SNC Tactical Voting – The End of the Line

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Today I announce the mothballing of one blog (this one) and the beginning of another (Better Nation)

First, the obligatory but still utterly unnecessary preamble, (mostly just included because I wrote this months ago and then bottled the imminent retirement, can’t put those words to waste now):

The Green Party has returned its first MP to the House of Commons which is a tremendous effort given the First Past the Post system it has been fighting against for all of these years. With the 1% of the vote it received it should have returned 6 MPs, the same haul as the SNP, and that’s before taking into account all the tactical voting that’s been going on, obscuring the Greens’ true popularity.

However, despite this good news, we are stuck with the return of a Tory Government, replete with a Cabinet which worryingly somehow contains Climate Change sceptics even in this post-Copenhagen, post-Kyoto, post-Al-Gore and soon to be post-Maldives era. This has effectively scuppered any realistic chance of stabilising global emissions by 2015. Saving the world was a daunting task before the challenge of reversing the increase in carbon emissions in 5 short years, failing is surely a foregone conclusion now unless something remarkable happens.

I noted the weary resignation of the Green candidate in my own constituency during the last election campaign, destined for fourth place but making all the right arguments at the hustings and receiving the strongest and warmest applause. I couldn’t help but wonder at the time if Al Gore being robbed of the US Presidency by George Bush was the moment the planet missed its greatest opportunity to alter its tragic direction. That said, despite Ms Lucas’ presence on those ironically green benches, GE2010 will have to go down as yet another moment where the greatest threat to life as we know it barely got a word in edgeways.

So what can the Green party do? Circumvent Westminster and seek to educate and mobilise the public to take direct action? It’s worth a go I suppose.

For me, after much deliberating, most of it publicly stated on this blog, I’ve decided that I can’t avoid the inconvenient truth of not being able to realistically maintain an SNP blog (as this would always be perceived) when I’m not a member of the party, don’t particularly believe in independence, feel my political sympathies being pulled, yanked even, in a different direction and am unlikely to return to Scotland in the near to medium future.

I will say that I remain baffled by the visceral hatred that the SNP attracts from a wide, disparate group of individuals and institutions. The party’s objectives and aspirations are valid and well-meaning and, as far I have been able to tell in my relatively short time amateurishly studying the partys progress, it is chock full of thoroughly pleasant, intelligent, motivated people who seem incapable of giving in no matter how down the chips may be. May they live long and prosper.

Alas, there is no SNP candidate on my upcoming ballot slips and for me, with my somewhat ‘all or nothing’ mentality, there is no sufficiently good reason to get involved with the local Nat branch here. So it is to the Greens that my political community spirit goes, as I already let on a few weeks ago.

Reading Zac Goldsmith’s absorbing The Constant Economy got the ball rolling and the conduct and arguments of Westminster Green candidates on Twitter and blogs, the Two Doctors blog which I barely ever disagree with and Patrick Harvie’s excellent performances inside (and outside) of Holyrood cemented the rest.

I’ve been much more of a Green than a Nat for a while now I suppose so it’s time to fondly pat down the walls of this blog that has served me so well, switch the lights off (of course) and head off to pastures new.

Those pastures are already up and running as I will be embarking on a blogging experiment with fellow seasoned veterans James MacKenzie (of Two Doctors) and Malc (of Malc in the Burgh) at Better Nation. It won’t be business as usual though as I intend to blog considerably less over the next six months or so but what it will be is a reflective, intelligent (hopefully), slightly nerdy and above all optimistic take on Scotland and its potential. Please make sure to stop on by (or better still, update your Bookmarks and links!)

Thanks for everything that this blog has given me; basically an illuminating lifting of the lid behind how politics works and a satisfying but humbling readership including literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tremendous comments that helped shape my thinking and no doubt others’ too. It’s been a great ride for someone who didn’t feel he had a right to be in the blogosphere when he first stepped into it and, although I won’t miss pesky journalists asking me what my employer may think of a certain blog post, I will miss the challenge of maintaining a high posting rate and mixing up the debate.

Not that this is farewell of course, Better Nation will hopefully take off and I daresay an urge to post something rampantly partisan and tactical-related will see me back here sooner rather than later once the 2011 campaign gets going in earnest.

The blogging bug is a bit like flying Ryanair after all – You know it’s damaging, dirty and wrong, but you just can’t help yourself anyway!





