Saturday, 15 July 2017

Britain: An alternative history.

Twenty five years ago a new force emerged in British politics. Its central thesis was that giving up the Empire had been a terrible mistake. What today we know as neo-imperialism.

Once, these people argued, we had presided over the greatest Empire the world had ever known. Upon which indeed the sun had never set. An Empire which had  defeated Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser and then most meretriciously of all, Hitler. An Empire that had brought, in-between all this fighting, the Pax Britannica, providing unparalleled opportunity for worldwide trade, employment and fortune making. At least for those with the immense good luck to have been born in these small islands. Thanks however to defeatist thinking in the forties, fifties and sixties this had all been gratuitously been given away and, lets be honest, argued the neo-imperialists, everything had gone downhill since then.

So, they had a simple solution. Let's get the Empire back.

Obviously this couldn't all be done at once. The thirteen colonies might prove particularly difficult. But most of these colonials realised the Empire had brought mutual benefits (so the neo-imperialists claimed) and  you had to start somewhere. So the neo-imperialists, having looked around, settled upon the former Jewel in the Crown, India, as a useful starting point. It had immense popular and natural resources and if successfully re-annexed would set a precedent for other former colonies to follow. Indeed enthusiastically (so they claimed).

Now, initially received establishment opinion was that these people were lunatics. The Empire was past and, never mind that, India would hardly consent to its re-colonisation. Anyway, the loss of the Empire was not actually the cause of any current British malaise, indeed standards of living here had never been higher. The whole idea was misconceived in its diagnosis and deluded in its supposed solution. And that was the end of the matter.

Only it wasn't, for the neo-imperialists set up their own political Party, the British Empire Party, quickly shortened to the BEP, and, strangely, began to have some electoral success. This support came largely from people brought up on too many war movies but also included those who, lingering on the dole in post industrial England, quite fancied the chance to become the Maharajah of somewhere. A position the BEP suggested would be just the sort of opportunity open to the likes of them. More worryingly still, for the Tories, much of this electoral support was coming at their expense, so much so that an increasing number of Tory backwoodsmen began to suggest that the neo-imperialists might have a point. Indeed a few Tories even defected to the BEP, hinting darkly that they were but the tip of the iceberg.

"This is madness!" informed opinion continued to protest. But to no avail. The BEP simply wouldn't go away and the Tories internal Party management problems were going from bad to worse.

So, eventually, the Tory Prime Minister decided that the only solution was a Referendum at which, with more or less the entire establishment on his side, he presumed he would easily crush those he had once described as "Fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".

Only things didn't quite work out to plan. The anti-imperialists were divided from the start, not least as the Labour leader refused a joint campaign, protesting that he'd always been an anti-imperialist and would not share a platform with Johnny come latelies to that cause. The anti-imperialists also couldn't agree whether there had ever been anything good to say about the Empire and spent much of their time arguing amongst themselves about that.

Meanwhile, the neo-imperialists had a number of simple messages. Firstly, that there were 1.4 Billion people in India. If they were all taxed at just one Pound a month that would bring an extra £350 million to the NHS every week. And who would miss a Pound a month? Secondly, that although the Indians were protesting they had no intention of being re-colonised, that was only bluff. Their tone would change after the British people had shown their resolve. Thirdly, although they were careful in their framing, if we annexed India, all the "Indians" currently living here would have to go home and no more would come here. Ever.  Albeit for reasons never entirely satisfactorily explained.

And so, on 24th June 2016, the British people woke up to discover that, against the advice of every living Prime Minister, against the advice of Business, large and small, against the advice of the entire organised left, against the advice (and worse) of the rest of the world, never mind India itself,  we had voted by 52/48, to re-colonise India.

But what was interesting was what happened next, The Prime Minister resigned and his successor, previously an anti-imperialist, returned from the Palace to announce that "Empire means Empire" and that her responsibility was to get on with it. She would be calling in the Indian High-Commissioner the very next morning to tell him that and meanwhile had appointed three leading neo-imperialists to her Cabinet in the posts of Foreign Secretary, Governor-General Designate and, slightly worryingly, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. A latter position the necessity of which had been strangely unmentioned during the referendum campaign.

Anyway, that was all a year ago. What has happened since? India has remained un-annexed. Although the High Commissioner, having stopped only briefly to tell the Prime Minister to fuck off (in Hindi) has taken himself off back home. Together with every other High Commisioner. The Daily Mail thinks this is a panic move on their part.

The Labour Party has decided that after all it might not be an anti-imperialist Party. Or at least its leader has. It turns out we were not against all imperialism, just right wing imperialism. It might yet, apparently, be possible for there to be a left wing imperialism. Or at least a jobs focused imperialism.

Meanwhile, many point to the advantages of imperialism. We are building dreadnoughts again. Who would have predicted that? And there is also, ........well that's at least a start.

Obviously the return of conscription thing is a bit of an issue but as Regimental Sergeant Majors remind each new intake "That'll teach you not to vote". As it undoubtedly has.

Everything otherwise points to failure ahead. The inevitable sinking of our fleet somewhere near Madagascar, the alternative route of the Suez Canal having already been ruled out by....experience. The possible Indian invasion of England to follow.

But for the moment the neo-imperialists hold the ace card.   "This is what the British people voted for in a democratic referendum and anybody otherwise minded is........... no better than Hitler". So it must be attempted. No matter how lunatic. No matter how doomed to disaster. That's democracy, apparently.

Meanwhile the Government is getting on with the job. The Great Repeal Bill having been denied them as a title they have introduced the India (Re-annexation) Bill instead. They are particularly pleased with section 1. "The Indian Independence Act 1947 is hereby repealed". For with that they have honoured the referendum result. Apparently.

Everything is going just fine. Defeatists will not be tolerated. Their stance is an insult to the British people. Who have spoken. In a referendum. And the British people are never wrong. Apparently.

Meanwhile, a new movement has started to emerge, calling for a referendum on leaving the European Union. At least we, neo-imperialist and ant-imperialist alike, can unite in dismissing that as a completely mad idea.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

A (temporary) farewell to arms.

I've been away. Four days in Vienna and now four days in Budapest. From where I write this. Tomorrow at this time I will be in.........Kilsyth. The day after that, back at my work.

Time passes quickly.

But it still needs to pass.

I've now seen a lot of General Elections. Enough to appreciate their importance.

Less than a month ago there was such an event. And my team lost.

For all the hysteria of Jeremy at Glastonbury, and the "close" vote on the Queen's speech, and now today's anti austerity march, when the dust settles, the Tories will still have won the election. 56 seats more than us. Even piling (improbably) Ian Blackford's Nats (35), the Libs (12) Plaid (4) and the Green (1) into the "progressive" column. still 4 seats more than us all put together. Only with the DUP also on board (10) do "we" take the lead. And of course no reasonable person would ever do a deal with the DUP. At least I think that's right.

But the point is, that's it. For five years on the main stage and probably even four in the Scottish side tent.

Elections get (some) people very excited about politics. So much so that they are reluctant to let go. I have been there myself. In 1979 as a mere boy and, in a different context, 1992. When I should have been old enough to know better.

But  eventually you come down to earth. The demonstrations get smaller and the realisation, and resignation, larger. It is over until the next time.

And the next time is now a relatively long time away.

For there is not now going to be a nationwide election (or indeed anything except the occasional by-election) in Scotland until at least 2020. Almost three years away. By which time children not yet even conceived will be potty trained. Spotty kids without a Standard Grade to their name will be at university. Some people will be married to others they haven't yet even met, while others will be divorced from those from whom today they regard themselves as inseparable.

I personally will have made and banked money from the latter. And from those prosecuted for crimes not yet committed together with the victims of accidents not yet to have happened.

And indeed, if the election hiatus stretches to 2021, I might not even be here myself. Having carried through my (theoretical at least) plan to retire in September 2020 and thereafter to retire to Italy.

And last, but by no means least, some of you reading this will almost certainly have shuffled off your mortal coil and joined the choir eternal. Sorry. Well sorry unless you are a Catholic. Or a Prebyterian for whom the spinning coin of predestination has landed the right side up.

I'll probably keep blogging from time to time. About what Nicola will tell the 2018 SNP October Conference. About when the volunteer will go, who will replace her, and how long she'll then allow before rejoinining the SNP. About whether Ruth will ever raise her standard for a march on London and if so who might then rally to it.

But big politics, real politics, is about elections. Who the armies will then comprise, and who their generals then might be, is not unimportant. But it is not the stuff of which a weekly blog is made.

So, I'll see you soon. But perhaps not too soon.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

About a lot of nonsense

There is an awful lot of nonsense being talked at the moment.

The figures from a week past Thursday give the Tories 318 votes in a Parliament, effectively, of 643, since 7 seats are held by the resolutely abstentionist Shinners. So the Tories are actually only 4 votes short of a majority if every opposition Party votes against them.

But it's not even votes against them. Defeat on a particular issue, even on The Queen's Speech (!), does not bring down the Government given the terms of The Fixed Term Parliaments Act. The only thing which that Act allows for is an election if the Government loses a vote on the specific provision "That this house has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government". Assuming that is not reversed within 14 days, then Parliament is dissolved. That is the only way there can be an election before May 2022 unless the two big Parties collude (as they did in April) by passing a resolution for an early dissolution by a two thirds majority.

