Category Archives: Scottish Politics

Sturgeon must accept the will of the people

At 10 PM on Saturday it will be the first anniversary of that exit poll. The one that revealed that far from being the deadlocked Parliament that everyone was predicting, the 2015 UK General Election would see the Conservative Party easily defeat Labour by 316 seats to 239. As we now know the exit poll everybody mocked underestimated the Conservative performance rather than overestimated it as they got 331 seats and were able to form a (small) majority government. Labour went into turmoil, Ed Miliband resigned and to everyone’s astonishment Labour elected an obscure left wing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn as their leader.

This Thursday sees the first big electoral test for the UK parties since last year’s General Election. The main elections are for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the London Mayoral election. And although Labour are the main opposition party the elections will probably not go well for Labour. In Wales a YouGov poll suggested that their vote has gone down from 42% to 33% in five years. They would still be the largest party in the Assembly but would lose their majority if that poll is right (a big if after last year). In the English council elections it’s reckoned they will lose 150 councillors. This is because in 2012 – when these elections were last contested – the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was at peak unpopularity and Labour’s performance was the high water mark in the Ed Miliband era. Even if Labour improved from last year they probably won’t reach their 2012 vote share hence the probable losses. Their best hope is London. In 2012 Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson won the election more on personal than party appeal. He is standing down having became an MP again last year. Labour candidate Sadiq Khan is favourite to beat Conservative Zac Goldsmith and if he does not Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership could be in deep trouble (as I wrote in previous post “Can Corbyn Become Prime Minister?”). If Khan does win the UK press is so London centric Corbyn could use the win there to bury bad results elsewhere (as Prime Minister David Cameron did with Johnson’s win in 2012).

One thing is certain. Labour won’t be getting good news from Scotland. Last year Labour went from 41 Scottish MPs to 1. They won’t suffer as much this time if only because the Scottish National Party (SNP) had already wiped out most of Labour’s Holyrood seats back in 2011. Opinion polls have the SNP at 49% to Labour’s 23% (compared to 45% SNP to 32% Labour in 2011). While the SNP vote seems to have plateaued at 49% – they got 49% of the vote in last year’s UK election – there is no sign of it falling. So the result is widely seen as a formality.

And as a result this election has been dull. Really dull. A 24 hour Bellathon would be more exciting. So would be watching the 20 most boring 0-0 draws in Premier League history. So would watching paint dry. And grass grow..

At least until last night. At the last Scottish Leaders debate the election came at least partly to life. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had claimed in the press and on TV that if she is reelected on Thursday she expected another Scottish independence referendum in the next five years. For those who don’t know or remember the Scottish independence referendum was held as recently as September 18th 2014 and Independence was rejected by 55% to 45%. Yet with incredible arrogance she wants a second referendum!

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie summed it up perfectly ” As soon as they don’t get the result they want, they want to do it all over again. Did they not get the message? We want to stay in the UK. I would even claim that you are anti-democratic”.

Spot on. And here is the hypocrisy. Next month the UK has a referendum on whether or not we should stay in the European Union (EU) – I’ll get to that subject in another post. The last time we voted on our European membership was in 1975 – 41 years ago. Why on earth is Sturgeon talking about an another independence referendum so soon after the last one while we had to wait over 40 years for a second vote on Europe?

There cannot be a second independence referendum without the approval of the UK government. Prime Minister David Cameron should make it quite clear that a second independence referendum is not on. He should also make it clear that if the SNP try to pull a stunt like Catalonia in Spain did and hold an illegal referendum that Sturgeon will be arrested and the Scottish Parliament will be shut down.

In 2014 the SNP called the independence referendum “once in a generation”. The WWE called the Rock v John Cena match at Wrestlamania 28 “once in a lifetime”. The Rock and Cena fought again at Wrestlamania 29! But the WWE is entertainment and you don’t expect promoters to tell the truth. But we still (perhaps naively) expect politicians to be honest. The SNP said that the referendum would be “once in a generation”. A generation is NOT two years. The people of Scotland rejected independence less than two years ago. Sturgeon must say there will be no referendum in the next five years. She must accept the will of the people of Scotland.

Some thoughts on the 2015 election

Well no one expected that result did they? Every poll in the UK General Election predicted a hung parliament. As it turned out we got a single party majority – albeit a small one of 11 for the Conservative Party – even more astonishing as it is only the second time the party of the incumbent Prime Minister has increased its number of seats after a full term in office since 1959 (also 1983). So what happens next? Here are some issues and questions that came out of the election.

1. Will the Conservatives behave themselves? The last two Governments with small majorities (1974-79 and 1992-97) ran into problems with rebellions from their own MPs and lost their majorities to by election defeats and defections. The 1992-97 Major government (the last majority Conservative government) was a shambles with the Tory right holding Major to ransom. Will they have learnt their lesson? The funny thing is Cameron’s majority is now smaller (10) than the one the previous coalition had (76). Will it last the full five years?

2. Labour are in a horrid dilemma. Iain MacWhirter in his book “Road to Referendum” said that “Scotland thinks likes Denmark and England thinks like the USA”. Labour lost in England because they were perceived as being too left wing whereas in Scotland they lost because they weren’t left wing enough. Whoever succeeds Ed Miliband has almost an impossible circle to square.

