's the second preference that would really matter, and there I'm stumped.  Maybe I would plump for Yvette Cooper on the basis that she has a marginally less irritating personality than Burnham, but it's murderously difficult to see much (any) difference between the two of them politically.

And what would be best for the SNP?  In contrast to 2010, I don't think there's an ideal outcome this time.  All of the three leading candidates are poor, but all of them - simply by virtue of who they are - bring something to the table that might be of assistance to Labour in these parts.  The SNP will lose one of their USPs (in the Westminster arena, I mean) if Labour elect a female leader, but Burnham's northern accent may be of some appeal as well.

*  *  *

There must have been something in the water since election day - I seem to have spent half my time arguing with fellow independence supporters on this blog.  If it isn't tactical voting, it's irresponsible dog owners, and if it isn't irresponsible dog owners, it's the House of Lords.  On the latter subject, and without any wish to start yet another argument, you might find this article from the Plaid Cymru website interesting - it's about how Lord Dafydd Wigley will take the case for Devo Max to the Grand Committee Room of the House of Lords this very afternoon.  That doesn't sound to me like a man who has gone native - and of course it's the sort of thing the SNP can't do themselves for as long as they are completely unrepresented in the upper chamber.

(Thanks to Helen Ross for drawing my attention to the story.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The "post-truth" Jackanory Jim

I have my fears for the Polling Matters podcast, as it gradually deepens its new relationship with Stormfront Lite.  It's just introduced a readers' questions feature, and it's surely now only a matter of time before Sean Thomas is presenting a regular 'Bangkok Brothels Review' slot on the show.  The rot hasn't set in quite yet, though, and the latest episode is once again a good listen, with Ed Miliband's private pollster James Morris giving the inside story of the election campaign from his own point of view.  As I understand it, Labour was his client and not his employer, which probably explains why there's no spin in evidence at all.

Scotland is only mentioned in passing, but three points of relevance to us are raised -

1) We're told that a Labour internal poll "last year" showed the SNP in the high 40s, with Labour way behind, vying with the Tories for second place.  The figures were initially distrusted, until a poll the following day showed much the same story.  This is quite a vague anecdote, but I'm wondering if it means that Labour had 24 hours' notice of the bombshell that was about to hit when Ipsos-Mori published their famous poll in late October, showing the SNP on 52% and Labour on 23%.  Other than subsamples, there had been no indication prior to that of the scale of the SNP surge.

2) Morris concedes that there are some differences between public attitudes in Scotland and the rest of the UK - for example, Scots are opposed to austerity, and are somewhat more liberal on immigration.  However, he insists (in line with the familiar establishment consensus) that these differences are overplayed, and that Labour's weaknesses south of the border are much the same as their weaknesses north of the border - Scots are just as sceptical as people in England about Labour's competence in managing public finances, and in protecting the UK's borders.  I'm inclined to say "up to a point, Lord Copper", because you also have to take into account public attitudes to Labour's main opponent in each country.  The SNP won a landslide while being explicitly positive about the benefits of immigration - it's very hard to imagine any party doing that in England in the foreseeable future.

3) We're told that Labour genuinely expected to form the new government, even though they recognised it was doubtful that they would be the largest single party.  This is the most compelling evidence yet that Jim Murphy and the rest of the Scottish Labour party were directly lying to the public when they repeatedly insisted that the largest party would get to form the government (in an attempt to frighten people into voting Labour rather than SNP).  In private, they not only accepted the constitutional theory that the second-largest party could form a government, they actually thought that was the most likely outcome of the election.

What was that Jim Murphy was saying the other day about Scottish politics operating within a "post-truth" environment?  Well, he should know if anyone does, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Tories think the Scottish Parliament should be permanent in a non-permanent sort of way

A few years ago, I stumbled across what was almost certainly the most moronic advice column in the history of the known universe.  It was American, naturally.  A woman had written in to ask what to do about her husband, who was stubbornly refusing to have a vasectomy.  The response from the resident agony aunt was along the following lines : "He's thinking about leaving you, sweetie.  He wants to have more children with another woman.  There's no other possible explanation for him refusing to do what you want."

And I thought, WHAT?  It only takes a matter of micro-seconds to come up with two equally plausible reasons for him refusing to do it -

1) A vasectomy is bloody painful, and has significant potential side-effects.

2) You don't have to be planning to leave your wife to recognise that circumstances can change in unpredictable ways, and that nobody can know for certain what their situation will be a few years down the line.  It's not irrational to think that taking a potentially irreversible step is something you could conceivably live to regret.

Now, this may be a slightly tortured analogy, but it seems to me that the UK government promised us in September they would have a vasectomy (by making the Scottish Parliament permanent) and have since had cold feet about the idea.  So which of the above two reasons apply?  It can't be the pain and the side-effects, because accepting the SNP amendment last night wouldn't have caused any such complications.  That only leaves reason 2 - the nagging feeling that, even though it doesn't seem likely now, they might eventually regret taking an irreversible step. 

