Sunday 29 May 2011

Cadder and Fraser

As I have previously noted, the intense political atmosphere which surrounds elections can too easily give the impression that this is a permanent state of affairs. In fact, that quickly fades and a greater state of realism, one might more properly say normality, quickly reasserts itself. That has undoubtedly been the case this part week. It is slowly dawning that Scotland is not imminently going to declare UDI, or even test the matter in a referendum called by either Government at Holyrood or Westminster. Nor should it be supposed that the willingness of the Treasury to receive wee Eck courteously on his visit to London is indicative that they are even remotely likely to concede his more outlandish fiscal demands. In fact, things are likely to move forward in a much more measured way, with the Scotland Bill continuing its progress through committee in both Parliaments and no real show down likely to take place before the Autumn. Then, it will be interesting whether the SNP administration are really prepared to make (in their perception) the good the enemy of the best by voting down the whole legislation but a fair amount of water will have flowed under the bridge by then.

There has however been a significant constitutional development this week and that relates to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Fraser v HMA.

It was always given as one of the great examples of the continuation of Scotland’s own identity as a Nation between 1707 and 1999 that we had retained our own legal system. Indeed before the creation of the Scottish Office in the late 19th Century British acknowledgement of Scottish particularism on legal matters by  the part of the Westminster Government was embodied in the constant position of the Lord Advocate as the only uniquely Scottish Member of Government.

An equally important safeguard however was the clear agreement on both sides of the border that no Scottish Criinal Appeal was competent to the House of Lords. For those interested in these matters I would commend Professor Neil Walker’s fascinating (to lawyers at least!) study of both the history, and then the steady erosion, of that absolute exclusion as a result of the particular interpretation the Courts (Scottish and UK) chose to give to the position of the Lord Advocate, post devolution, by reference to s.57(2) of the 1998 Scotland Act.  

Until last week however, there was still an understanding that the UK Supreme Court (as successor to the House of Lords) did not have a role in relation to “bog standard” criminal appeals. Despite the notoriety of its circumstances, the Fraser Appeal was just that. It did not deal with any matter of Constitutional importance. It simply turned on the particular circumstances of one trial and conviction and indeed for all the attempts of the Supreme Court to categorise it as relating to the denial of a fair trial under Article 6 of the ECHR (thus allowing them jurisdiction), on that logic it can be credibly argued that every appeal to a higher court at any level proceeds on the premise that there has been a denial of a fair trial in the lower court either by irregularity of procedure; misinterpretation of the facts or misapplication of the law. It is also interesting to note that in the full decision of the Supreme Court in  Fraser there is no reference to any European case law and indeed the reasoning of the Court flows almost entirely from reference to previous Scottish cases which Lord Hope, delivering the leading Judgement, clearly feels were misinterpreted in our own Court of Criminal Appeal.

In both of these regards, Fraser was quite different from Cadder which, whether it was correctly decided or not (and I take the latter view) did undoubtedly raise wider issues of the compatability of Scots Law with the ECHR and was indeed prompted by the perceived need to at least reconsider the Scottish position on Police questioning of suspects in light of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Salduz v Turkey.
Now, nobody (and in this regard I do genuinely mean nobody, pro devolution or anti-devolution, Scottish or English) sought as a consequence of the 1998 Scotland Act that we now apparently have a second level of Appeals in routine Scottish Criminal cases. There are perfectly good reasons for the status quo ante, not all related even to the protection of the independence of Scots criminal law. No part of society has its interests served by criminal proceedings becoming interminable.

So, for all I might disagree with the First Minister on many matters, when he expressed his outrage at this development in the course of last week, he was speaking, I believe, for the overwhelming body of Scottish opinion. We do have an immediate opportunity to remedy this in the current Scotland Bill. That should be done. And in doing so provide another reason that the SNP will have to think twice before voting that legislation down.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Enough of this nonsense

The period after elections is often an illusory one. During election campaigns, political activists are deceived into thinking that politics plays a much more important role in most people’s lives than it actually does. Just as importantly however, in the period immediately after elections, they are reluctant to accept that politics doesn’t actually play that important a part in their own lives. Excepting the defeated MSPs, their staff and the various Party apparatchiks looking to find new employment, the election is already a distant memory but real life goes on.