3. The union is in danger again. How on earth can you force Denmark (Scotland) to accept the USA (England’s) policies? You can’t. You also can’t force England to accept Scotland’s policies. I suspect it was the SNP threatening to force a Labour government on a Conservative voting England that drove enough English voters into the arms of the Conservatives to give them a majority. The only solution is either Boris Johnson’s idea of federalism or give the Scottish Parliament a veto on Conservative laws. If Cameron forces austerity on Scotland there will be a second independence referendum – and very soon.

4. Coalitions have no future in the UK. The decimation of the Liberal Democrats – down to 8 MPs compared to 57 – proves that the British people do not want coalitions. Coalitions mean broken promises and the UK people hate politicians who break their promises  but if you are in a coalition you have to break your promises. Disraeli said that “England does not love coalitions”  and what happened to the Lib Dems proves that. A consequence of the Lib Dem massacre is that no small party in the future will join a coalition because they now know they will get decimated.

5. UKIP could fade away. Nigel Farage failed to win Thanet South and promptly resigned*. The problem for UKIP is they are going to get what they want – an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU). If the UK votes to pull out of the EU UKIP have got what they wanted and I suspect the party will split as that is the only issue UKIP members have in common. If the UK votes to stay in the EU they might get the membership boost the SNP got after the Scottish referendum but I doubt it. I wouldn’t be surprisesd if UKIP don’t exist in 2020 with their one MP Douglas Carswell – a maverick – standing in (and probably winning) Clacton as an independent.

6. But the Green Party won’t. The Green Party trebled their vote despite having an unimpressive leader in Natalie Bennett. if she has the sense to resign and make way for their one MP Caroline Lucas – whose Brighton Pavilion seat is now safe with a majority of over 7,000 – they could well get the anti establishment anti Tory vote. With the Lib Dems in meltdown and UKIP without the charismatic Farage the opportunity for the Greens is great as their environmental message could appeal to both fed up Conservative and Labour voters (for example current Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith used to be editor of the Ecologist magazine). I wouldn’t be surprised if during this parliament the greens go up in the polls and that Lucas might gain a colleague in parliament as they could win safe Conservative seats in by elections (as the Lib Dems used to do)

One thing is certain. The next five years will be crucial for the UK. The future of the UK in Europe – plus the future of the UK itself – could very well be decided during this period. It could be the most crucial Parliament the UK has seen since the October 1974-79 one – the last parliament  both with a European referendum and a single party majority smaller than this one (3). By 2020 the UK could out of the EU. It might even cease to exist. Once the euphoria of his win has died down David Cameron has a series of huge tasks.

*Events have overtook me. Nigel Farage is still leader of UKIP after the party turned down his resignation.

So what on earth will happen on May 7th?

As anyone who reads me will know I quite like making predictions. Some good (the 2014 World Series and the cricket World Cup for example) and some bad (too many to mention). But today I’m attempting my hardest task. To call Thursday’s UK General Election which is the most unpredictable since 1974.

I wasn’t even sure how to do it. I thought of predicting all 650 seats in the UK but most of them are safe (ie one party is a certainty to win) so it would have been boring to read – and boring to write. I thought of just predicting the marginal (the UK equivalent of “swing states” in the US) seats. Sky News has even produced a list of marginals for its “In The Margins” series but not all the 150 seats in that list are marginal. For some reason best known to Sky the list includes safe seats like Aylesbury (Conservative majority 12,648) but not Keighley (Conservative majority 2,940) a seat that has changed sides seven times since 1959. So Sky’s list is flawed.

What I decided to do is do a prediction range for each party – predicting the minimum and maximum number of seats I think each party will win. The range is actually very narrow. Since the war the conservatives have never fallen below 165 and Labour have never fallen below 209. But before I make the predictions for those who don’t know UK politics (or don’t remember) the 2010 election produced the following result:

Conservative 306 seats, Labour 258, Liberal Democrats 57, Scottish National Party (SNP) 6, Plaid Cyrmu 3, Green Party 1, Speaker 1 and Northern Ireland 18* (the UK parties don’t stand there) I should also say a party needs 326 seats** for a majority.

So here is the prediction and I’ll start with the two main parties:

Conservative: 275-295 (that means in my opinion they won’t win less than 275 or more than 295)

Labour: 280-300

As you can see that means it is not certain who will be the biggest party but I would give the edge to Labour because the UK constituency boundaries favour Labour as their seats are in cities thus smaller than the Conservatives and need less votes to win them. It is possible (like February 1974) that Labour will get more seats than the Conservatives but less votes. All the polls suggest a swing to Labour of 2-4 per cent which means Labour should gain seats from the Conservatives as most Con-Lab seats go with the swing. Only 32 Con-Lab seats went against the swing in 2010. I do think the Conservatives might gain a couple from Labour against the swing – Hampstead and Kilburn (majority 42) and Southampton Itchen (majority 192) are two possibilities. But it is clear Labour will make gains from the Conservatives.

But this election isn’t as simple as that. The result will be decided by what happens to the small parties – the Lib Dems , SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cyrmu  and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). And they are very hard to predict. But I’ll try.

Lib Dems: 20-30. It shows how ghastly the Lib Dem poll ratings are (down from 23% in 2010 to 10% if they are lucky) that some people will be amazed that I think they won’t fall below 20 and might get 30. But the Lib Dems are hard to “dig out” of a seat – especially if they have a sitting MP. They will struggle in three scenarios. Where a sitting MP is retiring (ie Berwick upon Tweed) where there is a large student population – like party leader Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat – and in Scotland which has not forgiven them  for joining with the Conservatives in coalition after 2010. So I reckon they will hold seats they should lose like Wells (majority 800) which is not a university seat and where the MP was first elected in 2010 but lose safer seats like Bristol West (majority 11,366) which has the university in it. It will be bad for the Lib Dems – but not as bad as people fear.