Given how well that latter option worked out for the Tories just a fortnight past it is inconceivable they'd exercise it again.

And as I've already pointed out in previous blogs, a vote of no confidence in the Government in the terms required by the Act is much more than it might appear from its literal terms. It is also a vote for an immediate election. It is the case that one or other of the Lib-Dems, The DUP, or the SNP not wanting an immediate election, and thus abstaining on a confidence vote, would see the Tories carrying on in power. All the focus might be on the DUP but it shouldn't have been.

For here I make two observations. The first is that Jo Swinson, now deputy leader of the Lib Dems is on the record as saying they don't want an early election. Although, to be fair, that might change within a year or so.

But the second relates to the position of the SNP. Ian Blackford, their new Commons leader, has said this week that they'd welcome any opportunity to vote out the Tories. But actions speak louder than words in that regard. When the motion for the dissolution was put back in April it passed by two thirds, as required, because both the Tories and Labour voted for it. BUT THE SNP ABSTAINED! Specifically because, as they said at the time, they did not wish an election.

So when they say now, through Blackford, that they are ready to vote out  the Tories at any time, then that, if true, is a change in their position since as recently as April. And back in April a "bad" result for the Nats would be one leaving them with around 45 seats. Such are the wafer thin majorities so many of their MPs now sit on, a "bad result" this time could easily see them reduced to single figures in the Commons. And the clock very obviously ticking on their hold on Holyrood. So the SNP voting for an early election, rather than finding some justification to abstain again? I'd believe it when I saw it.

Which leads me to another canard which is going the rounds. That somehow Holyrood might block Brexit. IT HAS ALREADY BEEN DECIDED AT THE HIGHEST JUDICIAL LEVEL THAT IT CAN'T!

For good or ill the Scottish Government entered the Gina Miller case asserting that Holyrood had the right to be consulted on the Brexit process and the Supreme Court decided unanimously that it didn't. Any Legislative Consent Motion asked of Holyrood would be no more than a courtesy. If consent was declined that could (and presumably would) be ignored and the job just got on with. What could the Nats do other than moan? I suppose they could threaten another referendum. That's worked well for them so far.

So, in summary, the Tories are in power to 2022 if they want to be. They might not get all their legislation through (although even that is doubtful) but in any event they'll still be the Government. And after the last month that status is not something they are going to risk again any time soon.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Numbers and numpties

Imagine politics through the lens of  Game of Thrones. War might be a constant but elections are its battles. Nobody wants to lose the war but in the aftermath of any battle then some of the losing parties might decide that a return to the war of manoeuvre might, in the short or even medium term, be preferable to the immediate re-engagement in a potentially decisive, indeed terminal, contest.

That's where British politics is now. House May, having ridden to battle in grand array, has ended up having its nose bloodied by House Corbyn. It didn't lose but it didn't exactly win either. But since it retains the Iron Throne it has no great desire to imperil that status again anytime soon.

House Corbyn on the other hand continues to have the fleck of battle in its nostrils. Their opponents should return to the field or be forever damned in the.....eyes of public opinion. (The Eyes of Public Opinion being one of these weird religious sects that we'd all just wish would shut up and let us get on with the action).

The problem for House Corbyn is the skirmishers. The skirmishers don't want another battle at all. They nearly lost their lives in the last one, indeed many of their number actually fell.  All the while knowing that, had the outcome been different, it still wouldn't have been they who prevailed. So, to be honest, they'd quite like a bit of peace.

And tellingly, at Westminster if not at Westeros, the resumption of battle turns out to be their call,

The crucial arithmetic at Westminster is not those who are for or against the Tories but those who are for or against an early election. And, in adding up these numbers, House May need not just count on The House of Orange. They can count on the Green House as well, since they don't even recognise the legitimacy of Westeros. And also House Swinson, whose Dauphine told no less than Channel 4 News, but yesterday, that they are also opposed the early resumption of hostilities.

And then finally we have House Sturgeon, who are truly not enthusiastic about having to move from the rhetoric of "'tis just a scratch" to still, even then only hopefully, remaining able to threaten to at least bite somebody's legs off,

The Tories might not have won this election but they most certainly haven't lost it. They could only be brought down by a combination of interests inconceivable in its joint desire for battle. Mrs May should have ignored the DUP. There is no prospect they'd ever contemplate an unnecessary contest that might see House Corbyn triumph. And even if they fell away, there is no prospect that the 35 would allow themselves to be dragooned into the role of the Light Brigade.

In a hung Parliament what is important isn't your majority, its the diversity of your opponents. Angela Merkel, the most powerful politician in Europe, leads a Party five votes short of a majority in the Bundestag. Has anybody noticed?

Sure there might be one person who could assemble an alliance that stretched from the Shinners to the Paisleyites, embracing in between those willing to march to certain death in its cause. But that person's name isn't Jeremy Corbyn. It is Daenerys Targaryen.

Five more years.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Twenty different things.

I spent yesterday and earlier today wondering what to blog about. In the end I couldn't choose so here are just some random thoughts about lots of things. In no particular order and with no particular conclusion.

1. Outwith the special case of Edinburgh South, there was effectively no Labour/Tory anti Nat tactical voting. In most of the seats the Tories took in the North East the Labour vote went up! And in the seats Labour gained the Tory vote went up! The big thing wasn't the other Parties gaining votes (indeed Labour barely did) it was the SNP losing them.

2. Labour's share comprised different people from 2015. We did lose older unionist votes to the Tories but replaced them with younger left wing voters from the SNP.  The Nats consoling themselves that these younger voters would still be Yessers is illusory if there is not going to be another  referendum. In electoral politics the significant thing is that they are now no longer SNPers.

3. The great post 2015 question was whether Labour had lost Scotland forever or whether a popular Labour leader with a  real chance of victory might bring them back. And UK Labour's problem was that, without Scotland, an absolute  Westminster majority looked impossible. That question has been answered. I go on to say below that I don't think there will be a second 2017 election but, if there were, Labour would gain seats in spades. A mere 3.4% SNP to Labour swing brings an immediate 17 seats to us. And a 32/32/32 split result next time would, because of their vote being more evenly spread, result, under First Past the Post, to the Nats  being almost wiped out.

4. The SNP are stuffed (part 1). An independence referendum is off the table for a real generation. It is definitely off the agenda before the next Holyrood poll and that poll it is highly unlikely to produce a pro-referendum majority even if the Nats risk an unconditional pledge in their manifesto.

5. The SNP are stuffed (part 2). What is now the way forward for them? Do they shift their rhetoric to the right (particularly on Brexit) to try and regain the North East or do they shift it to the left in an attempt to hold off the "Corbyn surge" in the seats they still hold? Answers on a postcard please.

6. The SNP are stuffed (part 3). Getting on with the day job will not be simple. Take education (which I suspect all Parties would privately agree was the second reason for their collapse). Something needs done. There is the Labour solution: more teachers; more money; if necessary paid for by higher taxes, and then there is the Tory solution: more innovation; more testing; more power to heedies; more emphasis on attendance and discipline (not just regarding pupils). But you can't make an  omelette without breaking eggs. A move either way will annoy as many people as it pleases. And the losers are always more vocal than the winners. (cf the forthcoming Teacher's strike). A particular problem for a party already decelerating in public standing.

7.The SNP are stuffed (part 4). It's all very well to say "take independence off the table" but, if they do, what is the purpose of the SNP at all? Grievance without even a supposed solution? Good luck with Nicola selling that to the zoomers. Or indeed to anybody else.

8. The SNP are stuffed (part 5). Even her opponents recognise that Nicola Sturgeon is an accomplished politician. But if she loses the next Holyrood poll she would have to go. Except there is literally nobody else in their Holyrood group who would be up to the job of Leader. And now there is nobody in their Westminster group either.

9. The Greens are stuffed. There is considerable anger about how they have allowed themselves to become the wholly owned subsidiary of the SNP, most noticeably by their withdrawal at this election past. I was among those who devised the "Regional AMS" system the Parliament uses. But it was meant to involve only one constituency vote, with the constituency votes then being aggregated to provide additional members as proportionate to the overall result. That somehow got lost during the Convention process, allowing a Party to stand on the list as, essentially, a second choice option for another Party. After the next Holyrood poll the single vote concept should be brought back. And the electoral system is now devolved.

10. The Ruth Davidson Party is over. Ruth has restored the Tory fortunes as required by putting a nuanced difference between herself and the UK Party. That is no longer tenable as "she" is now responsible for the Tories being in power at all. And anyway, she gets herself that the Scottish Tories are still Tories, members of the same Party across the UK. "She" doesn't have MPs. The Tories have MPs, who happen to have been elected in Scotland. She is entitled to gratitude, not least for her role in getting them there at all, but it can't, indeed shouldn't, be blind gratitude. I give, by way of but one example, Brexit. Ruth is for the softest of Brexits. Possibly even for something which is de facto not really Brexit at all. But these Tories who have just ousted the Nats on the North Sea coast are never going to sign up for staying in the Common Fisheries Policy, not least because for them, it was a promise to leave that won them their seats every bit as much as Ruth's efforts.

11. The UK Conservative Party is not about to become the new Ruth Davidson Party. This doesn't have to involve whether she wants to do it, or whether she could win. It's a simple matter of process. In terms of the Conservative Party rules, to even be eligible to stand, you need to be a Member of [the Westminster] Parliament. Ruth is not.