I’ve already written about how Labour shouldn’t rush into decisions about the leadership but the same surely must apply to over hasty policy changes or organisational reforms. Much of what has happened so far has been for the good. The terms of reference for the Murphy/Boyack review seem both obvious and unrestricted. So far, the Labour inclined commentariat have generally reached the correct conclusions as to the required direction of travel, helped, it must be acknowledged, by contributions from some unlikely sources. (For example, nobody has got it much better than Tom Harris.) We can therefore look forward with some optimism to the review process reaching the right conclusions and, frankly, will neither assist nor speed these conclusions by screaming from the sidelines.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the people of Scotland will not be hanging on every word. For the moment the truly important Party is the governing Party. It is frustrating therefore that they are getting such an easy ride, although for the moment that is an almost inevitable consequence of the opposition’s disarray.

On Wednesday, the First Minister made a number of immediate demands. I will go on to consider these in turn but I wish first to consider the basis for the Holyrood Government demanding anything.

Scotland undoubtedly has the the unilateral right to leave the Union. There is common ground between all of the unionist Parties in that regard. If however Scotland chooses not to leave the Union then the relative distribution of powers between the Westminster and Holyrood Parliaments must inevitably be a matter for negotiation. The underlying if unspoken assumption behind the Convention process was always that this was not a scheme that could ever be forced on an unwilling United Kingdom. While trying to devise a scheme that respected the rights of the other sovereign nations within the UK and to persuade them of its merits, the Conventioneers real leverage was that if some reasonable measure of devolution was not conceded then that middle ground opinion might have no alternative but to be forced into demanding Independence.

Now, this is not a strategy which can be advanced by the SNP while they continue to argue that they will never be satisfied by anything short of “FREEEDUM!”. If, on Wednesday, Salmond had said “If you give us this we will be content” then there would be a logic in entering into negotiations but, since he didn’t and, indeed, for internal Party management reasons, he never could, then while it is clearly appropriate to his Office that he be given a hearing, it is less than clear why he requires a response other than NO. After all, what could he then do, other than call a Referendum on Independence, something he is committed to anyway? (I think)

This is particularly the case because some of Salmond’s proposals on Wednesday are truly characterised as what classic Trotskyism defined as transitional demands. A transitional demand is one which appears on the surface to be a reasonable one but which (in Trotskyist theory) could never actually be delivered by the existing regime. There is no more telling example than the Bolsheviks 1917 demand for “Peace, Bread and Land”. (These do not have to be all something the “demanders” believe in themselves. The Bolsheviks had no means of delivering the second and absolutely no intention of delivering the third).

Some of Salmond’s demands are , at first blush, as peace was in 1917, not unreasonable. Who could object to a subsidised Scottish television channel in the digital age? No-one would be forced to watch and Radio Scotland currently sits quite happlily alongside Radio’s 2, 4 and 5, covering much the same territory but from a Scottish perspective. The only possible quibble is the Nationalists customary failure to suggest what part of the BBC’s existing output should make way to pay for it but if it was River City I might vote SNP myself.  Equally, the borrowing powers he demands are already in Calman and were an obvious omission from the 1998 Act. In that regard he’s actually trying to claim credit for something already on its way.

The transitional demands however lie in the other four “demands”.

The first is devolved Corporation Tax. What exactly is the purpose of this demand? It cannot be simply that big business in Scotland should pay less tax. That might make sense as an economic strategy if you were Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan but it is hardly in keeping with the SNP’s current Social Democratic persona. Nor is it, we are repeatedly assured, with a view to Scottish big business paying higher taxes. So why make this demand?  It is with the specific intention of cutting Corporation Tax to encourage existing businesses to relocate their headquarters to Scotland from er................England.  Not Scottish businesses, you understand. After all, who is interested in them*?

(*When the SNP originally devised this policy that prize was of course meant to include RBS and HBOS but we’re all just supposed to have a bout of collective amnesia about that).

No, the intention is that businesses primarily trading in England might decide to have their headquarters in Scotland because that way they would pay less tax. And of course, because otherwise they would be in a common economic area with the rest of the UK and the EU there would be no downside for the businesses or for Scotland in that. Only for the English and, more significantly, for the rest of Europe. The latter being why such “Selective Regional Assistance” is actually illegal within European Law.  Now Wee Eck (who is not stupid) knows that. But he also knows that it is not, for the moment at least, illegal for sovereign states within the EU to have lower rates of Corporation Tax and will remain so, at least until the Irish need to renegotiate their bail out. So why should he not make this demand? As with his remaining proposals,  differential Corporation Tax  sounds good but it can never be delivered within a unitary United Kingdom. It is truly a transitional demand.