SNP: 20-30: This goes against the polls that think the SNP could win 50 seats or even all 59 in Scotland but I doubt that. There are signs of a backlash against the SNP with unionists thinking of voting for the party best placed to beat them in different seats. Plus the fact that in most Scottish seats the SNP are a  long way behind (for example the closest Labour-SNP seat is Ochil and Perthshire South (majority 5,197) and it would not take much of a “switch back” to save quite a lot of seats) The SNP will make gains. But I’ll be surprised if they get more than 30 seats.

UKIP: 1-5. I wrote about UKIP back in October  and nothing has happened to make me change my opinion they will get votes but not many seats. Douglas Carswell their first MP will hold Clacton but that might be all they get. Their other MP Mark Reckless could lose his Rochester seat back to the Conservatives and party leader Nigel Farage is a toss up to win Thanet South. Polls say they could win Thurrock, Castle Point (their best bet) Cambourne and Redruth, Great Grimsby and maybe even Rotherham but I’ll be surprised if they win more than 3 and they won’t win more than 5.

Plaid Cymru 2-4. Could gain Ynys Mon (Anglesey in English –  majority 2,461 ) from Labour or lose Arfon (majority 1,455) to them but I reckon they will hold their three seats and gain none.

Green Party: 1-2. Fairly easy to predict. Former leader Caroline Lucas has been a good MP and should hold Brighton Pavillion. They are targeting two Lib Dem seats – Norwich South and Bristol West. They might gain the Norwich  seat which needs a 7.3% swing to go but won’t gain the Bristol one.

Respect: 1-2. Didn’t win a seat in 2010 but gained Bradford West – with George Galloway the MP – in a 2012 by election. Galloway should hold it and they have a slim chance of gaining Birmingham Hall Green (majority 3,799) from Labour.

As you can see my prediction (as almost everybody’s is) is for another hung parliament. But this time I don’t think we will get a coalition but a minority government (that is where one party rules but other party/parties agree not to bring the government down). And since most MPs outside of the big three are more pro Labour (as I wrote before) it is possible that Labour leader Ed Miliband could form a government even if Prime Minister David Cameron has the biggest single party. In that scenario I reckon (like 1974) there will be another election before this year is out (October?) as Labour try to become at least the biggest party and gain legitimacy. In that situation I think the SNP, Greens and UKIP would all lose votes and Labour might even get  a majority.

One thing is certain. it will be a tense nervous night and it could very well be a case as in 2010 of “A  long Night with no winner” (as the “British General Election of 2010” put it)

*Four seats changed hands in by elections between 2010 and 2015 so the current total is Conservative 303 seats, Labour 258, Lib Dem 57, SNP  6, Plaid Cyrmu 3, UKIP 2, Green Party 1,Respect 1, Speaker 1 and Northern Ireland 18
**But as Sinn Fein’s 5 MPs don’t turn up in practice the number of seats needed for a majority is 323.

Miliband need offer Sturgeon nothing

The SNP bandwagon shows no sign of slowing down. In fact it seems to be picking up momentum. Two new Scottish polls have the SNP at over 50 per cent of the Scottish electorate (one had them leading Labour by 50-26 the other by 54-22) . It looks like the SNP could win 54 out of 59 seats in Scotland (with Labour  down to 3, the Lib Dems 1 and the Conservatives 0). For comparison the 2010 seats in Scotland were Labour 41, Lib Dem 11 SNP 6 and Conservative 1. This would put a big prize the SNP’s way. With another hung parliament – where no one party has a majority – looking like a dead cert – and the Lib Dems reckoned to fall from 57 seats to less than 30 and perhaps nearer 20 – it looks like the SNP and their allies the Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cyrmu*  could decide who is the Prime Minister of the UK after May 7th.. While that is scary for English voters the SNP are not in as strong a position as at first glance and are in a position to demand very little.

This is because party leader Nicola Sturgeon has made it quite clear that she would only support Labour leader Ed Miliband as Prime Minister and under no circumstances the Conservatives even if current PM David Cameron offered her a another referendum on Scottish independence – which he wouldn’t anyway. History shows that unless a minor party is prepared to back either party they don’t get much out of the big party in deal negotiations

The first example is from the 1970s. As I mentioned before the Labour party had won the October 1974 election with a majority of 3 seats. By 1977 by election defeats and defections had wiped out that tiny majority and Labour were in a minority. In March 1977 Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher tabled a no confidence motion in the government. If she won it meant a General Election would be held – and as Thatcher was 13 per cent ahead in the polls it would have been a disaster for Labour. The 11 SNP MPs would not back Labour nor the 10 Ulster Unionists. Labour looked doomed.

But luckily for Labour another party was in trouble. The previous summer Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe had resigned over allegations of a homosexual affair** and the party had not recovered. Prime Minister James Callaghan’s policy advisor Bernard Donoughue called the 13 Liberal MPs “hysterical” and polls suggested that an election would mean only 5 held their seats (Dominic Sandbrook “Seasons in the Sun : The Battle for Britain 1974-79” page 647). So as neither Labour or the Liberals wanted an election in 1977 the two parties got talking and agreed the “Lib-Lab Pact” where the Liberals would agree to support Callaghan’s government thus thwarting Thatcher’s no confidence motion as the 13 Liberal MPs gave Callaghan a majority.