Compassion fatigue

Friday, 9 August 2013

“In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity.
“It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people.
“The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.

From William Hague today:

“We must harness Britain’s generosity and compassion to help the rest of the world”

Kenny was vilified by many, including Tories, for the former and his supposed claim that Scotland has a monopoly on compassion. Note that this is a separate issue to whether Megrahi being released was appropriate or not, it is focussing on whether our leaders should project a positive view of the nations they represent and the hypocrisy that can exist therein.

I look forward to William receiving the same derision that Kenny received.

Labour should pick ed(what do you mean ‘which one’?)

Thursday, 8 August 2013

1Too many leadership contests of late have involved picking the least worst candidate so it is to Labour’s credit that they have a decision before them which will end with ‘the most best’ individual winning through.

I would say, with all due respect to the man, that it is only Ed Balls who has made a less than substantive contribution to the contest, with the other four candidates helping to widen the debate and ensure the next chapter in the party’s future is as cathartic as possible. Perhaps it should have been the other MP in the Balls household putting their name forward.

Anyway, the debate seems to be moving towards where Labour needs to be in relation to other parties rather than where it wants to plant its feet. For a party that is supposedly searching for its soul, this is a strange way to go about achieving that objective.

Peter Mandelson warns against ‘lurching to the left’ and David Miliband talks of ‘pivoting our Politics forwards’, presumably both against Ed Miliband’s recklessly liberal anti-war, anti-nuclear stance, (despite these being historically Labour ideals of course). To be fair to Mandelson, New Labour must have emanated from Old Labour for a reason so to go back from New to Old deserves strong consideration of the risks involved.

David Miliband is the current frontrunner but he represents a timid choice with his current strategy seemingly being to clamp down on rival challengers rather than clearly communicate his own vision. Indeed, the main reason I can see for voting for the older Miliband is that he is rightwing enough to win Middle England but left enough of Cameron to hold onto the base. It seems to be the classic New Labour error of power for power’s sake all over again. The Greens certainly want David to win to ensure they can make the resultant mouthwateringly massive gap to the left their own. Cameron wants David to lose as the Prime Minister doesn’t want another ‘heir to Blair’ on his patch.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very impressed with both Milibands, they seem bright, articulate, personable, fair and, most crucially, genuine. Either name would get my vote ahead of Clegg or Cameron as things currently stand.

However, Ed Miliband has that extra level of enthusiasm, that extra edge of radicalism, those extra green credentials and that extra bag of policies against his name. This adds up to momentum and a lightning rod for a liberal, progressive, lefty coalition that between the SNP, the Greens and the disenchanted Lib Dems, can ensure that the coalition will, somewhat belatedly, be held to account adequately.

Independence roar back up the political agenda

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

“the list tells us some important things about the world. For starters, smaller is often better. While there’s no denying the vitality of emerging-market giants like China or Brazil or Turkey, they are often bested by tiny nations like Slovenia or Estonia, according to the data, simply because it takes less effort for these countries to improve their overall wellbeing.

In a Sunday Express interview, First Minister Alex Salmond has vowed that “the people can take the decision to force the issue (of an independence referendum)” as the SNP continues its bid to join the ranks of successful small countries across Europe.

The Newsweek overall rankings had Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands and Norway in the top ten and the supposedly stronger together and weaker apart United States, Germany, United Kingdom and France in the 11-20 spots. Superpowers, clearly, ain’t what they used to be.

With the news of more oil than expected in the North Sea, Cairn Energy leading the exploration charge in the Arctic, Joseph Stiglitz surmising that UK wasted prior oil reserves and the banking crisis now settling down thanks to strong growth figures, now may be the right time for the Nationalists to up the stakes in the game of referendum brinksmanship.

Certainly Tavish Scott continues to sound distinctly flaky on this issue, no more so than in today’s Scotland on Sunday article when he says the “the country has moved on” from considering independence and the “modern” Scottish Lib Dems don’t give “two hoots” about a referendum. Tavish is entitled to state the latter opinion categorically as he leads the party, regardless of how incorrect the assertion may be. The former opinion, surely, can only be stated categorically after a referendum so it will be interesting to see whether, and how much, Tavish’s views change as the election campaign progresses.
Either way, this is a welcome shot in the arm for Holyrood ’11. It’s heartening to see Alex Salmond intent on leaving it all out on the field for something he strongly believes in, and it’s nice to see that Newsweek, indirectly at least, has the First Minister’s back.