As is the demand for variable excise duties. Again, on the face of it, what could be more reasonable? Scotland has a particular problem with cheap drink. That problem is significantly larger among the poor. If the cost of drink was higher, in theory at least, the poor would drink less and be all the better for it. Although they could hypothetically drive to Carlisle for a better deal, frankly, they would be unlikely to have the resources, time or inclination to do so and would therefore drink less. So what’s the downside here? Scotland’s second largest export sector deals with drink that is far from cheap, whisky. It is inconceivable that an SNP Government would ever see that sold at a cheaper price in England. And, given the demand from south of the border, might the corporation tax argument not also come to hold sway here as well. If differentials can encourage well to do English consumers to buy their spirits (and again EU Law would demand equivalent duty across all spirits) in Scotland, perhaps over the internet, who would lose out from that except the English exchequer? But why would the English ever agree to that within a unitary state?Now there is a solution, cross border customs control. Which is why, once again, this is truly a transitional demand.

As is the demand that Scotland participate in UK delegations to the EU. European politics are a constant negotiation but the Lisbon Treaty effectively gives the “big” countries a veto. The remaining small countries are effectively tied into qualified majority voting or to walking away from the EU  completely. England is a big country. Scotland is not. Now, the SNP are in a bit of a dilemma over membership of the EU. No Country in the EU is truly “Independent”. They have agreed to share sovereignty for the greater good. I agree with that choice but, to be fair, other people who are not lunatics take a different view. There are many in Greece who believe that withdrawal from the Euro and competitive devaluation would best serve their national interest and many in Germany, from a completely opposite perspective, who would like to return to the Deutschmark. And then there is UKIP. But, there is no more obvious contradictory attitude to the European Union than within the SNP. Membership of the EU is the guarantee that an independent Scotland would not be either Albania or De Valera’s Ireland. But membership of the EU as a small peripheral nation, with a right to participate in qualified majority voting, would equally be somewhere short of Independence. So why not hide behind the big country veto while continuing to call the shots? That would surely be the ideal outcome if only the big country would agree. But why should they ever agree? European Union depends on negotiation. “We will reluctantly go along with this if we can count on your future support in relation to that”. Why should the English ever agree to being the dog wagged by the tail in such a process? Unless, again, there was no anticipation that they would agree, such a requirement forming simply, once again, a “transitional demand”.

And, finally, there is the issue of the Crown Estate. Even I concede, a quite brilliant ploy, for it suggests that revenue in some sort of unspecific way accruing to the Royal Family should instead accrue to the people of Scotland. Only, firstly, the revenue doesn’t currently go to the Royal Family. It goes to the UK exchequer. But why, even then, with the anticipation of significantly greater revenues arising from wind, tidal and coastal power, shouldn’t it come to Scotland? Well, partly because, proportionate to need, under the Barnet formula, it will. But why, given the disproportionate wind, tidal and coastal resources of Scotland, shouldn’t we get a share proportionate to our contribution? Well, partly because those paying 50% tax on inherited wealth don’t get any better NHS treatment than the rest of us. But also because the remote, wet and windy parts of Scotland have, on any view, been subsidised considerably by the remainder of the UK since the development of the modern state: be it through a universal postal system, a guaranteed television signal or public roads built by all of us to connect three men and a dog to civilisation, even though we have not the remotest intention of travelling in the opposite direction. If, a week after the hypothecation of the Crown Estate revenues, a man in a garage in Tunbridge Wells discovered the secret of cold fusion, making the need for any other renewable energy resource redundant, how would we react if the Westminster Government announced that a discovery made in England by an Englishman was to be deployed for exclusively English benefit? And indeed that we were now welcome to do what we liked with the Crown Estate? The Union depends on social solidarity. Any demand that undermines that is, once again, a transitional demand.

So, there is an unarguable case, within the Union, for rejecting all four of Salmond’s most tendentious demands. If he’s not happy and demands a referendum on Scottish Independence, I suggest we invite him to get on with it.