And what did the Liberals gain in return? Not much. Labour “accepted a limited number of Liberal party proposals” and…that is it. They didn’t even get proportional representation (PR) for the 1979 European Parliament elections. Labour offered them a “free vote”  on the issue (where MPs are allowed to make their own minds up rather than have to do what the party tells them to). But as most Labour MPs in the 1970s were against PR  anyway it made no difference and PR was defeated.

The reason the Liberals couldn’t demand more is that they could only support Labour. The alternative was a General Election  that they did not want. So they had little bargaining power over Labour in negotiations. The similarity with the SNP today is striking.

In contrast in 2010 when the Lib Dems held the balance of power after that election  they made it quite clear that they were prepared to deal with Labour or the Conservatives. So when Labour offered them a referendum on electoral reform the Conservatives had to follow suit otherwise the Lib Dems could have formed a coalition with Labour instead. They formed a coalition with the Conservatives and in 2011 the referendum on electoral reform was lost. But had before the election they said they were only prepared to work with one party the referendum would not have happened in the first place.

Another analogy is from the Simpsons of all things. In the episode “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” (8F09) Mr Burns sells the nuclear power plant to a couple of Germans but then changes his mind and wants to buy it back. He goes on his knees and says “Please sell me my plant back. I’ll pay anything”. But the Germans – who want to sell the plant – make the mistake of telling Burns they are desperate to sell. Burns then gets off his knees and says “Desperate eh? Advantage: Burns” and proceeds to make them an offer of half what they paid for it.The Germans are not happy but as they are desperate to sell and that is his final offer – and no one else has bid for the plant – they have no choice to accept (a consequence of this is that Homer – who the Germans fired – got his job back).

So on May 8th if the SNP hold the balance Ed Miliband has to act like Mr Burns. Yes he is desperate to get to 10 Downing Street –  but the SNP are desperate to get David Cameron out so it is “advantage Miliband.” He need offer the SNP nothing since they will want neither Cameron to stay PM or a second election which they would get the odium for causing and could put their newly elected MPs at risk. So Miliband needs to do nothing . Just sit back and wait for the SNP to take him to Downing Street. For they have no other choice.

*Plaid Cyrmu had 3 MPs in the last Parliament. Polls suggest they will have 3 MPs again after this election.

**Homosexuality was far less tolerated in 1970s Britain than it is now.


Don’t let Murphy drag football back into the 1970s

Since I wrote about the plight of the Scottish Labour Party back in November things have not improved despite the election of Jim Murphy as leader. The last Scottish poll I saw put them at 28 per cent, 17 points behind the SNP who are on 45. That would mean they would fall from 41 seats to 12 while the SNP would go from 6 seats to 47. A poll this month by ex Conservative donor and polling guru Lord Ashcroft was even worse. It suggested that even the ultra safe Labour seat of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (majority 20,714 or 49.8 per cent making it the eighth safest Labour seat in the entire UK) would fall to a rampant SNP. Scottish Labour are still in deep trouble.
So what is Jim Murphy’s big plan to win back Labour voters? He wants to allow football fans to drink alcohol at games again. Quite apart from the fact that this issue is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and has nothing to do with the UK election the plan is a non starter as it would drag football in Scotland back to the 1970s. For those that don’t know alcohol was banned from Scottish football grounds after a hideous riot after the Rangers v Celtic Cup Final of 1980 where police on horseback had to disperse gangs of morons. The ban – imposed significantly by a woman Margaret Thatcher – had the effect of making football in Scotland civilised. Thirty five years on football wants it lifted but they are wrong totally wrong – and Murphy far from encouraging them to chase votes should be backing the law.
Football wants the ban lifted because fans want a drink, clubs want to make money and they argue that sports like rugby have fans drinking at games so why shouldn’t football? The last point is easy to deal with. There is no history of violence or racist and sexist abuse at rugby. There is at football. The chants at football matches are offensive enough when fans are sober. Imagine how bad they would be if they were drunk. Scottish Football Association head of Communications Darryl Broadfoot said in Saturday’s Daily Record that “We have allowed ourselves to be stigmatised – wrongly – as the pariahs of Scottish social culture”. But football fans are the pariahs of social culture because some of them can’t behave. Even my local junior team Kilbirnie Ladeside were at one time (2011) banned from hosting or visiting bitter rivals Beith because of hideous riots that needed more than 30 police officers to control – and this is for games watched by a few hundred people!
And if football is for lifting the ban society is not. The police are against it – after all football fans are hard enough for the police to deal with sober never mind with a drink in them. Women’s groups are against for fear that fans returning from games drunk would be more likely to beat up their partners (domestic violence in the UK is always worse after big football matches). And accident and emergency (A and E) departments at hospitals are against for fear that drunk fans would get involved in fights go to A and E and increase the workload on an already over worked department of the Health Service. Why should arrogant football’s demands be allowed to affect other areas of society? This is like the football v society debate that the Ched Evans affair caused when shamefully the headliner in January 9th’s Daily Telegraph said “FOOTBALL BACKS EVANS” (a convicted rapist by the way). But society – led by brave Jean Hatchet – did not and public opinion won. Football has NO right to impose its views on society. Why can’t Murphy get that? There are other examples of society imposing its views on groups. I’m sure drivers would like to travel at whatever speed they like and be free to drink or drive. But society – since the 1967 Road Safety Act passed by significantly a woman Barbara Castle – imposed speed limits and limited the amount of alcohol you were allowed to drink before you drove. An example of society’s desire for road safety trumping the selfish desire of motorists to do whatever they wanted. Castle got dog’s abuse from motorists – I imagine that if Twitter had existed in 1967 she would have got the same death/rape threats Hatchet has got for standing up to football – but the law saved lives. And that is important.
Another disappointing thing about Murphy wanting the ban lifted is that it goes against his views on football. He is supportive of women in football and in 2012 even asked “Why is there not a female manager of a male professional football team”?. He doesn’t seem to realise that the lifting of the ban on alcohol would make the grounds less safe and deter women (and children) from attending games. He also doesn’t realise that for some of the people wanting the ban lifted that might be the reason they want it lifted – to deter women from attending. I know the West of Scotland rather too well and I suspect there are Scottish equivalents of Dougie Brimson – who wrote in his book “The Geezer’s Guide to Football* (page 57) “if I had my way women wouldn’t even be allowed inside grounds” (He also wrote that women can’t play football or kick a ball with any degree of accuracy over a distance of 40 inches. Oh dear. This guy has clearly not seen goals by Carli Lloyd, Claire Lavogez, Dzsenifer Marozan , Eugenie Le Sommer, Stephanie Roche and Toni Duggan – among others – that make him look like the prat he is.)
The other thing that puzzles me about Murphy is why is he choosing to make an issue of this? There are far more important things than this he could be talking about. Like the fact that our health service is creaking at the seams. Like the fact that food bank use in the UK has rocketed since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Like the fact that the poor have been clobbered by the bedroom tax. Like the fact that big companies evade tax – and don’t pay the living wage. Like the fact that his UK party leader Ed Miliband is a gutless coward who is scared of the voters and won’t give us a referendum on EU membership. What has Murphy to say on those important issues? He’d better tell us. For unless he does his party is facing wipe out in May – and proposing to drag football back into the 1970s is NOT the way to save his party.
*Anyone who knows my views on football might wonder how I have this book – football’s answer to the “lads mags” that pollute newsagents. The answer is poof that males can be victims of gender stereotyping too. A well meaning relative got me it one Christmas on the basis that as I am a male who likes football I would agree with Brimson’s sexist drivel. Which I don’t.