Police Numbers

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

2It’s taken a while but I’m finally beginning to feel a bit of disillusionment with Scottish Politics. Reading up on the state of play with ‘police numbers’ is a prime example of where the parties are going round in circles and not ending up any further forward.

Let’s start with this tweet from the Scottish Liberal Democrats official feed:

scotlibdems: Strathclyde’s recruitment freeze undermines SNP police promise says Robert Brown MSP

Fair enough, there was a manifesto comitment by the SNP to increase police officers by 1,000 so if this isn’t met then scrutiny is required. However, it was fair to assume back in 2007 that the Scottish Executive would enjoy an ever increasing budget so said scrutiny shouldn’t go much beyond acknowledging that there is less money in today’s pot and future pots.

Furthermore, the debate, not just surrounding police numbers but effectively all devolved issues, should focus on ‘the marginal pound’. That is, if we spend money on more police, if that is the best use of a certain part of the budget, then what will we not pay for, what is less worthy of that money? We simply can’t debate the best use of budgets without looking at both sides of the trial balance, you can’t call for a debit without admitting where the credit will fall, simple as that.

Needless to say, the Lib Dem press release makes no mention of what the party would like to see cut from the existing budget to fund extra police. The one-way debate serves to attack the SNP without contributing ideas of a preferred approach to the status quo.

So then we look at the UK as a whole and note that police numbers are dropping in England and Wales through recruitment freezes, similar to what is happening in Scotland. Furthermore, police numbers were reported to be dropping back in January 2010 so Labour’s catcalls that the extra police policy is being “torpedoed by SNP cuts” is surely a low blow and more than a little two-faced.

The SNP, to its credit, has already achieved its manifesto commitment of 1,000 police officers early in order to tick that box and will no doubt strive to keep the numbers as high as possible before May. However, it seems unlikely that it will adopt the reckless approach of funding extra police just to insulate itself from political attack before the next elections.

It is another example of Governments, both Scottish and UK, doing the best they can with the resources available but when Lib Dems denounce falling police numbers when they are effectively presiding over the same state of affairs at Westminster and Labour continues its mock-outrage at cuts that it helped create through the credit crunch, then one can only shake one’s head in dismay.

On current evidence it is going to be a truly abysmal election campaign in advance of May 2011 and I just hope that most Scots ignore the headline-grabbing rhetoric and simply vote for the party that treats them least like an idiot.

Many will say ‘that’s Politics’ in an effort to excuse the above approaches but I maintain that other countries do not dumb down this low in order to capture the public’s attention and, indeed, imagination.

We have good people representing good parties filled with good intentions, it’s just a shame we somehow lack the all-important good debate that should come with it.

Lib Dems are lost – no IFS or cuts about it

Monday, 5 August 2013

There’s a scene that I’ve had in my head that, no matter how crass or crude I make it, I just can’t shift. It goes something like this:

A group of eight super-posh friends are sitting around the impressively filled dining table. Landowners, property investors, fund accountants, stock market speculators, it doesn’t really matter. This is the hoi polloi and the food miles in front of them could get to the moon and back.

A question pierces the general chatter, to noone in particular – “So, have you had a good budget or a bad budget?”. The pause is brief before the rib-tickling, back-slapping, caviar-spilling, slightly horsey laughter begins.

“Good one Jeremy but stop being a pillock and pass me some more ham.”

Inverted snobbery on my part? The classic Scottish trait of looking down on success? Perhaps, but I hope and think not.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has described George Osborne’s budget as “clearly regressive” despite assurances from both of the coalition’s party leaders that they would be a progressive force.

It is perhaps unfair to single out the Lib Dems for special blame but, as the Guardian picks up on today, Nick Clegg stated that June’s budget would mean that “the richest are paying the most… as a proportion of their income”. I’m sure there is a lot of good in this budget but a Robin Hood redistribution it clearly isn’t and the coalition’s defence is particularly telling.

1 – The loudest rebuttal to today’s headlines is that it’s yesterday’s news and a rehashed narrative. Yes, without a hint of irony or indeed shame, Lib Dems and Tories are complaining (in alarming harmony) that this has been reported before so is, presumably, invalid.

2 – A Lib Dem activist on Twitter today mentioned that the budget was juggling the need to put a roof over peoples’ heads with “making work pay”. I would have been surprised if that was a Conservative line but from a Lib Dem that is remarkable. When did the basic right of having a home become a flexible ‘nice to have’? I do think political students for decades to come will study these days as an example of how power can corrupt principles.