I have already written as to why Labour lost on May 5th. Not one of my ten reasons was that there was a any real desire for Scottish Independence. If I was to write ten reasons as to why the SNP won, a popular desire for Independence would still not be on that list. No one knows that better than them. It is time to call their bluff.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Not all history is economic history

This blogging is hard going, particularly if you’ve got a proper job. Nonetheless, having attracted one follower I don’t want him to lose interest, so here is my thought for today.
The roots of the 2011 election debacle can be traced from the 31st May 1994.
On that evening Tony Blair and Gordon Brown met in the Granita Restaurant to agree on the future leadership of the Labour Party.
Now, I don’t like Tony Blair. Never did. The last UK Party Conference I attended coincided with his first as leader.  As an amateur student of Italian History, I had heard all this about the third way before and it didn’t bode well, although even I couldn’t forsee that it would also end with him threatening people with somebody else’s army.
More to the point, the Scottish Party (of 1994 at least) didn’t like Blair. They did however appreciate the self sacrifice “our” Gordon had made in Blair’s favour in what he (if by no means all of them) perceived to be the UK Party’s strategic interest.  So long as Gordon backed Blair, so would they, but equally they would sign up to do nothing to prevent Gordon, one day, coming into his rightful inheritance.
The problem is that it was difficult to reconcile that inheritance with the requirements of Devolution. SLA had always argued that a devolved Parliament had always required a devolved Party. Between 1987 and 94, we were absolutely at the forefront of the development of Party policy on the national question. Even when we lost, such as advocating non-payment of the poll tax, we nonetheless set the terms of the debate. And we had more successes than failures: taking the Party into the Convention; reconciling it to the development of the eventual revised Convention scheme, crucially on the issue of the electoral system; in 1994, finally giving the Party the courage to adopt the title Scottish Labour Party. But in 1994, all this stopped short of the final achievement of an actually autonomous Party in Scotland.
 Why? At the time it was attributed to the Party’s dedication to finally returning to power but, believe me, no Actioner was any less committed in ’92, under a leader with whom we felt much more at ease in relation to his UK agenda. No, the difference was that, after ‘94, the zeitgeist was that nothing the Scottish Party might do could involve creating any possible obstacle to Gordon’s ultimate elevation. And there was no bigger potential obstacle to that than creating the impression that the Party in Scotland (unofficial leader G. Brown) was in some way semi-detached from the Party at Westminster.
So, there never was a Scottish Labour Party, other than in name. And even then that name was for exclusively Scottish use.
Now, after the benign interlude when this strategic problem was effectively reconciled in the one person of Donald Dewar, this was always one day an issue that would require to be confronted.
When it finally was, it led to one of the most disreputable episodes in our Party’s history: the Alexander leadership, 14th September 2007- 28th June 2008.
That will be my next topic.

Sunday 15 May 2011

What does not need to be done (Apologies to V.I. Lenin)