12. The Tories do not need a deal with the DUP. (Part 1).The DUP would never conceivably vote against the Tories in circumstance which meant the result of that vote would mean an election where Jeremy Corbyn might become Prime Minister.

13. The Tories do not need a deal with the DUP  (Part 2). There is no way the SNP would currently vote against the Tories where the result of that vote triggered another election at which the Nats would be almost wiped out. That might change in time but not for at least some time.

14. There will not be an early election. For the reasons I give immediately above, the Tories have a workable majority when it matters, on third readings and confidence votes. And they are helped by EVEL where they have a comfortable overall majority on England only legislation at its earlier stages. There is not going to be a need for an election any time soon, possibly not even for five years. Anyway, the Tories have just disastrously called an early election. It would be a "brave" (in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense of the word) for any new leader to call another early poll. So they won't. And anyway, fatally wounded though she is, Theresa May will probably hang for a good bit, not least as the Tories would emerge horribly split from any battle to replace her. Yet clearly she personally could not fight another election.

15. Abolishing tuition fees is exceptionally popular. I wrote in my last blog why this shouldn't be a priority. I stand by that. But there is no doubt that it is a hugely favoured course of action.with not only young people but also older adult graduates who simply feel it unfair that this generation has to pay for something they themselves got for free. It propelled the Libs to record numbers in 2010, secured (in a slightly different form) a Holyrood plurality and then majority for the SNP. (Scottish Labour looked at dropping it in 2016 and recoiled at the focus group response). It almost brought Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party nomination. Now it has boosted the youth turnout for Jeremy Corbyn to record levels. Labour can't simply abandon that pledge now. But some way has to be found to pay for it. Because it simply can't can't be justified as an area of expenditure if it comes at the expense of other more pressing areas of education expenditure. Graduate tax anyone?

16. Jeremy Corbyn won't fight another election. He is 68. If it becomes clear there is to be a full term Parliament he'd be 73 by the next election. And proposing to serve until he was 78. He has earned the right to go in his own time but he will go then.

17. Corbyn's legacy will be a more left wing policy platform. You can argue, indeed I would, that Corbyn only did as well as he did because it was "known" that he couldn't win. But that's not what the Party will hear, or our public sector union paymasters. They'll buy into "one more heave/just a 3% swing.. Who knows, particularly if Brexit goes tits up, then perhaps that will work.

18. The Party will unite under a new leader. The centre of the Party's real unhappiness with Corbyn has been his strategy of "no enemies to our left." coupled with "any anti-establishment movement is our movement". Any new leader, even one on the left, will get the damage this does both internally and with the electorate. So they'll stop it. And to be honest, that, together with the prospect of office, will be enough to do the rest.

19. The next leader will be neither Corbynista nor Blairite. Personality has been the key to this election. Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, it was the key to Corbyn becoming leader in the first place. But the other key to that was the feeling that none of the contenders could win anyway, so we might as well go down with our colours flying. That has changed. Next time we are picking not just a battling loser but a potential winner. When it comes to any vote, who best fits that requirement will be much more important, to even this expanded Labour electorate, than who is most faithful to the principles of Marx and Lenin.

20. Brexit means Brexit. For good or ill, despite there being no majority for it in the Commons, despite it being an act of astonishing self harm, despite there being a willingness in Brussels to talk, despite all that, it will happen on some terms. It remains the case that no matter how poor a Prime Minister Theresa May has proved to be, thanks to one monumental error of judgement, history will recall David Cameron as being much much worse.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The day after

So, my plan was simple. Watch the exit poll and then go to bed waking up at 4am to see if it came true.

All abandoned when we got that poll, making my decision to schedule client appointments this afternoon.........ill advised.

I did manage to get a  couple of hours sleep and I'll have to struggle through beyond that, so I have a couple of hours to give you my thoughts on the results and their immediate consequence

Firstly, Labour lost.

It was a hugely cheering night for us but we shouldn't lose sight of that. There is no possible coalition that gives us even a minority Labour Government. Never mind its political viability, a coalition of Labour, the SNP, Plaid and the Greens still has fewer votes than the Tories alone. And, anyway, in the short term the Tories can do a fairly easy deal with the DUP ((more on that later) which gives them an absolute majority. That means they will still be the Government at least for a bit, We'll still have the Bedroom Tax and the Child Tax credit cap and "austerity". And that really matters. Elections are about winning, not just running a good campaign. In the cold light of day people will get that.

But the critics of Corbyn were proved wrong to a degree. He did run a good campaign. Although he was helped by the appallingness of the Tory campaign. The turning point, on any view was the Tory u-turn on the so called "Dementia tax". Not only was it an unpopular proposal per se but, coupled as it then was in its reversal  by it highlighting the lack of figures on it (or anything else) in the Tory manifesto, it effectively excused any detailed consideration of Labour's spending plans. These, as spending plans, were popular but they were absurdly unaffordable and, that aside, despite their popularity, were ridiculously chosen beyond the crude purpose of retail politics. It is clear that abolishing tuition fees was immensely popular with young people (a lesson Corbyn's team clearly learned from Bernie Sanders)  but it is ridiculous priority for a Labour Government if its objectives are to reduce inequality and close the attainment gap. It is instead a free giveaway to (mainly) middle class kids at the expense of more urgent calls on the money, even assuming that money was to be ring fenced to education, And the same goes for keeping the triple lock, non means tested winter fuel payments and ruling out any form of inheritance tax to address the crisis in funding care. Particularly in the latter case since there was simply no alternative funding model suggested. Exactly the same could be said for ending the public sector pay freeze. Understandably popular in the public sector but where was the money coming from? But if you promise free things, the recipients will line up to receive them believing the promise is banked and that somebody else will just have to pay for it. As they clearly did.

There is no point maintaining that Corbyn was not hindered by internal opposition to his leadership but it remains questionable if he would ever line up the more realistic parts of the Party to campaign enthusiastically for such a platform in an election we might actually contemplate winning, simply because they appreciate that it would all fall apart, almost instantly, if we ever won.

Anyway, to Scottish Labour. We lost as well. It was great to regain seats but if you had suggested ten years ago that Labour would be celebrating having seven seats in Scotland you would have been in danger of being sectioned. But there was a more sinister element top what happened. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that our campaign was deliberately sabotaged by our own leader. Firstly her decision to rule in council coalitions with the Tories while ruling in ones with the SNP is difficult to fathom except as a deliberate device to alienate potential Tory tactical voters. She then started her "campaign" by giving an interview to the Guardian as good as conceding we had no prospects of doing much beyond holding Edinburgh South. She progressed to making East Renfrewshire one of our target seats not only making sure their would be no informal "division of the spoils" with the Tories but diverting vast resources not only into a contest where success was to be measured by keeping up the Labour vote to the extent of saving the SNP incumbent but also denying these resources elsewhere in the west. In East Renfrewshire we came third. In two seats within ten miles we lost by less than a hundred votes And then finally there was the Tuesday's leaders debate and Nicola's bombshell revelation.  What wasn't important about that was its later denial, it was that for more than half an hour in live debate on the night it wasn't contradicted and even when it was it was only half-heartedly and at the specific prompting of Bernard Ponsonby.

I have always harboured suspicions about Kez. It is undeniable that, to explain the absence of any Party history, she tells us that she had no interest in politics until she reached  twenty three but subsequently was revealed, two years earlier, to have volunteered for the SNP. Which she then "explained" was because  she was contemplating a career in politics. While apparently, contemporaneously, having no interest in it. As they say in my day job, that is not a story that would stand up to much cross examination.

Anyway, suffice to say, Kez needs to go and soon, particularly as we could face another General Election this year.

And so to the Tories. What can you say. Well done Ruth, taxi for Theresa. The achievements of the former can barely be overstated. Not only has she saved the Union, it shouldn't be lost sight of that her twelve gains have also saved the Tory Government, at least for the moment. She is the woman of the hour, both North and South of the border.

But some of the more hysterical commentary should be reined in. The process by which Ruth would become Tory UK leader and Prime Minister would have to start with her becoming an MP and Theresa not being handed the pearl handed revolver before that. Then she would have to want to do it. Then she woukd have to sell her liberal conservatism to the Tory membership. I don't doubt her ability or her ambition but I suspect quite strongly that before she contemplates moving to Downing Street she fancies a sojourn in Bute House. Or at least another attempt at that address. Which I continue to maintain would be in 2020.

And anyway, who would want the job at this moment? With no stable (let alone strong) majority for anything, never mind Brexit, But, more to the point, with no real idea what to do, now, about Brexit? A wee bit more on that later.

But if it's not Ruth, and assuming Mrs May does go, who does become Prime Minister? The extent of the schism in the Tory Party, initially between Leavers and Remainers and now, at least nominally, between hard and soft Brexiters, cannot be understated. May was meant to the bridge candidate. It is difficult to see who else might fulfil that role but victory in a leader takes all competition might just split the Party altogether. The Tories are always cited as the ultimate electoral machine but it is forgotten that they have split twice in the past and on both occasions over trade. Firstly over repeal of the Corn Laws and again over Imperial Preference, It cannot be ruled out the same happening again.