3 – There has also been a focus on the fact that under Labour the gap between rich and poor grew over the past 13 years. I would rather have hoped that this would instil an urgency to reverse that direction of travel rather than sustain it.

Indeed, on that urgency, I do hope that Labour looks seriously at the recently suggested policy of a one-off tax on wealth. £4000bn of Britain’s £9000bn total wealth is owned by only 10% of Brits. A one-off tax of 20% would repay the national debt and bring down the deficit.

Sounds like a policy worthy of deep consideration to me. Just a shame that the party that until recently would have been most likely to adopt it is facing the other way and enjoying dining at the top table too much.

More ham Nick?

SNP surges forwards in latest polls

Sunday, 4 August 2013

We left the polling story of the Holyrood race with Labour an unfathomable 16 points ahead and Iain Gray seemingly with one foot in Bute House.

However, there have been two polls in the past week that sees the SNP drawing almost level with their main challengers:

Labour – 36%
SNP – 35%
Conservative – 14%
Lib Dems – 12%
Greens – ?

Ipsos Mori
Labour – 37%
SNP – 34%
Conservative – 11%
Lib Dems – 13%
Greens – ?
I don’t know if any of the papers picked the above results up in their Sunday spreads but it’s clear the ping-pong polling game has begun in earnest.

Dismantling Evening Standards on Megrahi

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Evening Standard has a shockingly poor Editorial on the Megrahi release which deserves to be repeated, and dismantled, in full:

The Government’s call to Libya not to celebrate the first anniversary of the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi, illustrates the feebleness of ministers’ position.

In truth, they have no power over how Libya treats al-Megrahi, jailed in 2001 for his role in the 1988 bombing.

Well, which is it, is it being feeble or is it powerless? Either the UK Goverment has power to act and is acting feebly in doing so or it is powerless and consequently denied the opportunity to interject, feebly or otherwise. (The answer is, of course, the latter)

The Prime Minister has made clear that he believes al-Megrahi’s release last year on compassionate grounds, because of terminal cancer, was a mistake. That is not cutting much ice with US senators now investigating the release.

The Prime Minister has stated that the release was a mistake but that would suggest an oversight, an error or a misjudgement. There has been none of these things and while Cameron is within his rights to disagree with MacAskill’s decision, which was taken in good faith and for the right reasons, he does not have the right to unequivocally label a meticulously undertaken decision something that that it patently is not.

The decision by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to release al-Megrahi was extraordinary.

It was not extraordinary, far from it. It was a straightforward decision, in line with Scots Law that many a Justice Secretary has taken before and many will take again in the future.

There is scarcely a British precedent for early release on any grounds of a prisoner convicted of such serious crimes: 270 people were killed.
Has there ever been any UK prisoner that has been accused of killing so many people? What comparison can one reasonably make here?

But what the affair really illustrates is the oddness of Britain’s devolution settlement, and the inability of a Scottish Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to see how ludicrous it looks to the rest of the world.

Devolution is odd? Interesting. Two in three Scots are in favour of it you know. Do go on.

Any decision on al-Megrahi was clearly a matter of national security, both because he was an international terrorist and because his case was of major interest to our most important ally (most of those who died were American).

How on earth, if Libya and the UK are now friendly nations, can the release of a solitary dying man be “clearly a matter of national security”. And to suggest that American interests should have played a part in the Justice Secretary’s decision-making process displays a grotesque misunderstanding of how due process should unfold.

For ministers to argue that it was nothing to do with them, because they had handed over power to a few toytown Scottish politicians, was incomprehensible to the Obama administration.

Toytown politicians? Such a sneering condescension from this Tory rag of a paper barely merits a response.

As for “handed over power” to Holyrood, the Evening Standard clearly doesn’t even understand that, had this decision been required pre-devolution, then it still would’ve been taken under Scots Law and north of the border. Schoolboy error.

That Mr Brown could not see how frankly silly his excuses looked is testimony to his and the Labour Party’s long and disproportionate obsession with Scottish issues.

There is little that the Government can now do about the affair, beyond Mr Cameron’s sympathetic noises in Washington last month. Ministers should, however, consider whether devolved powers as they now stand risk embarrassing and weakening the UK again in future.