Have the Unionists won the battle…but lost the war?

The Alex Salmond era at Holyrood ends this weekend as Nicola Sturgeon will be confirmed as the SNP’s new leader – she is the only candidate – and next week will be elected Scotland’s fifth First Minister since the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999. That of course has been predicted ever since Salmond resigned the day after the referendum. But post-referendum Scottish politics has not gone the way most people had predicted and if it goes on the way it is going we could end up with another referendum a lot sooner than we think.
Most people expected Sturgeon to take over a demoralised party – after all the SNP had seen the whole reason for its existence rejected by the Scottish voters – but instead the SNP has gained 75,000 new members post referendum. Meanwhile the Scottish Labour party is in total disarray. Last month its leader Johann Lamont quit and while doing so fired a broadside at UK leader Ed Miliband saying he treated the Scottish Labour Party as a “branch office” of London. To show what a shambles this party is Lamont’s successor will be Scottish Labour’s seventh leader in fifteen years. And their poll ratings are awful. The election prediction website Electoral Calculus ( has the SNP at 43.48% and Labour at 26.61%. If that happened at next May’s UK General Election the SNP would have 47 seats (up from 6) and Labour just 11 (down from 41). And that is an average of the October polls. One was so bad for Labour that it would mean the SNP won 54 seats and Labour just 4. How on earth did we get into this position?
There are a number of factors here. I suspect the new SNP members are those people who voted “Yes” in the referendum but had never voted before and the referendum had ignited an interest in politics they hadn’t had before. As for Labour there are two factors at work here. One recent, the other long-term. Labour made a dreadful mistake joining up with the Tories in the “No” campaign. What you have to understand is that Scotland hates the Tories and any party that helps them gets the odium of Scotland’s voters. The SNP well know this. In March 1979 they helped to bring down the Labour Government. Their 11 MPs voted with the Tories and Labour lost the vote by one. As a reward, at the subsequent election the SNP vote went down by 13.1% and their seats went from 11 to 2. And they suffered for years after that. As former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars said (in Iain MacWhirter’s book “Road to Referendum” page 174) “there was pure hatred on the doorsteps…for letting the Tories in”. More recently the Lib Dem vote in Scotland has collapsed ever since 2010 when they went into coalition with the Tories. At the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections they went from 16 seats to 5 and if they keep more than 2 of their 11 Scottish seats in the UK General Election next May I’ll be amazed. Labour should not have joined up with the Tories as it has enabled the SNP to do to them what they did to the SNP after 1979. Labour called the SNP “Tartan Tories”. The SNP now call Labour the “Red Tories”.
Labour’s other mistake is more long term. They never really wanted a Scottish Parliament at all. In August 1974 UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson more or less forced the Scottish Labour Party to support a Scottish Parliament at an infamous conference at Dalintober Street in Glasgow. That was because in the election the previous February, the SNP had gone from 1 MP to 7, and its vote had gone up from 11.4% to 21.9%. As Wilson had no majority there was going to be another election soon, and Wilson supported devolution only to cut down the risk of the SNP gaining Labour seats. Short term it worked – in the October election the SNP went from 7 seats to 11 and their vote went up to 30.4% but none of their 4 gains came from Labour. But the problem was that because devolution’s only purpose was to stop the SNP when the Scottish Parliament was finally set up Labour according to MacWhirter (page 211) “didn’t know what it wanted to do with the Parliament it created”. Further more because Labour didn’t regard the Scottish Parliament as important its big names – Brown, Cook, Reid Darling etc – stayed in London and Labour had their “B” team at Holyrood against the SNP’s “A” team – with predictable results which lead to their disaster in 2011.
Some will think this only matters to the Labour Party. But it does not. it matters to the whole of the UK. The aforementioned Electoral Calculus predicts that if the UK General Election was held now Labour would have 302 seats, the Tories 263, the Lib Dems 16 and the SNP 47 – and their allies Plaid Cymru* 3. (with other parties winning 19). This means Labour could only rule with SNP support (the SNP’s constitution bans coalition with the Tories. They learned their 1979 lesson well). What would the SNP demand?
To make maters worse Alex Salmond could lead the SNP at Westminster. There are rumours he will try to win the Lib Dem seat of Gordon (majority 6,748). Judged by the polls that would be a formality. So we could have the nightmare scenario of Alex Salmond dictating terms to the UK parties. He could demand a second independence referendum in return for supporting Labour.
All this means the Scottish Labour Party needs to get its act together pronto. There are three candidates for leader – Jim Murphy, Neil Finlay and Sarah Boyack. They must pick the beat person for the job. And that is Jim Murphy. They must also pick Kezia Dugdale as his deputy. These two are the best in a depressingly shallow pool of Scottish Labour talent. So poor is the Scottish Labour party’s pool of talent they had to drag ex PM Gordon Brown out of mothballs to help win the referendum.
If Scottish Labour do not get this choice right they could face wipe out next year. And Scotland could be heading for another independence referendum very soon. And if that happened, could it be a case of the Unionists winning the battle but losing the war?
*Plaid Cymru (in English “The Party of Wales”) are the Welsh Nationalists. They and the SNP form a parliamentary bloc at Westminster.