So when they say "we will never abolish the Scottish Parliament, but we can't possibly relinquish our legal power to abolish it", what they really mean is "we're just a bit worried that we might change our mind about not wanting to abolish it". 

Which kind of misses the point of what the word "permanent" means.  Trying to square a permanent Scottish Parliament with the concept of absolute Westminster sovereignty, as David Mundell did last night, is as ludicrous as having a half-vasectomy done as a compromise.

A permanent Scottish Parliament, and indeed a statutory basis for the Sewel Convention, IS the end of absolute Westminster sovereignty.  If you weren't prepared to deliver that, why did you ever "vow" it?

*  *  *

I've seen a lot of despair today about the apparent inability of 56 SNP MPs to have any impact at all on the outcome of parliamentary votes, but in fact the situation isn't quite as grim as many people believe.  Look at it this way - the most important power held by the European Parliament is to dismiss the entire Commission, and if you believe the official record, that power has never been used.  But of course in reality, it was used to devastating effect in 1999, when the Santer Commission resigned to avoid the humiliation of being sacked.  The point being that if an administration backtracks to avoid a defeat it knows is coming, that's effectively the same thing as a defeat.  Precisely such a scenario has occurred over the last 24 hours, with the government giving ground after the DUP signed an SNP amendment to the EU referendum bill (to ensure that the referendum date doesn't coincide with devolved elections). 

Embattled Carmichael wins rare landslide victory - as you vote him the worst Secretary of State for Scotland since 1999

Many thanks to all 558 of you who voted in our poll to choose the worst Secretary of State for Scotland since devolution in 1999. Unsurprisingly, Alistair Carmichael emerged as the runaway winner, in recognition of his admission a few weeks ago that he was responsible for the attempt to smear Nicola Sturgeon during the general election, and that he would have had no choice but to resign from the office of SoS if he had still been occupying it. The real battle was for second place, and for a while it was quite a close run thing between the incumbent David Mundell, and perennial fan favourite "Jackanory" Jim Murphy. It was Mundell who eventually pulled away, perhaps thanks to his shambolic performance during the Scotland Bill debate a few hours ago.

Here are the full results. Multi-voting was enabled, which is why the total number of votes is much higher than the total number of voters. The percentages in brackets represent the proportion of voters who selected each 'candidate'.

Who has been the worst Secretary of State for Scotland since devolution?

Alistair Carmichael : 347 (62%)

David Mundell : 210 (37%)

Jim Murphy : 170 (30%)

Helen Liddell : 132 (23%)

John Reid : 116 (20%)

Douglas Alexander : 108 (19%)

Alistair Darling : 104 (18%)

Danny Alexander : 102 (18%)

Des Browne : 67 (12%)

Michael Moore : 58 (10%)

Given that Helen Liddell's tenure as SoS was well over a decade ago, and that she has since vanished from the public eye, it's rather startling to see her in a clear fourth place - evidently her inadequacies have lingered long in the memory. And almost a fifth of you are still traumatised by Danny Alexander's horrific eighteen-day occupation of the Scotland Office in May 2010.

Personally, I think Michael "007" Moore has got off rather lightly here - he was responsible for burying his party's commitment to Home Rule and federalism in the aftermath of the 2010 election, and for slamming the door on the SNP's constructive attempts to beef up the Calman proposals.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Do the SNP have a strategy for the Lords stage of the Scotland Bill?

Westminster has been at its disgraceful worst today, as the Tory government dismissed out of hand each and every amendment to the Scotland Bill put forward by the party that Scotland gave such an overwhelming electoral mandate to only last month. It seems that "this goes beyond the Smith Commission" is considered a perfectly sufficient excuse for rejecting absolutely any amendment, even though "this falls short of the Smith Commission" apparently isn't a good enough reason for beefing up the Bill. You really couldn't make this stuff up.

There was one minor chink of light, though. The SNP's amendment that would have made the Scottish Parliament a permanent institution - in line with the solemn "Vow" that David Cameron supposedly made to the people of Scotland - was only rejected by 302 votes to 271. That means Labour must have breached the so-called Bain Principle and actually voted in favour of an SNP amendment, and it seems likely that the Lib Dems followed suit. If so, the government should be heading for a defeat on this issue in the Lords, where Labour and the Lib Dems in combination easily outnumber the Tories.

But that depends on the amendment actually being tabled in the Lords, which harks back to the problem I raised last month - the SNP can't do it themselves, because they don't have any representation in the Lords. OK, maybe Labour or the Lib Dems will table some sort of amendment along the same lines - but will it take exactly the form that we would wish? Whatever our principled objections to the Lords as an unelected chamber, it would be extremely helpful for tactical reasons if the SNP had some kind of limited presence there, so that they can at least table amendments and occasionally shame Labour and the Lib Dems into going slightly further than would otherwise be the case.