Which leads me to my conclusion in this part. And it is a pretty dramatic one. There is no strong and stable government available within the current Party system. But there is if it fractures. There is, I quite strongly suspect, a substantial majority of MPs who could unite around a common programme. On Brexit, it would start by a withdrawal, temporarily, of Article 50, and a reopened negotiation on British terms of membership inevitably focused on ending free movement which rightly or wrongly, is the real Brexit driving force. If that could be achieved, and if Brussels really wants us to stay it would have to be, then, coupled with other reform, there might develop a case for us staying for which an ultimate electoral mandate could be obtained.

The self same Government would be able to address the security situation, not by abandoning the ECHR but perhaps by seeking a temporary derogation as, it shouldn't be overlooked, France has already done.

In economic policy it might relax "austerity" to a degree and, from the centre, bite the bullet of limited rises in personal taxation as the route to addressing the deficit. It would also rein in the rougher elements of welfare reform.

But this would be a democratic outrage! I hear you protest. Well, yes and no. Because the idea that the Tories just graft on the DUP and carry on is not sustainable, not least because the DUP's commitment to an open Irish border is simply inconsistent with their supposed enthusiasm for Brexit. And if the Nothern Ireland Assembly isn't reconstituted surely direct rule by a DUP containing government would fundamentally undermine the peace process? So the alternative becomes another election. Is that really what people want? And, anyway, suppose it provides the same result?
And anyway, truthfully, the Labour Party is no longer one Party. Had the numbers made it possible for Corbyn to become Prime Minister I very much doubt that some Labour MPs would have been prepared to thole that, And, as I say, the Tories are equally schismed.

So ending the two Party system, even at its moment of returning "triumph", by introducing PR would be the major task of any supposed Government of the centre. In time, Labour's two wings, no, actually halvess,  could then have an honest competition before the electorate. As could the open and closed factions within the Tories. Possibly with one ultimate Party of the centre, possibly not.

We would of course need a Prime Minister. Probably, in recognition of their status as the largest minority  a liberal Tory. Someone untainted by a Westminster record would be ideal. Actually, now I think about it, perhaps I spoke too soon about Ruth Davidson.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The end is nigh.

On Saturday I wrote the vast bulk of what was probably intended to be my last election blog. My intention was to finish the conclusion and then publish it on Sunday morning.

Events later on Saturday however made that inappropriate and indeed having revisited it in light of these events it all just looked so...... trivial.

You do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to understand that the two terrible terrorist atrocities which have occurred during the campaign will inevitably impact on its outcome and not in a way favourable to Labour in its outcome.

I am voting Labour in the reasonable expectation that there is no chance of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot becoming Prime Minister and Home Secretary. Were it not for that confidence, for the first time in my life, I would hesitate over that vote.

The first obligation of any administration is the safety of the general public. That is far more important than any economic policy. I simply do not think Corbyn regards that obligation of providing safety as being of remotely sufficient importance and that in itself disqualifies him from the office he aspires to. More important than my view though is the view of those who do consider their vote election by election.

More than three times as many people watched the Ariana Grande concert on Sunday night than had watched the Question Time Leader's debate on Friday (remember that? me neither). More significantly still, half of the entire viewing public watched that second event. When these people vote they are, shall we say, unlikely to regard the prevention of future atrocities as being safer in the hands of a man who called the death of Osama bin Laden a "tragedy" and who required, just before that very concert in fact, to announce a last minute conversion to Police use of lethal force.

We'll know soon enough.

It's been a different election in Scotland. I don't think that is just because of the constitutional issue. People increasingly do understand the major devolved competences and that education and health policy are not actively before the electorate this Thursday. But it doesn't stop them using next Thursday to express an opinion on these matters and, given that the Scottish Government itself now accepts its performance on these issues has been unsatisfactory, it is perhaps no surprise that the electorate thinks the same.

But I explained in my last blog the importance of 38% to the Nats, And we genuinely have no idea if they'll get it. The best you can say is that they'll not be far away up or down. But here is my final gut call on the result. The Scottish polls have been more consistent than the UK ones but with the best will in the world they can't pick up "where" each Party's vote is located and, as I say, even a few points below 40% for the SNP transforms the number of seats in play, particularly in the former Labour heartlands.

And so, in the end I can only go with my gut, coupled perhaps with a bit of wishful thinking.

Tories 14

Labour 6

Libs 4

SNP 35.

Feel free to call me an idiot in the early hours of Friday morning.

Monday, 29 May 2017

For want of imagination, my seventh election blog.

And so, just over a week out, here is my seventh election blog. It follows after a gap of nine days because of the terrible events of last Monday in Manchester which, quite properly, led to a lull in campaigning. I don't propose to say anything about that. Except this.

It is patently the case that some of the misogynistic psychopaths responsible for this outrage are motivated in part by British foreign policy. Corbyn is right about that. Except that is only one of the things that they object to. Amongst others are the right of young girls to go to pop concerts. That explains why such an event became their target last Monday. We wouldn't respond to that by cancelling pop concerts, or even restricting the right of young girls to attend them. Not for a moment. For we would not allow our domestic policy to be dictated by a handful of murderous nutters. We shouldn't allow our foreign policy to be either. It is in suggesting that we should that Corbyn becomes unfit for the office of Prime Minister.

Anyway, back to the election in Scotland. And I have four things to say.


The critical figure for the SNP, as they realise, is 38%. Above that and even a limited degree of tactical voting still leaves them with the vast bulk of seats while the opposition vote mainly remains split three ways.

But the minute they drop even one or two points below that and, if you start with virtually every seat, those you hold start to drop not just in small numbers located in areas of already relative weakness but altogether more widely.

I give but one historic example, 1983. Scottish Labour;s worst result in my lifetime before 2015. It is cited, not least in the past by me, as evidence of the brutality of first past the post that, at that election, Labour got 41 of Scotland's (then) 72 seats based on 35% of the vote. But in comparison to 2015 what is interesting is how "little" 35% brings you.  Just over half the seats. And in 1983 even that 35% Labour vote was concentrated, to effect, in (then) traditional Labour areas. With 35% of the vote distributed more evenly across Scotland the SNP would not enjoy that advantage. For it is clear that, allowing the Libs their traditional fiefdoms, in large parts of Scotland Labour is not at the races, while elsewhere, despite their surge, neither are the Tories. But, where they are, our voters are. And they are not going away. Which might make things very interesting indeed. Particularly if there is even limited tactical voting.

But the Nats won't drop below 38%! I hear you protest. Except privately they themselves worry that they might. Not because they wouldn't be well above that figure in a Holyrood contest but because some of their own voters, at the SNP's own instigation (!), are now so alienated from Westminster that they lack motivation to turn out to vote in a "foreign"  election. Don't take my word for that, ask SNP strategists in confidence. They know this is a factor.

So this weekend past's Sun Poll (I know, I know, it's only one poll and not by traditional means) giving them "just" 39%, is causing heebie jeebies in some quarters.

Which leads me to my second point

Secret Seats

The media think they've "got" what's in play at this election. The Borders; traditional Tory areas in the rural North East; a few leafy (affluent) constituencies in or on the periphery of the big cities; traditional Lib-Dem strongholds surprisingly lost.last time.  And with the Nats at 40% or above that's probably a fair call. They'd lose perhaps ten or so to the Tories, three to the Libs and maybe East Lothian and a random other to us. And that would be it.

But I've already listed where a limited Labour revival might exist. In these seats, despite Kez and, credit where its due in appealing to a core vote, possibly even because of Jez, I think Labour is in contention. If you doubt me on that, look where Gordon Brown has gone to gain votes and Kez been told to stay well away from for fear of losing them.

To those I'd add these. Some for us, but first some for others.

Firstly, Caithness and Sutherland, which I'm reliably informed the Tories looked at as a target but walked away from on appreciating the residual Liberal loyalty among the "unionist" vote. Quietly, the Lib-Dem, Jamie Stone is now the Bookie's favourite to take out the appalling Paul Monaghan, whose appallingness is well appreciated in a close knit community.

Secondly, Banff and Buchan, kind of dismissed from being in Ruth's grasp because it has been a Nat seat since time immemorial. But it was the one Scottish seat to vote for Brexit, the idea of independence as a route to rejoining the hated Common Fisheries policy is political Kryptonite locally and, frankly, Eilidh Whiteford is no Alex Salmond.

Thirdly, Ochil and South Perthshire. The assumption here is that the Clackmannan bit will never vote Tory so tactical voting won't happen in the necessary numbers. But the "local" MP hasn't helped herself by her high profile for all the wrong reasons, never mind putting a home address on the south side of Glasgow on the ballot paper. The result here last time was greatly distorted by many Tory voters switching tactically to the sitting Labour MP. If they go home and the Tory revival persists, this is certainly in play. And, to be absolutely honest, more than a few Nats wouldn't mind a future embarrassment being avoided in the process.

Fourthly, Paisley and Renfrewshire South. The foregone conclusion is that if Douglas Alexander couldn't hold on here then nobody is going to win it for Labour without a sea change in opinion. But Mhari Black, locally has proved to be a simply terrible constituency MP. The recorded public information for her lack of response to constituents is more anecdotally appreciated locally, most particularly with her response, or non response, to the closure of the RAH children's ward. And Paisley folk aren't daft, The "working class Mhari" stuff night fool Jon Snow but the locals have long since worked out she's a posh girl from Ralston putting on a good act.