Scotland votes “No”. What should happen next?

So Scotland voted “No” after all. And as I thought would happen all along by a bigger margin than the polls were suggesting – by 55% to 45%(I should at this point congratulate Peter Kellner and his polling company You Gov who after the polls closed but before the result, predicted a 54 to 46 margin which was almost spot on). Alex Salmond has resigned. David Cameron, Ed Miliband Nick Clegg and the UK Queen are sleeping a lot easier. But what happens next?
One thing is clear. Whatever happens now the Westminster establishment MUST deliver the extra powers for Scotland that former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised during the campaign. In 1979 during another Scottish referendum, another former UK PM – Sir Alec Douglas-Home – promised if the Scots rejected Labour’s devolution proposals and the Tories won that year’s General Election the Scots would get better devolution – which although both events happened – never materialised. If the UK establishment don’t keep their word this time the union could be in deep trouble and we could end up like Quebec doing this all over again in 15 years time – which no one outside the SNP wants.
However they shouldn’t be in this position as they should never have made these promises in the first place. They were made in a blind sate of panic over one poll on September 6th which put “Yes” 2% up (the only poll that did so). And personally I don’t think the Scottish Parliament needs more powers. Except one.
Although I voted “No” I had friends who voted “Yes” (don’t worry we haven’t fallen out). They hate Alex Salmond and have never voted SNP in their lives. So why did they vote “Yes”? Two words. The Tories. They told me “We don’t want a Tory Government in Scotland again and we’re voting for independence to ensure that does not happen”. So I started thinking “How can we stay in the Union and avoid Tory Governments”? And then it hit me. Give the Scottish Parliament the power of veto. Every bit of legislation passed by a UK Government has to be passed by the Scottish Parliament too. The Tories can’t hurt us unless OUR Parliament allows us to. Obviously this can’t just apply to Scotland so the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies would have this power too as would a new English Parliament which in my opinion is now needed to get rid of the unfair anomaly that is the West Lothian Question*. This English Parliament would replace the House of Lords – the UK’s unelected second chamber – which everybody agrees is an anachronism but we’ve been trying to reform it since 1968 with very little agreement so why not just get rid of it and replace it with four second chambers? All four National Parliaments would have the power the Scottish Parliament currently has plus the power of veto over all UK legislation except the budget defence and foreign affairs. If say the English and Northern Irish parliaments passed a bill but the Scottish and Welsh did not the law would just apply to England and Northern Ireland
This would have another advantage. A lot of people complain about the “elected dictatorship” – an oxymoron which actually means that a Government with a House Of Commons majority is able to do what it wants. But if you gave the four national parliaments the power of veto that removes the elected dictatorship because a Government has to get its legislation through every one if it wants its policies to become law al over the UK. it brings into the system the American system of “checks and balances” to stop a mighty executive from doing what it wants. You would in effect end up with “The United States of Britain”. It has to be a fairer system than what we have now.
I should also mention that the turn out at the referendum was an astonishing 85% – last seen in UK elections in the 1950s – proof that the referendum was on the whole good for Scotland as it got people talking about politics again. The challenge for the parties here is to sustain this interest. Secondly I would like to pay tribute to Alex Salmond. I might not agree with his views but we would not have had this referendum without him. He turned the SNP from a rabble into a party of Government. Those people who voted “Yes” should remember he gave them the chance to be able to do so. His successor as First Minister and SNP leader – probably Nicola Sturgeon – has a hard act to follow.
*The West Lothian question is named after the constituency of the Labour MP Tam Dalyell who first raised it. He said it was unfair that he as the MP for West Lothian could vote on English affairs but the MP for West Bromwich could not vote on Scottish affairs. The Labour Party to its shame has ignored this anomaly. It has to be got rid of otherwise it will be English not Scottish nationalism which will be a threat to the unity of the UK.