When I was much younger I was used to Labour losing elections. My first General Elections as a Party member stretched from 1979 to 1992. Each defeat was characterised by an immediate belief on the part of my political circle that the reason for that defeat must be addressed and remedied, as if another election might take place at any moment. The consequence was that, at best, we reached the conclusions that might have won the election just lost rather than would actually win the one four or five years away. At worst, having arrived at our verdict, we abandoned any further monitoring of the developing political situation to concentrate purely on organisation.
In doing so, we also ignored the familiar truism that oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them. The two big swing elections of my time, before last Thursday, in 1979 and 1997 were, after the event, attributed by their partisans to the successful challengers. With a greater sense of perspective, what Thatcher and Blair actually did was to position themselves as potential replacements for administrations that had in reality failed internally over their own inability to agree among themselves as to the way forward.
Cameron failed that challenge last year, although with the assistance of Nick, he covered up that failure brilliantly.
In a Scottish context however the starting point of Labour’s post mortem must be a realisation that the landslide had two parents and was not simply the bastard child of a woeful campaign. The SNP administration of the last four years has hardly put a foot wrong. Sure, on occasions, most notably over local income tax, they were saved from themselves; on others, such as the independence referendum, they benefited   from the limitations of their mandate and certainly some of the spending commitments they made are probably unsustainable in the long term but judged on their actual period of office .........................what’s there really to get outraged about. Even Megrahi’s release , while controversial, was not controversial in a Party political sense, despite the best efforts of some in our ranks to make it so.
So, the first thing Labour needs to realise is that, unless the SNP cocks up, matters may simply be beyond our control. That’s not to say that they won’t cock up, or that we can’t try and assist them in doing so but in the end they are the Government, they have a number of very talented politicians, both up front and behind the scenes, and, for the moment, they have a remarkable degree of unity.
And the second thing is that the next election in almost any conceivable circumstance will not be for five years. It’s been my lifetime’s ambition to sit in the Scottish Parliament. I’m not going to realise it. In 2016 I will be 57, no age to be starting out on a Parliamentary career. And let’s consider what else will definitely happen in that five year period:
1.       There will be a referendum on some subject related to the powers of the Scottish Parliament, although not necessarily it appears on what has always understood to constitute Scottish Independence;
2.       that referendum  will be won or lost;
3.       there will be .(at least) one UK General Election and the outcome will be a Labour Government/a Tory Government/a continued Coalition/a different Coalition;
4.       the London Olympics will take place and prove to be an occasion of Metropolitan Folly  or a unique British triumph;
5.       something will happen in relation to the Royal Family and we’ll end up with a very popular Queen celebrating more and more milestones/a very English eccentric leading even English opinion to turn to republicanism/ or (I fear) an equally popular King Billy, with his “commoner” wife moving towards a Scandinavian type monarchy.;
6.       The economy will recover
7.       Or it won’t
And these are just things which will definitely happen.
If the death of Osama Bin Laden can derail the last few days of a Scottish election and (let’s not forget) the death of Princess Di halt the No Campaign in its tracks during the 97 Referendum, then who knows what other relatively minor events, let alone major events, might yet dictate the course of Scottish affairs without any Scottish politician having any say over them.
But to return to the issues for the Scottish Labour Party there is also one other certainty. Win or lose, the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament in five years time will bear little resemblance to either the 2007 or the 2011 Group. Never mind the merits or otherwise of such a development, most of those who lost last Thursday will simply be too old to stand again in 2016. Further, most of those survivors in the Parliament from 1999 will be too old to continue, or at least  inclined to continue, particularly if victory is far from assured. Equally, while the farce of our list strategy has undoubtedly provided opportunity for some fresh blood who will be in it for the long term, many of those so appointed are likely to enjoy a very limited period in the sun once the Party turns its attention to their actual merits as public representatives.
So, here’s my first question. Instead of arguing whether Westminster MPs should participate in a privileged position in selecting who should lead us into the next Scottish Election, shouldn’t we in fact be considering whether those who should make that choice are even yet known?
And here’s my second question. Given the other variables, why should we, in 2011, be choosing the person who will be our candidate for First Minister in 2016? Certainly we need a group leader in the Scottish Parliament but if that’s the only position currently on offer under the Party’s constitution, why shouldn’t the selection of that person be left to the Group themselves?
And here’s my third and most difficult question. Perhaps the current group simply does not have someone capable of being a credible candidate for First Minister so why, at this distance should we fetter our choice, or stack up future problems by proceeding in the knowledge that we might need to ditch them at some future point?
 So electing a potential candidate for First Minister is the first thing that does not need to be done (now). I will return to some others.

Ten Reasons Labour Lost

We were electing a Parliament

There was no more telling exchange in the whole campaign than Alex Salmond’s dismissive reply to Gordon Brewer when challenged about whether an SNP victory would not send a mixed message to the Westminster coalition. This election, he said, is not about sending messages to anybody, it is about electing a government for Scotland. Surely, one might think, he was only stating the bleeding obvious, but, obvious as it was, it passed by the Scottish Labour Campaign from start to finish. That was no momentary accident. Many in the Labour Party have never loved or learned to love the Scottish Parliament. They see it as little more than a glorified regional council and very much secondary to the real game at Westminster. After Thursday they can surely now be in no doubt that this is not a view shared by the Scottish people.

We gave no reason we should win

Labour advanced virtually no positive reason we should be elected. We moved from an initial strategy of encouraging people to vote Labour in order to defeat the Tories (who?) to latterly encouraging people to vote Labour in order to defeat the SNP. Any reasons given for actually voting for us, insofar as they emerged at all, amounted to little more than slogans rather than worked out proposals for Government: from the incoherent policy on knife crime, through the pledge that “efficiency savings” could fund countless spending pledges without a single compulsory redundancy to, most bizarre of all, the “promise” to abolish youth unemployment using the limited economic powers of the Holyrood Parliament and in the midst of a recession. No one believed any of this, not even us, but, since we were in any event more interested in “sending a message”, presumably none of that was meant to matter.

The core vote is not big enough

This almost speaks for itself. We’re down to the core vote and we got gubbed. At no point during the entire campaign however was any attempt made to reach out to voters beyond that core, particularly disenchanted Liberal Democrats who were always going to be a key element this year. Indeed, such was the inarticulacy and illiberality of our actual programme you might have thought that we were actively signalling that we didn’t want their votes. That was certainly the result we achieved.

Some of our candidates were an insult to the electorate.