Fifthly, Lanark and Hamilton East. Let's just say that two years ago, the Labour incumbent, Jimmy Hood wasn't a natural magnet for tactical votes. Yet we still got more than 30% and this time there is a Tory vote to be squeezed towards an excellent Labour candidate with the benefit of a famous local surname. And, whisper it, the Tories aren't really trying here.

I could list a good few more but I'm conscious of space. So, thirdly,

"If the SNP win this election....."

This is the current formulation being used by Nicola in respect of what June 8th might mean for a second Independence Referendum within four years. All the attention has been on the assumption that she is talking in anticipation that they will win. But what if she is being more clever? Because nobody suggests she is a stupid person.  What if they don't win?  There might be an attempt to dress up losing twenty seats but still holding a majority as "victory" in some quarters but it is an open secret that there are many, absolutely committed to Independence, who nonetheless believe now is to soon. Because they'd lose again and then it would genuinely off the table for a generation. Might it not suit the First Minister to fall back on "I said if, but regrettably we didn't"? If you go back six weeks we all awaited her next move in utter bemusement as to what it might be. Perhaps there might be worse things, strategically, than a temporary set back. There will undoubtedly be cooler heads in the SNP thinking just that. And finally

The last hurrah for the Ruth Davidson Party?

Ruth Davidson has not single-handedly saved the Scottish Tories. She has been substantially assisted by her deputy, Jackson Carlaw and by the loyalty of the man she defeated for the leadership, Murdo Fraser. She has grafted on hired help in the shape of the inestimable Eddie Barnes and then elected help in, particularly, Adam Tompkins and Annie Wells. But these people are indisputably "team Ruth". What can't be avoided however is that a good number of her MSPs, given the chance, have chosen to head off to Westminster at the first available opportunity. Where the loyalty to the whip which comes as an essential element of climbing the greasy pole, will make Ruth's careful distancing from the worst bits of Westminster Tory policy unsustainable.

Even success brings its problems I suppose.

Here's hoping Scottish Labour will be in a similar quandary come June 9th.

Monday, 22 May 2017


My wife Maureen has now very late stage Alzheimer's type dementia. She showed the first signs of it in 2004 and is now completely bed bound and incapable of eating unassisted. She also has the other symptoms of the late stage of the disease which I need not spell out here but which will be familiar to those who also have knowledge of it.

It is not an experience that I would wish on anyone but, here is the thing, the one way in which it has barely affected us is financially.

That is partly because we live in a big house. It has four bedrooms and two bathrooms, so our own former bedroom has been capable of being turned into what is in effect a hospital room and the bathroom close to it into a wet floor room with a disabled shower. Few are so lucky.

Maureen requires 24/7 care, which I provide from 6pm to 7am, Although, since she now largely sleeps during that period, that is not the task it once was. Outwith that, we receive a "Self Directed Payment" from the local authority as part of Scotland's free personal care regime introduced by Holyrood's first Labour/Lib Dem administration. That pays, more or less, for the monthly cost of the carers who are in the house all of the time I am routinely not there. The only time we have to seriously dip into our own money is if I want a night out or a holiday and, even then, Maureen's own personal income, a teacher's pension, a PIP and now a state pension more than covers the cost of that.

We are very fortunate in that regard to be living in Scotland. In England we would be paying for all of this care from our own pockets. We are not poor people, far from it, but I doubt we could afford that. Out of income at least.

There has been much controversy about the Tories plan to address the funding of social care in England and Wales, not least because of the shambolic way in which it has been handled. But in one respect it is undoubtedly right. In the interest of inter generational fairness, never mind the willingness, possibly even the ability, of general taxpayers to stump up, the ever increasing costs involved in providing social care should not be funded from general taxation, direct or indirect.

For, in a UK context, between 2015 and 2020, over a period when the general population is expected to rise 3%, the numbers aged over 65 are expected to increase by 12% (1.1 million); the numbers aged over 85 by 18% (300,000); and the number of centenarians by 40% (7,000). And while it might be nice this will consist largely of elderly golfers "shooting their age" we have to be realistic as to what this actually means. Over the age of 84, the prevalence of dementia is more than 25%. And medical progress in this area is slow. Believe me, that is something I am also well informed about. Not least because Maureen's brother, Professor Michael O'Donovan, is one of the UK's leading medical experts in the field.

A form of inheritance tax is the fairest way to address this issue.

I personalise this only because it is a good way to outline the general point.  You see, Maureen and I are baby boomers. Only very much at the margins have we enjoyed inherited wealth but we both received a free university education. She then benefited from a very generous teacher's final salary pension while I enjoyed the "golden years" of Legal Aid. She, now aged 64, has a "triple locked" full state pension while I will in time enjoy a private pension significantly subsidised by being able to claim higher rate tax relief against my earlier contributions. Oh, and we own a big house with a negligible mortgage due to be paid off entirely well before my own retirement. We are very comfortably off. The point is however that for people of our generation, particularly perhaps those retired from a lifetime career in the professions or in the corporate or public sector, we are far from untypical.

And, in normal circumstance, we might both have anticipated living to a ripe old age. But if we did, there would inevitably come a point when we needed some help.

So who should pay for that? Those struggling to raise a deposit to buy a first home? Those having to pay off a student loan? Those claiming tax credits while paying income tax?

No, the obvious answer is that, through taxation, we should. Those who of us who have had such a fortunate period of time in which to have lived,  We baby boomers, who are only where we are because we enjoyed all these advantages outlined above and yet are being told such advantages are increasingly "unaffordable" for those who come after us.  And if that taxation only kicks in when we're gone we won't even notice it. Because we'd be gone.

So a levy on assets of the deceased is the fairest way for these costs be met. But here's what isn't fair about the current Tory proposals.  For liability for that taxation to be based on a lottery whereby those with a slow decline become liable to pay this tax while those who are taken quickly will not be. The risk should be, to coin a phrase from a different debate, "pooled and shared".

Now, in a Scottish context, the last stroke of good fortune Maureen and I have enjoyed is that we have benefited from free personal care before the money ran out. (And, as always, a bit because we were middle class, articulate, and knew our rights),

But when free personal care was introduced by the Labour/Lib-Dem coalition it is an open secret that our then Health Minister, Susan Deacon, opposed it. Not because she didn't see its merits but because she could see that, given the demographic changes I highlight above, in time, and within the limited revenue raising powers of the Scottish Parliament then prevailing, it was, in the long term, unaffordable. Even now, if people understood their rights properly, it would collapse overnight,

But the revenue raising powers of the Scottish Parliament have moved on since then. There is no reason now that Holyrood could not address this issue before the current policy hits a financial wall. Social care, free personal care, or whatever you want to call it, could be paid for a blanket inheritance tax, levied not just on those unfortunate enough to suffer a lingering departure but on all of those who die widowed and beyond a certain age.

The Nats won't confront this as they won't confront any difficult choice for fear of shaving off any part of their fragile Yes coalition. But Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie are serious politicians. As are many of the Greens once you get beyond their yes Nicola, no Nicola leader. As will Scottish Labour (hopefully) be again at some point later this year.

So here is a proposal. Let's ignore the Nats and get together to try and work out the detail of a long term viable solution on this matter.  I'd happily write a scoping paper. I do have some experience to draw on.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Can McGill win?

So, I start with a declaration of interest. Iain McGill, the Tory candidate in Edinburgh North and Leith. is a pal of mine. But that's not in fact as unusual as you might think, not because I am a secret Tory but because Scotland is a small place and friendships do exist across the political divide,

Even in the context of Edinburgh North and Leith, Mark Lazarowicz, its Labour MP for fourteen years, is one of my oldest pals. Indeed we once went on holiday together, While, before Mark was blown away in the 2015 "Tsunami", the person who had previously run him most close was Lib-Dem Kevin Lang (now Councillor Kevin Lang). Who is also a pal of mine.

So I declare my interest only to forestall some cybernat pointing it out, although I accept that I have picked out Iain's seat as, because of that personal connection, it is indicative of my wider conclusion. The Tory revival might be at a further tipping point.

Edinburgh has five seats. East, in current circumstance, is probably safe for the Nats. (I don't say that just because it's MP, Tommy Sheppard, is also one of my oldest pals). South will be a unionist (if not exactly a Labour) bastion for Iain Murray. West has effectively already gone to the Libs and South West to the Tories. But North and Leith? North and Leith is the one to watch.

The Tories start theoretically third, where they were in 2015. But at the local government poll on 4th May past it was a different story. The Nats "won", certainly, with 27.6% of the first preference vote but in second place, with 25.9%,  were the Tories. More interestingly still, the combined Labour and Lib-Dem vote didn't even (just) get up to the Tory mark.

But freeze that and the brutality of first past the post will do its bit. So the question becomes, will that freeze persist?

And my answer to the question? I genuinely don't know.

But the answer to that very question will decide the narrative of this election in Scotland. Can the Tories advance just that little bit more in their own right? Even if they can't, can Ruth rally, however temporarily, Lib-Dem and Labour voters to her unionist flag where she needs to ? If she can't, she can't. But if she can? Then it won't just be North and Leith that falls but, by my calculation,  another half dozen or so seats.