No Turning Back…

At 11.07 am today I voted in the Scottish independence referendum. I voted No. There is no turning back. But I’ve learned a lesson. Don’t reveal how you are going to vote too early. Because had the referendum been yesterday I would have voted Yes in a fit of pique.
The reason is I am sick to death of some people in England. I read the Daily Telegraph. A lot of writers to their letters page said that the rest of the UK should have voted on Scottish in dependence. Why? This is a matter for the people of Scotland alone. If say the majority of Scots had voted “Yes” but the rest of the UK had voted “No” the SNP – who are paranoid moaners at the best of times – would have been moaning even more than usual. And the point is I can’t think of an independence referendum where it was NOTdecided by the people of the part that wanted to break away. From Kosovo to Quebec it has been the people of the part that wanted to break away that decided not the greater whole. Why should the UK be any different?.
Secondly a lot of Telegraph readers (and the paper itself in today’s editorial) have been complaining about the fact that if a simple majority of Scots vote “Yes” independence will happen. Some want to make it say two-thirds of the vote should be for “Yes” for independence to happen. They don’t realise that causes more trouble than its worth.
Two examples prove this. In 1979 there was a referendum on wither there should be a Scottish Parliament. The UK Government at the time had no majority so it was forced to accept a clause by a rebel MP George Cunningham that 40% of the total electorate had to vote “Yes” for the parliament to happen. That meant dead people who had died since the electoral register had been compiled would count as “No” voters. As SNP MP Douglas Henderson pointed out if that rule had applied to post war UK General elections the country would never have had a government (Seasons In The Sun, Dominic Sandbrook, page 525). As it turned out, 51.6% of those who turned out voted “Yes” but that was only 32.6% of the electorate so the parliament never happened causing resentment to this day (the Scottish Parliament finally happened in 1997). In another context the former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly Tim de Lisle was spot on. After a blocking minority of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) members had voted against admitting women members in 1998 (the vote was 55.7 “Yes” and 46.3% “No” but the motion needed a two-thirds majority*) he wrote in an editorial (October 1998) that “the only majority that works is a simple one. Otherwise you are likely to get the few dictating to the many”. A majority “Yes” vote that was stymied by an artificial barrier would be a disaster. It would fuel resentment and the Scots would not accept it. A repeat of 1979 can’t happen.
To my mind these people have no trust in the people of Scotland to do the right thing. I was so angry yesterday I snapped and said “F*** them I’m voting “Yes”. But I never wanted independence and realised I was being childish. The people down South should trust the Scottish people. I suspect the polls – that are predicting a “No” win by 51-49 – will be proved wrong and “No” will win by a bigger margin than that. Today is the day for the silent majority.
But the result of the referendum will not be the end but the beginning. On Saturday I will write about what should happen next – depending of course on how we have voted today.
* Later in 1998 there was another ballot on the issue. This time the two-thirds threshold was reached and women became eligible for MCC membership.

If Scotland votes “Yes” blame the bedroom tax

There is an episode of “The Simpsons” (9F01 “Two Cars In Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”) where Mr Burns runs for governor. His spin doctors tell him “there is a burning issue that we need to neutralise”. He thinks he has – but he hasn’t and it comes back to haunt him, sinking his campaign for governor. My fear is that this could happen in the Scottish independence referendum.
Since I last posted on this issue two events have happened. First the campaign has got nasty – pro union Labour MP Jim Murphy has been pelted with eggs and branded a “Traitor” and a “Quisling” while former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has said “it is not possible to be a decent person and vote no” – which is a disgraceful smear which in my opinion should cost this guy whatever job he is doing now – while secondly the polls have tightened with one poll for YouGov giving the “No” side just 6% ahead – down from 22% – meaning a 3.5 % swing would lead to the unthinkable – the break up of Britain. So how did we get to this position when the “Yes” side’s arguments are full of holes?
There is one big reason for this. Welfare reform – and especially – the “bedroom tax”*- which is hated in Scotland. Alex Salmond has called it “the most ludicrous tax of all time”. Alex is being too kind. It is the most evil measure passed by a UK government for at least 25 years. To cut people’s benefits for having a house too big for them is a joke. The Government wants them to move into one bedroom houses – which don’t exist. There is an estate agents in the main street of my home town. Since this tax became law in April last year I’ve spotted three one bedroom houses for rent. No more need be said. It is so hated that the Scottish Government is paying the people who have suffered from this tax the benefit that has been taken away from them. However they can only do this until March next year. It is so hated that even Sir Tom Hunter – a rich entrepreneur who if he was English would probably be donating money to the Tory party – has called it “an abomination hitting the poorest hardest”.
So why is this tax a threat to the union? First of all Alex Salmond is being very clever. He is able to claim that if Scotland was independent the bedroom tax would never have happened as we would never have voted Tory in the first place. To show how hated the Tories are in Scotland former Scottish Tory leader (since deceased) David McLetchie said after the 2010 UK election that “we are destined never to get anywhere as long as people believe the Tories’ main policy is the slaughter of the first born”.We now know their main policy is to pass a tax that mainly affects disabled people and had them fearing eviction.The current Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has even said Scots can vote no because her own party will lose the 2015 election. While opinion pollster John Curtice thinks Prime Minister David Cameron should ” accept he should rely on others to fight the battle for him” Yes the UK PM is so unpopular that he is a liability to the campaign to save his own country.
Secondly opinion polls have shown that the “Yes” side is more popular in poor areas where they are terrified that a re-elected Tory Government in 2015 would mean more cuts to their income. I know people who are scared of a “No” vote for fear of what the Tories might do to them and are not prepared to take a chance that Labour win next year’s election. Yes UK people are actually scared of their own country staying together. The Tories should be ashamed of themselves.
So what should Cameron have done? He should have sacked Iain Duncan Smith – the man “credited” with thinking up the bedroom tax. Every time this man opens his mouth he costs the “No” campaign votes. He should have given the Scottish Parliament the power to block both the bedroom tax and the 2012 Welfare Reform Act – which they would have done. This would have neutralised an issue that has made the Tories even more unpopular in Scotland than they already were.
I still think “No” will win. However the bedroom tax even in the best case scenario will cut down the margin of victory. If the “No” victory is less than 60-40 we could end up like Quebec was after the 1980 referendum – with the issue unresolved and the nationalists wanting another referendum (in Quebec a second referendum happened in 1995. The “No” side won by just 50.5 to 49.5). The worse case scenario is that the nationalists could win. If that happens David Cameron should feel like Mr Burns did. He could have neutralised the bedroom tax. He didn’t. I hope this mistake does not result in Britain breaking up. But if it does he has no one to blame but himself.
*The Tories want it to be called the “spare room subsidy”. I want to be a billionaire .Neither will happen.