There we go, Scotland is embarrassing the rest of the UK for having the nerve to make its own decisions for itself. Threatening to remove devolved powers that don’t even apply in this instance just sums it up for me – the jaw-dropping misunderstanding and contempt that Scotland is held with by many of those south of the border.

I’ve held this back from the blog for a while now but I’ve had a few so fuck it. In the short space of time that I’ve been down here in London, to everyone that’s mentioned Jockland or deep frying everything or ‘Oh, how weird, I can understand you’ or ‘you Scotch should know your place’ (as the Evening Standard is effectively saying here), do me a favour and shove it up your arse.

Right. Up. Your. Arse.

Note – For those who think the Megrahi debacle may harm the SNP’s chances at the Holyrood election, hold onto your hats for this weekend as a very good poll for the Nats is in the offing…

Is Sweden about to turn hard right?

Friday, 2 August 2013

Regular readers may know that I have a vested interest in Sweden due to personal factors closer to home and, while I sadly did not get to adopt the country this year for Eurovision or the World Cup (due to their qualifying for neither), I most certainly can adopt them for their election which is coming up next month so I am quickly trying to grow my enthusiasm for and my understanding of it.

What is most interesting about the politics of Sweden is that their mainstream right-wing party is probably, by some distance, to the left of our most left-wing mainstream party (I’ll leave you to decide for yourself which particular UK/Scottish party that may be!)

Sweden, like all other countries, has highs and lows in its politics. The highs include the remarkable integrity shown by a Deputy Prime Minister, Mona Sahlin, who resigned in 1995 after she bought a toblerone bar with her work credit card, an incident that makes our MPs expenses debacle even more ridiculous. (The full detail isn’t quite that flippant, basically she had used her work card to buy 50,000kr of private expenses but had always paid the money back). It didn’t ruin her career though. Mona is the current leader of the challenging Swedish Social Democratic Party and is intent on being the next Prime Minister from next month.

My ‘low’ example from Sweden also includes Mona Sahlin as her party has promised to outspend the ruling Modernitska Party by (I think) £20bn, irrespective of what is promised during the election campaign. A ‘benevolent and reckless bestowing upon my people’ tactic straight out of the Gordon Brown election book if you ask me.

The last election (2006) had the following breakdown:

Social Democrats (very left) – 35%
Moderate Party (quite right) – 26%
Centre Party (Centre, rural, greenish) – 8%
Liberal People’s Party (centre-right) – 7.5%
Christian Democrats (centre-right) – 6.6%
Left Party (Left) – 5.9%
Green Party (Green) – 5.2%
Sweden Democrats (far right) – 2.9%

Result = ‘Alliance for Sweden’ (Moderates, Centre, Liberal People’s, Christian Democrats) ‘won’ with about 49% of the vote and formed the first Government that didn’t involve the Social Democrats for about 70 years.

Current polling has the parties on:

Social Democrats – 30.2%
Moderate Party – 29.3%
Centre Party – 4.2%
Liberal People’s Party – 6.9%
Christian Democrats – 5.5%
Left Party – 5.8%
Green Party – 9.0%
Sweden Democrats – 6.5%

So the ruling Alliance has only 45.9% of the vote and may need to deal with the ‘far right’ Sweden Democrats in order to win power, although one would hope that the Green Party would be a more amenable government partner. (Note that the Greens typically form coalitions with the ‘red’ Social Democrats).

The Swedish Democrats may not quite be the BNP, but they see immigration, Islamization and globalisation as threats to Swedish culture. They believe every child should have “one father and one mother”. Read into that what you will I suppose. Of course the upshot may be that the lefty Social Democrats pick up significant votes from the rightish Moderates to keep out the far-right Swedish Democrats.

So, with me so far? Me neither. Not long to go though till we find out which direction the famously left-wing Sweden will turn next….

The election will be held on Sunday 19th September 2010.

Poll – Opposition to Megrahi releases hardens

Thursday, 1 August 2013

In the spirit of full disclosure and following on from this morning’s post, I thought I’d flag up a poll from Ipsos/Mori commissioned by STV on Megrahi’s release:

On the question of whether Kenny MacAskill should have allowed Megrahi return home to die, the results were:

Disagreed – 54% (46% prior year)
Agreed – 35% (42% prior year)

So, support for the decision is thinning and I suppose that is to be expected given how unlikely it is for someone to go from being against the decision to being in favour of it just because the man has lived longer than expected.

I still don’t think this issue should, or will, dominate Scotland’s domestic political agenda for the months and years to come.