And that would be on top of the fifteen seats Ruth has already flagged up as those where the Tories were in the lead on May 4th. Excepting Edinburgh South (be serious!) and Gordon where, much as I'd dance round the room were it otherwise, the celebrity of its MP will probably see him hang on.

And then, if the Libs take not just Edinburgh West but East Dunbarton (done deal) and NE Fife but also at least one of their former Highland seats? Game on. If only Labour, despite our leadership, can do our bit for the Popular Front.

Obviously Jez and Kez are a problem but they'll be gone soon and in advance of a proper revival and by the same logic by which McGill might take North and Leith, Martin McCluskey can take Inverclyde for us, Lesley Laird Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Martin Whitfield East Lothian, Hugh Gaffney Coatbridge and Chryston, Paul Sweeney Glasgow North East, Angela Feeney Motherwell and Wishaw and, particularly if in at last minute panic Patrick Harvie doesn't declare people shouldn't actually vote for him, the great Pam Duncan in Glasgow North.

In the UK, the Tories are going to win this election. As will the SNP in the Scottish bit of it. But in five years time if we want a Labour Government Scotland can't sit it out as we did in 2015. The starting point is to crush the Nats and return Edinburgh North and Leith to a seat we need to win in the context of a continued Union. Were I a younger man, I might even then seek the Labour nomination myself. Sorry Iain, but politics is politics. And, as I recall, its your round.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

24 Days out.

So, three and a half weeks to go and in my fourth election blog I thought I might take a bit of stock in relation to the election in Scotland. I might write later in the week regarding the UK contest but for the moment I will only observe that its strategic outcome is clear, The Tories will win with a significantly improved majority and that in itself will impact on Scotland.

But to Scotland itself?

Let's consider each of the players in turn.

The SNP.

They are clearly on the defensive. All talk of seeking a mandate for a second referendum mandate at this poll has disappeared. Let's not forget that, less than a month ago, one of the speculated "next moves" by Nicola, following the Prime Minister's rejection of a second independence referendum, would have been to get all her Westminster MPs to resign and seek re-election on that specific premise. Now they have been "resigned" by Theresa May, whether they wanted it or not, it is clear that the 56 will not be back. The only question is how many will. I will say more about that below.

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

At one time known as "The Tories" but now at least as well known as "Ruth Davidson". There are two sorts of "Unionist" in Scotland. There are those of us who belong, for other reasons, to Parties whose philosophy logically support the union. Labour, Lib, Tory. Who knows, who possibly even owe allegiance to the "Supporting Christ's Lordship Party" who did, after all, beat the Trot-Nats at the last Holyrood poll. 

But there is a second sort of unionist. One who is not Labour or Lib or even Tory. One who is just a unionist. Who believe you can eat one flag just as surely as Nicola's troops believe you could eat another. And they are (very much only) part of Ruth's core constituency. Because the Libs are above all a European Party and Labour is currently led by an SNP volunteer who, in one of her many inadvertent "errors",  declared that she might, in certain circumstance,  even support independence herself.  

Ruth is, to borrow a phrase, strong and stable on the Union. So these votes are hers. To what result is again a point to which I return.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Their problem, bluntly, is that they should be doing better. They should take Edinburgh West and East Dunbarton. North East Fife is another matter to which I will return but in the three West Highland and Island seats they are the only viable challengers and I fear they are not really challenging. In none of these seats did the Nats get 50% last time but they could hang on if they poll in the mid thirties unless the Libs can get their act together. If only Charlie Kennedy was living at this hour.

Scottish Labour

Despite the best efforts of Kezia Dugdale, who spent part of last week campaigning in Stornoway (!), stopping only on the way to give an interview to the Guardian once again talking down our prospects, we are in this. Not everywhere but in certain places. I'm not giving these away but it's not difficult to work them out if you look at the local government results. And the Tory surge notwithstanding, they remain uncompetitive in much of urban Scotland. Even Corbynism (if not Corbyn personally) might help us here. There is a section of the electorate who have persuaded themselves that the SNP is to the left of the Labour Party. That is simply unsustainable at this election, a problem compounded by the SNP, wary of the Tory surge, being unlikely to produce a manifesto even pretending to be a left wing Party. So, lets wait and see.

The Problem.

The problem is first past the post. In 1983, Labour got (only) 35.1% of the vote in Scotland. Yet we still got 41 out of 72 seats. The problem with the Tory surge might be its very success in confusing unionist voters as to what they need to do to get the Nats out. North East Fife is but one example of that. In the end we need information. Last time, Lord Ashcroft did us all a public service with his constituency polls. Maybe we should be appealing to him to dip into his deep pockets once again.

And that's all for the moment.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Back in the Game

Great result for the Tories. Alright result for the SNP. The Libs did well where they needed to do well. Labour got gubbed.

That's the conventional narrative about Thursday's election but I'm not sure it is entirely accurate.

One curious feature about the volunteer's custodianship of the Scottish Labour Party has been her continued willingness to talk down her own Party's prospects. But over the last 48 hours this has gone further. She has talked down our actual result.

You see, we went into this election fearing that Labour might disappear as a serious political force in Scotland and that simply hasn't happened. Certainly we lost Glasgow but only to no overall control and, no disrespect to the Tories, while we remain distinctly challenging for power there, they are still well off challenging us for second place. Despite the double handicap of Kez and Jez, Frank and Anas not only got our horse round the track, they have it safely stabled for the next outing. And that's quite an achievement.

And that pattern has been repeated elsewhere across much of urban Scotland. Labour remains the single largest Party in East Lothian, Midlothian and Inverclyde. We are tied for first in North Ayrshire and are only one seat short here in North Lanarkshire, as well as in West Lothian. Excepting, I concede, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, we otherwise remain the second largest Party in practically all of Scotland's urban authorities.

Now, all of this is poor fare compared to the dominance we once had but it is hardly indicative of a Party that is "finished".

Two weeks past, Kez had no ambition at all except to hold Edinburgh South, have a tilt at East Lothian and, apparently, fund a frankly quixotic attempt to regain East Renfrewshire, where we came third on Thursday past. Indeed it appears the only benefit of the Labour vote holding up at all there would be to allow the SNP to hold on. Why would she want that, I wonder?

Thursday has however changed that, no matter how much she might be about to use her best efforts to obscure it. In 2015, Labour was blown away, by massive margins, in most of our heartland seats. But on Thursday, in terms of first preference votes, we were back to being the largest Party in a good few of these seats. And the Tory revival vote, capable of being embraced risk free in an STV election, is there for the unionist squeezing in places where these voters know they have no chance under first past the post.

The current received wisdom is that based on their 276 Councillors, the Tories might get ten Parliamentary seats. Well, here's the thing, despite everything, Labour has still got 262 Councillors. So why shouldn't we be looking at a similar number of Parliamentary seats as the Tories?

Over to Kez to explain that.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Three lessons learned.

During this election period I've decided to write the occasional blog in the role of a largely detached observer. My first effort is here

Don't get me wrong, I'll vote Labour as always but it would be fair to say that I'm pretty semi-detached from our Leaderships both north and south of the border and for the moment there is little sign of that sentiment changing on either side.

So in the spirit of that first effort here are a few more passing reflections about, on this occasion, how the UK campaign is being influenced by recent Scottish politics.

Firstly, we have what the UK Tories have learned from the Scottish Tories.

I modestly claim the credit for first promoting the concept of the "Ruth Davidson Party". Ms Davidson, on inheriting the Scottish Tory Party leadership appreciated early on that while (some) Scottish Tory Policies were popular with a significant section of the electorate, they were failing to resonate because a cultural hegemony (look up your Gramsci) had come to exist in Scotland that the Tories were an alien Party. The Party of another country (England) and the Party of Mrs Thatcher, a woman so horrible that her doings could not even be discussed in polite company. A sort of Finchley Voldemort.

So Ms Davidson's solution was, initially, to pretend that she wasn't a Tory at all. She was Ruth, who liked a laugh, and a drink and who could turn up at a Pride event not as an embarrassing auntie there on penance but as someone who could claim to be a legitimate front line soldier on the right side of the culture wars.

And having done that, she started getting a wider hearing, admittedly assisted by Labour's determination to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory in the aftermath of 18th September 2014.

But most of you reading this will know that story. No, what is interesting is what we've seen in the early days of the UK campaign. Not the Tory Party but the Theresa May Party. For as Mrs May makes her progress through the Country there is one thing very noticeable. The prominence on all the backdrops of all the staged events of the name "Theresa May" and the absence, other than very much in the small print, of the word "Conservative".

For the UK Tories have worked out that Theresa May can reach parts of the electorate that "The Tories" never could. Thus, she is much more popular than her Party in certain parts of the Country. I genuinely have no idea why (although actually I suggest one partial explanation below) but there is no denying the polling. Even in Scotland, why she is so much more (or relatively less un) popular than David Cameron mystifies me. But it is there and the Tories know it. So where Ruth went, Theresa follows. Only Theresa starts with advantages Ruth never had.

Well actually, that "May factor" might be what the Tories have learned from the SNP. The common narrative that explains the 2015 SNP landslide at the General Election in Scotland is that all the Yes voters voted SNP while the No voters fragmented. First past the post then did the rest.