I hope the SNP have a strategy for dealing with the Lords stage of the Scotland Bill. The good news is that Plaid Cymru's brilliant former leader Dafydd Wigley is a member of the upper chamber, so in theory he could help out, but I'm not sure whether it's fair or practical to put all the responsibility on him alone. I've no idea whether there are one or two crossbench peers who have some sympathy with the SNP, but if by any chance there are, the party should be getting hold of their phone numbers as a matter of some urgency.

* * *

They say that even a broken clock is accurate twice a day, which terrifyingly means that Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson is almost certainly less accurate than a broken clock. But to give him his due, he did have one of his rare moments of profound insight earlier this evening -

"Smith was the Whitehall response to the indyref. So what is the Whitehall response to Scottish general election result? There isn't one."

The day the Tories rejected the election result in Scotland - that's called colonialism, isn't it?

Democratic mandates given to manifesto pledges are directly recognised by the chaotic British "constitution". Under the Salisbury Convention, a political party that has won a majority of seats in a general election is entitled to have its manifesto pledges passed by the House of Lords - and upon such "understandings" rests Britain's entire claim to be a democracy.

Last month, the SNP won an overwhelming majority of Scottish seats on an unambiguous pledge to introduce Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland after a transitional period. They subsequently introduced an amendment to the Scotland Bill to honour that pledge. The principle established by Salisbury is clear enough - if Scotland is truly a democracy, the Tory government should recognise the mandate for the SNP's manifesto, and allow the amendment to pass, regardless of whether or not they agree with it.

So is that what's happening? Oh, don't be silly - Scotland isn't a democracy. The Tories get to veto the people's verdict, and are doing so with characteristic abandon.

Now, don't get me wrong - the unionist parties are perfectly entitled to their view that Full Fiscal Autonomy would be a "disaster" and a "shambles". But the thing is, they put that argument to the Scottish people, and it was (to use the BBC's favourite word from September) "decisively" rejected. None of us are going to adopt Cameronite despotism by arguing that the result of the 2015 general election binds us all for "a lifetime", but it should certainly stand until another election produces a different result.

Imagine if the Scottish Government had reacted to the referendum result by saying : "Well, that's interesting, but we're just going to ignore it, and use our parliamentary majority to declare independence anyway. If we did anything else, it would be a disaster for the people of Scotland."

The Tories are doing to the exact equivalent of that. To hell with the respect agenda, this is the contempt agenda - and it's also why a second independence referendum is probably inevitable sooner or later. David Cameron should really have heeded the fair warning Nicola Sturgeon gave him when he came to Edinburgh. On his own head be it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

VOTE : Who has been the worst Secretary of State for Scotland since devolution?

Now count yourself lucky here - I was planning to really hurt your head by asking who your favourite post-devolution Scottish Secretary is, but at the last minute I decided to have pity on you. Believe it or not, ten people from three different parties have held the office since it became largely redundant in July 1999, meaning you've got a veritable rogue's gallery to choose from. Multi-voting is enabled, so you can spread the hate around as much as you wish. Vote wisely!

Does the Scottish Affairs Select Committee face an English takeover?

I was slightly surprised to see Pete Wishart quoted on the Scotsman website as saying it was "very generous" of the Tories to give up two of their six allotted seats on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, so that the SNP can claim them instead.  Obviously it's better than nothing, because it at least heads off the ludicrous possibility that the eleven-strong committee might have only one member who actually represents a Scottish constituency.  But it does still mean that, unless Labour are even more "generous", it's very difficult to see how the committee will have even a bare majority of Scottish MPs, which you'd think would be the minimum requirement.  If the Tories stick to their guns, I can only see two ways in which that could now happen...

Option 1 :

Conservatives 4
Labour 1

Option 2 :

Conservatives 4
Labour 1
Liberal Democrats 1

The reason those are the only possibilities is that David Mundell and Ian Murray are presumably unavailable, leaving Alistair Carmichael as the only non-SNP Scottish member who can conceivably be drafted in (which would be hugely controversial to say the least).  Either way, Labour would have to give up three-quarters of their four allotted seats, while the Tories would only be giving up one-third of their six.  Doesn't seem a very likely basis for an agreement, does it?

Realistically, the Tories are going to have to give more ground, otherwise Westminster will face the PR disaster of a sham "Scottish" committee with a clear English majority.

*  *  *

To celebrate the thrilling news that Iain "the Snarl" Gray is BACK as Scottish Labour leader, it's nostalgia night here at Scot Goes Pop.  If you've ever wondered how to say Iain "the Snarl" Gray in ten different languages - including, naturally, Portuguese - you're bang in luck this fine evening.

ENGLISH:  Iain "the Snarl" Gray

GERMAN:  Iain "das Knurren" Gray

HUNGARIAN:  Iain "a Vicsorog" Gray

MAORI:  Iain "te Ngengere" Gray

DANISH:  Iain "den Snerren" Gray

PORTUGUESE:  Iain "o Rosnar" Gray

MACEDONIAN:  Иан "на метеж" Греј

AFRIKAANS:  Iain "die Warboel" Gray

CHINESE:  伊恩 "在咆哮" 灰

MALTESE:  Iain "l- Ħajt tas-Sejjieħ" Gray