Tag Archives: Nicola Sturgeon

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.

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.

 

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 (http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/scotland.html) 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.