Except it wasn't as simple as that. For the SNP did significantly better in attracting a share of the popular vote in May 2015 than had the Yes campaign in September 2014. During that time, polling on Independence itself barely moved and logic dictates that some Yes voters at least returned to their normal Party allegiance. So it is incontrovertible that a significant section of the electorate, having voted No (indeed still intending, if asked again, to vote No), then nonetheless voted SNP. Why? Because Nicola Sturgeon sold herself as the person prepared to "stand up for Scotland". And where is Theresa May in this campaign? Standing up for Britain. Not kow-towing to Brussels (as the Tories would paint the Libs), never mind kow-towing to anybody who raises their voice as (believe me) they are about to do to Corbyn. "However you voted on Brexit, only one Leader will stand up for Britain in its aftermath", could almost be lifted directly from the Nats appeal in May 2015.

Then, thirdly, we have what the Lib-Dems have learned from the Scottish Tories. Sometimes a limited aspiration can pay dividends.

In May 2016, Ruth Davidson did not really stand for the position of First Minister. She stood for the position of Leader of the Opposition. And it worked. As the inevitable return to office of La Sturgeon became obvious, the electorate looked round as to who might best hold her to account. And Ruth stepped into a vacuum. Tim Farron spots that opportunity. It's just a pity he is Tim Farron. "Go back to your constituencies and prepare for opposition" might not immediately prove the most effective rallying call but if coupled with "Labour is finished forever and people won't want Tory Government's forever." ........? If that works, Tim might at least have the decency to buy Ruth a drink.

Anyway, these are my thoughts this weekend. More next week sometime,

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Where are we?

I thought I might just share some thoughts about where we are in the General Election campaign in Scotland.

Firstly, it is important to remember there are other elections first, the local elections on 4th May.

These will give us a much clearer picture than any opinion poll but I suspect they will only confirm what these polls are saying. That the Tories are on a surge north (and now elsewhere west) of the border. Only this time "the polls can't be trusted" won't wash as an excuse.

In the 4th May aftermath there will inevitably be last minute calls for Kez and Jez to go but there appears no sign either will. Kez's ability to hang on is a bit of a mystery to me. We are in a situation where despite the clear (slight) decline of the SNP and the speculation that they might lose seats to the Tories and the Libs, there is not a single seat in Scotland that Labour is tipped  (even wildly) to take off them. Yet the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party sails on oblivious, indeed apparently unconcerned. Perhaps she just assumes nobody else wants the job, and in advance of June 8th she might be right. But if she thinks she'll survive after that she is deluded.

In the UK contest I don't think we've even started to realise how bad things could be. Every so often something pops up on social media to remind people of McDonnell and Corbyn's past affiliations but generally, so far, this attack isn't coming from the Tories themselves. I think there is a reason for this. There remains a remote chance that if the local elections were even worse for Labour than has already been priced in, Corbyn might actually be forced to go. So, the Tories have reason not to press their advantage too soon. So far, Corbyn still persuades some voters that he is no worse than "nice but incompetent". The Tories will, I confidently predict, go all out to discredit that redeeming feature and nothing that Corbyn or his team have said so far indicates they have any strategy to deal with this. And that's before we even get started on the farce of "Labour supports a nuclear deterrent but our candidate for Prime Minister would never, ever use it."

But a lot of people still won't vote Tory in England & Wales, (many of whom are fervent Remainers) so I wouldn't be at all surprised if by two or three weeks out the narrative hasn't become "Will the Libs beat Labour in the popular vote?" Indeed I wouldn't be entirely surprised if that actually happened.

So, emerging narratives. If the Tories do well in Scotland and Labour implodes in the UK, it will have various consequentials for Scottish politics.

1. The answer to any challenge to the SNP will no longer be capable of being dealt with by just shouting TORY! (Red or otherwise). The Nats will have to engage with the Tories on policy grounds. They will struggle to do that while holding their coalition together because its clear a lot of Nats are far from inimical to power being moved out of Edinburgh, lower taxes, or Brexit.

2. The Tories will more generally be able to move the general discourse of Scottish politics to the right. There has been a baleful lack of debate in Scotland while Labour and the Nats have had a common interest (albeit for different reasons) not to challenge our complacent and flabby public sector. That will change.

3. If the Nats go backwards it won't just be whether they still say they'd still hold a second independence referendum. It will become whether they still really want one. No amount of "We're still (much) the biggest Party" in the early hours of 9th June will be capable of disguising that. And the clock to their 2020 Manifesto will have started ticking.

4. If the Libs beat or even get close to Labour in the UK result, post election political realignment there will become unstoppable. That will be particularly so if Corbyn attempts to hang on. This will also spill over to Scotland, particularly as here the Libs will almost certainly have more seats, if not votes, than us.

5. Speculation will start as to whether the Scottish Tories have a ceiling to their vote. Could Ruth Davidson actually become First Minister? and

6. If the Scottish voting patterns end up with Labour holding the balance of power between the Tories and the SNP what should we do? Actually, that's likely to be a question we have to answer on May 5th 2017 never mind May 2020. Anybody got any views as to what the answer ought to be? Small in number though we remain, I think that we might literally split on this issue alone.

So, cheery days.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

May 2020.

I am writing this blog in my lunchtime and I'm not the fastest of typists so I might have to finish it between clients this afternoon.

But, in summary, the decision of Theresa May to call an early UK General Election means that the next Holyrood Election will be in May 2020 rather than May 2021 as would otherwise be the case.

The Scottish Parliament was meant to have a four year term and in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 that's what happened.

But in 2011, the Westminster Parliament passed the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act essentially fixing the date of the Next UK General Election for May 2015. That would however have meant a Holyrood poll on the same date and,  for reasons I don't have time to go into here, there was a consensus against that. So, by virtue of s.4 of the 2011 Act, the date of the next Holyrood poll was moved to May 2016.

This was done on a one-off basis originally but there remained a view that the two elections should not clash, so when the Scotland Act 2016 was introduced it contained (in ss.4-10) provision that if a Holyrood and Westminster poll was to clash in future, the former would be moved.

The power to actually change the date lies with the Secretary of State but undertakings were given that he would respect the preference of the Scottish Government on whether to move the poll backwards or forwards. Prior to May 2016, Nicola Sturgeon indicated her preference for the former option.

BUT, although ss 4-10 of the 2016 Act were passed they have not been commenced. Even if they were commenced however, the power to adjust the four year statutory term would only be available if there was going to be a clash, which patently there isn't now going to be.

So its May 2020 for the next Holyrood poll.

Now, this is very important.

It has been clear from the outset that Sturgeon wanted the "next" referendum before the next Scottish Parliament election. The reason for that is quite clear. She fears the Parliament's pro independence majority might be lost at that poll. But, while suggesting her own preference for Autumn 2019, she was realistic enough to concede that it might have has to have been May 2020 for reasons connected to the negotiation of the terms of a s.30 and the inevitable time it would take to get a Bill through the Scottish Parliament.

Well it can't be May 2020 now. And the Tories have made it clear it won't be Autumn 2019.

So, there will only now be a second referendum if the SNP (and any allies) win the May 2020 elections on a clear mandate for a second vote. A mandate they fear they won't get. Don't take my word for that, ask Nicola Sturgeon.


Since I wrote this hurriedly at lunchtime, Professor James Chalmers of the University of Glasgow has entered this debate to suggest I am wrong and the Scottish Parliament has also claimed that the May 2021 date is preserved. I haven't seen anything in writing from the latter but am relying on what I've been told by political journalists who suggest they are following Professor Chalmers logic, so I'll assume that to be the case.

I accept absolutely that the Prof's only dog in this fight is that of correct statutory interpretation and that he is undoubtedly a more distinguished lawyer than me. I also concede that he relies on some legislation of which I was unaware at lunchtime. But I still think he (and if they have adopted his argument the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body) are wrong, albeit with regard to sections of the 2016 Scotland Act not yet commenced.

The Prof has pointed out that by virtue of an obscure piece of legislation, "The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedules 4 and 5)  Order 2015  the Scottish Parliament had, in 2015, been given the power to amend the date of the next Scottish Parliament Election. I readily concede I didn't know that, although the Prof himself was good enough to link to the Hansard debate in which it was clearly intended as a temporary measure. But while I might excuse myself from ignorance of an obscure Statutory Instrument the Prof also drew attention to The Scottish Election (Dates) Act 2016 of which I should have been aware earlier. For it uses the devolved competence of the 2015 Order to fix the date of the next Scottish Election as 6th May 2021.

But I don't think the Prof is interpreting things properly (ducks).

Because the 2015 Order was clearly intended as a temporary measure pending what became the Scotland Act 2016. And it says something quite different.

Section 2 of the Scotland Act 1998 (the founding Statute) says

    "The poll at subsequent ordinary general elections shall be held on the first Thursday in May in the fourth calendar year following that in which the previous ordinary general election was held, unless the day of the poll is determined by a proclamation under subsection (5)."

Section 5 of the Scotland Act 2016 amends that.

I've tried unsuccessfully formatting and reformatting this to get it on the page so here is the link

In summary the section (as amended) now reads

"The poll at subsequent ordinary general elections shall be held on the first Thursday in May in the fourth calendar year following that in which the previous ordinary general election was held unless

(a) subsection (2A) prevents the poll being held on that day......"

Subsection 2A reads

"The poll shall not be held on the same day as the poll at

(a) a Parliamentary General Election......"