As Labour was swept away one couldn’t help noticing that many of those losing “safe” seats were people almost all of Scotland were unaware had been sitting in the Parliament in the first place while many of those selected to fight our supposed target seats seemed to have been selected expressly to make the task of winning as difficult as possible. Whether the Labour Party likes it or not, the electorate clearly does not view a lifetime of undistinguished but faithful service to Labour local government or the Trade Union movement as per se a qualification for service in, the Scottish Parliament.  In selecting candidates, we are not handing out long service medals, we are trying to get elected.

The Country has not been anarchy for the last four years

In 1999 and 2003 Labour ran its anti nationalist campaign premised on the election of an SNP Government leading to a flight of capital, the collapse of the Scottish economy, schools and hospitals closing there doors out of a sheer sense of hopelessness and ultimately plagues of locusts ravishing the land. It might not have been honest but it was effective. It always did however have one major flaw. If our bluff was called, as it was in 2007, it was difficult to see any future such warning having any credibility. Once the SNP did get into government, the relief of the electorate that their daughters remained free of being sold into slavery would inevitably disguise the realisation that, equally unrealistically in terms of their historic positioning, an SNP administration was not in fact able to solve all of Scotland’s  problems overnight. To that extent therefore, even with a perfect campaign, Labour should have realised it was never going to be easy to deny them at least an initial second term. It was therefore astonishing that Labour approached the election with such a degree of complacency.

Actually, the Country’s  been quite well run.

Political parties normally learn from their own adverse electoral history. Without getting involved in argument over whether the SNP were ever truly the Tartan Tories, patently they have not governed as such for the last four years. Indeed, excepting the issue of the independence referendum they have done little if anything that would not have been done by a Labour administration. That’s just being honest. And they’ve done so with patent technocratic competence. That’s why Labour, albeit very belatedly, actually adopted most of the SNP’s policies and having done so then couldn’t work out why this, instead of alienating the electorate from the SNP actually reassured them that they could stick with the nationalists!

There is no incredible electoral machine.

Nothing amazed Labour Party veterans more than the media’s continuing willingness to accept Labour’s assertions that no matter how badly the air war was going we had a “secret army” who were in the process of winning an otherwise invisible ground war. Ten thousand activists were allegedly on the streets over the last weekend. This was a complete invention. The Labour Party in Scotland does not have ten thousand activists. Indeed, it doesn’t have five thousand. The whole Party structure tied to committee meetings in draughty halls on Tuesday nights was out of date in the 1980s. It is almost a museum piece in the internet age. Things won’t get better until that is addressed. The truth might even set us free.

We had no credible candidate for First Minister or just about any other minister.

It will suit many in the Party to try and put most of the blame on Iain Gray. That would be a mistake. Frankly, Iain Gray was as good a candidate as we had available and, to be honest, while he was  outclassed by Salmond, with the possible exception of Jackie Baillie at health, so were every single one of his shadow cabinet outclassed by their Government equivalents. Until Labour faces up to that then changing the leader will be an irrelevance.

There is no such thing as the Scottish Labour Party.

What position will Iain Gray’s successor actually hold?  Under the Party’s current constitutional arrangements it will not be leader of the Scottish Labour Party for that post is actually held, somewhat bizarrely, by one Ed Miliband. We need major change within the Party in Scotland: a rooting out of the deadwood at the top; a Party structure based on the ability to fight Scottish elections becoming an equal priority to fighting Westminster ones; a more inclusive candidate selection process; above all a means of involving our natural supporters fit for 2016 rather than 1916. All of that can only be achieved  by a leader in Scotland with the power to set the terms of the debate and force through the changes required without constantly having to seek permission from London.

Scotland is a Nation.

The most important point of all.  In 1997 I pursued the Labour nomination for the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Westminster Constituency. That involved an interview by the Party’s National Executive Committee. At that interview I was asked in all seriousness what choice I would make if the interests of Scotland conflicted with the interests of the Labour Party. This showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Scotland. I suspect the question was cribbed from a different sort of question asked of by-election candidates along the lines of “What would you do if the national interest of the Labour Party conflicted with the interests of (e.g.) Barnsley”. That might expect a finessed response. The national interest is however something quite different. No UK Prime Minister could ever get elected on the basis that they might even consider putting Party before Country, let alone if it was suspected that their primary loyalty was to France. In relation to Scotland however a mindset that our conduct here can be constrained by other factors still pervades the thinking of too many in the higher reaches of the Party.  If we don’t change that then the SNP, even if they do lose an independence referendum, will continue to govern indefinitely.