Sorry alex: Why I’m voting “No” on September 18th

Tonight sees the biggest debate in the brief history of televised political debates in the UK when Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling go head to head on Scottish Television (STV). Why is it so important? The future of the UK is at stake.
For on September 18th Scottish voters go to the polls to decide if Scotland should be independent in a referendum we didn’t want with a choice we don’t want to make. How did it come to this?
To find the answer you have to go back to the Scottish Parliament elections of 2011. Most voters wanted Alex Salmond re-elected with more seats but not a majority. But he and the Scottish National Party (SNP) won a majority for two reasons. One was Nick Clegg going into coalition with the hated (in Scotland) Tories sending his vote in Scotland into meltdown. The second was a bizarre affair known as the “Meatball Marinara Incident” where then Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was chased by a group of anti-cuts campaigners into a Glasgow branch of Subway – all in front of TV cameras! Gray was humiliated in the press being called “chicken” the Labour vote also went into meltdown and the SNP won a landslide with 69 out of 129 seats – amazingly under a PR system designed to stop one party winning a majority. The SNP majority meant a referendum on independence was inevitable – and yet it was hardly ever mentioned in the campaign. It was more a case of as Herbert Morrison (Peter Mandelson’s grandfather) said of the 1950 UK General election “The British electorate has a habit of knowing what it wants and a habit of overdoing the getting of what it wants” (quoted in the British General Election of February 1974 page 268). Substitute the word “Scottish” for “British” and you have what happened in 2011.
So we got a referendum we didn’t want. Even more bizarre, most Scots according to the polls want more powers for Scotland but within the UK – the so called “Devo max” option – which is not on the ballot paper – because Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron couldn’t agree – so we will be voting on two options – independence or the status quo – that we don’t want. What a shambles!
So why will I be voting “No”/ First I don’t like Alex Salmond. As Iain Macwhirter writes (in “Road to Referendum” page 271) “Salmond genuinely feels that every Scot of whatever background living in Scotland should support the SNP. He can’t see why people won’t”. I suppose Vladimir Putin feels the same about the Russian people!
Second Britain is a small island – as Mr Putin said recently – so why weaken it even more by splitting it into two parts?. As the current centenary of the start of World War One shows us Britain combined has achieved great things. Things it could not do divided. United we stand divided we fall!
Thirdly there are too many questions Salmond has not answered. Here are just a few.
What would the currency be – the pound the euro or something else?
Would an independent Scotland be allowed to stay in the EU?
If the answer to the above is “No” and we had to reapply how long would it take – or would we be accepted? Remember at least two other EU nations – Spain and Belgium – have nationalist factions and won’t want to see an EU country break up – or want a new state to become a member.
How would an independent Scotland defend itself?
Would a UK Government insist on passport controls at the border to stop immigrants getting into England through Scotland?
How much would it cost to set up Scottish embassies abroad?
What happens when the oil runs out – or if the price of oil falls?
Would we still get the BBC programmes we like post independence? Would we get Sky or BT – both British companies – if we’re not British?
And that list is the tip of the iceberg. And it leads to my main reason for voting “No”. Independence is a “leap in the dark”. We don’t know if it is good for Scotland until it happens. But – and it is a big but – it we vote for independence we cannot reverse this decision. We are stuck with it forever. It is not like say voting for Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister in 2015. If we think he is rubbish we can turf him out in 2020. If we vote for independence we can not do that. And that in my opinion makes independence far too big a risk.
Finally I should say that the SNP’s internet supporters – the “Cybernats” as they are known – do not like people speaking out against them and heap abuse on anyone who dares to speak out – as the author JK Rowling recently found out. I’ve got a message for any “Cybernat” reading this. Say what you want. You won’t bully me!