I readily admit I've cut out a lot of irrelevant text here for brevity (and clarity) but if you doubt me, feel free to look at it for yourself.

Now, sections 4-10 of the Scotland Act 2016 have not yet been commenced but when they are they will become the law of the land. And they will then dictate when the next Scottish Parliament election will be, notwithstanding any Holyrood legislation. For, for the avoidance of any doubt on the matter, section 10(7) of the Scotland Act 2016 specifically revokes "The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedules 4 and 5) Order 2015".

So, in summary, if Sections 4-10 of the Scotland Act 2016 are commenced, the next Scottish Parliament Election will be on the first Thursday in May 2020. I stand by that argument.


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Off with the Cap!

It is always worse if you have first hand experience of a particularly cruel government policy.

My day to day work now is mainly in the area of family law and accordingly I regularly see people whose relationships have recently broken up.

A standard scenario is meeting a woman with children who has been working part time, in order to discharge child responsibilities, while her departed husband or partner worked full time. And her immediate concern is how she'll survive on a much reduced family income; pay her bills; feed her kids.

And for the last fifteen years plus one of my first pieces of advice has been to check her eligibility for Tax Credits. On any number of occasions this has led to a realisation that her financial position is not as bleak as it first appeared. Thanks for the advice regularly follows. Only my belief that politics has no place in professional life forbids the response "Don't thank me, thank Gordon Brown."

Tax Credits were one of the greatest successes of the last Labour Government. Between their introduction in 1998/99 and the Tories initial assault on them after 2012/13, they reduced the percentage of children living in poverty from 35% to 19%. And 65% of all Tax Credit recipients ARE WORKING! A much higher percentage still of those with children all aged five or over.

The value of Tax Credits has already been reduced, but the most recent restriction, from 6th April past, is the most outrageous. Unless already born, from that date Child Tax Credits will only be paid in respect of the first two children.

Now the stated logic of this policy is to discourage poor people from having children but that's an absurd logic. WE SHOULD BE ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO HAVE CHILDREN!  The current birthrate for all women in the UK is 1.9 children. Think that through. Continuation of that trend will see the population fall. While, not only will we have fewer young people but, thanks to advances in medical science, we will have more old people. This is demographic madness. And if you are the sort of Tory who obsesses with immigration it is madder still. For the major reason we need these immigrants is that we do not have enough young people "of our own" to pick our crops, produce our goods or provide our basic public services.

But, the Tories might argue, we can't have "all these people" having children "the rest of us" have to pay for. They seize on the idea that there are "Welfare Queens" out there with teamless broods brought into this world, and then brought up within it, with a casual disregard for "conventional norms".

But this is nonsense! Sure there are a few people like this but the idea they are motivated by money ascribes to them a degree of calculation that belies everything else about the way they live their lives. And, anyway, their circumstance is already sanctioned by the benefit cap and even then, frankly, it is less than clear what anyone gains from making their children even poorer than they already are.

BUT THAT'S NOT EVEN THE POINT! For 68%, (68%!!!!) of those hit by the two child tax credit cap have the, hardly wholly irresponsible, number of three (three!!!!) children.

And, anyway, anyway, other than very much at the margins, if this idea is really motivated by the lunatic idea of discouraging children, IT WON'T WORK! For people generally have as many children as they think they can cope with. They don't sit down in advance with an abacus to calculate the financial consequences. And, as in the working example I provided above, they often bring children into the world without a thought for a moment that they might, one day, ever need to claim Tax Credits.

No, the crude reason the Tories are cutting Tax Credits is that they wish to cut public expenditure. They need to reduce the deficit and, being Tories, raising taxes is not a viable option. Anymore than, for electoral reasons, they would ever hit those most easily able to afford it, better off pensioners. So, instead, they intend to make already poor people even poorer and, on their own figures, by the time the policy works through, save "up to" £3.1 Billion per annum.

Now, on the face of it, Labour and the SNP are both equally opposed to this policy. Both Parties certainly voted against it in the Westminster Parliament.

Except we are both in opposition in the Westminster Parliament. But at Holyrood the SNP are in Government. And, since September 2016, the Holyrood Parliament has the power to reinstate these cuts. But, strangely, the SNP shows no inclination to use this power.

When I first raised this on Twitter, I was accused by no less than a SNP Member of Parliament of talking "mince" but, that tactic having failed, the Nats new objection suddenly was that if they did so they would either have to raise taxes or find the money from cutting elsewhere. Well, indeed. Isn't that what both our Parties are supposedly calling on the Tories to do at Westminster? One of us at least sincerely.

Instead the Nats have decided to work themselves into a faux frenzy over the so called "rape exemption", which is in reality a very minor and humane exception to what is an otherwise appalling policy. Insofar as I understand their supposed argument, it appears that they object to people claiming the exemption having to fill in (in confidence) a form that contains a number of personal questions. Well, here's something else from my professional experience. If you claim Criminal Injuries Compensation for being raped you have to fill in such a form. Is it the policy of anybody in any Party that rape victims should be denied such compensation to avoid that regrettable form filling necessity?

Frankly, this a crude distraction from the real scandal. The failure of the SNP to use the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament to relieve a crude attack on the poor. Because as always, the Nationalists social democratic mantle seldom survives much examination. For, again as always, they are not really interested in solutions, only in stoking grievance. For a flag.

So Labour should take the initiative here. Lay down a Holyrood motion condemning the Westminster policy but calling on the Scottish Government to act. Let's see how the Nats vote then.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

From Hungary.

So, I am writing this on Tuesday from the terrace of Andi's parents' house on the outskirts of Budapest.

I won't be able to post it though until I'm back as, despite there being broadband internet, nobody can remember the password and the British (surely) genius who decided that it was a good idea to put that on the router doesn't seem to have extended his or her wisdom to Hungary.

I was therefore a bit worried when, connecting briefly to the outside world via my phone, it looked like we might be going to war with Spain. As Hungary is in traditional Hapsburg territory, I even feared momentarily that I might be interned.

Actually, internment itself would probably have been OK since it is a very pleasant 24 degrees here and I've always liked pork (pretty much the only meat anybody eats, albeit in infinite variety). But internment without access to the internet would have been intolerable. Although at least I wouldn't have to worry about seeing any spoilers for the Walking Dead series finale until a latter day Drake (not that one!) or Howard (more of a possibility) or Raleigh (Labour is big on Raleighs at the moment) had succeeded in securing my liberty. Firstly by the traditional burning of Cadiz and then seeing peace guaranteed by persuading Prince Harry that he must forgo the fair Meghan for the hand of the Spanish Infanta. Aged eight. Or Forty-eight. Or whatever. Who cares when the Nation's interest needs served?

However, war with Spain came to nothing, allowing the attention of the Royal Navy re-directed towards the National Trust. So I should be fine now if, on my return, I stay away from Culzean Castle.

As Chris Deerin points out today, the Country has gone mad. Or at least some of it has.

Andi's folks stay in the suburbs of Budapest, on the large Island of Csepel, where the Danube divides,in a very Scottish way, between the “big Danube” to the north and the “wee Danube” to the south. It is an astonishingly peaceful place, despite every single resident apparently owning a big dog. Except for those who own two big dogs. And sometimes some small dogs as well. Just to keep the big dogs company..

But at the centre of the island, nearly thirty years on, there is an air base, on prime land, which, although still used for light aircraft, can't be developed properly because, for the forty plus years prior, it was was operated by the Red Army, Who, on leaving, but even before leaving, simply dumped their unwanted diesel, paraffin and other chemicals into the soil. Making it a mammoth task now to clean that up.

Victor Orban, the political top dog here, is not my cup of tea. He is a firm believer in the superiority of Hungary and Hungarians over all and any other nation. A sort of central European Alex Salmond. And the principal opposition is worse, coupling all of the above with an open anti-semitism in a way that might make even Ken Livingstone blush.

But Hungary is still a very European Nation. The EU flag flies alongside the national tricolour and shield on just about every public building. Sometimes even outside supermarkets. There is no going back here. I wrote, while here before  about the Hungarian insistence on a hard external border to the EU, but as you negotiate the M0, Budapest's equivalent to the M25,you are struck by the signposting to Austria, Slovenia, The Czech Republic and Slovakia and the importance, ultimately, of maintaining Schengen access to each as you head off in whatever direction.

The idea, in some quarters at home, that the EU is a project about to collapse would be laughed at by the vast majority of Hungarians. Even here, in probably the most eurosceptical of all of the remaing 27. Because the EU means peace and significantly greater prosperity. And one day, if required, Hungary will find its own Macron to point out that adherence to liberal “western” values will always trump the alternative of returning to the status of a closed nation state, never mind a border land. Notwithstanding today's grandstanding by the Vizegrad 4.

So, the EU will go on. And, slowly but certainly, Britain will come to realise that declaring that we have no need for any allies at all on the Continent of Europe makes no more sense in the 21st Century than it had done for the previous five Centuries before.

For if, even at the height of Empire, Lord Salisbury concluded that self same thing, then surely Theresa May will eventually do so herself one day. If not, hopefully before it is too late, the electorate will do it for her.

Anyway, back in Hungary, they have had a relatively mild Winter. So the blossom is already on the Cherry Trees (white for sour cherry; red for sweet) and will surely be gone before the Lilac even first appears.

And I'm getting ready to go home.

From where I will finally post this blog.