Wednesday 29 April 2015

You can't have your cake and eat it.

I'm not in favour of Trident renewal.

The rationale of a continuously at sea Submarine launched ballistic missile system (to use the technical term) is rooted in the era of mutual assured destruction. If anybody (actually only the Soviet Union) was tempted to launch a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom the logic is/was that we could promise such a devastating response that they wouldn't try in the first place.

Whether by accident or design, that theory worked. The Soviet Union is no more and thankfully no alternative player would have the slightest intention or even capacity to launch a strategic nuclear attack on the UK.

So who or what would a strategic deterrent be deterring?

Some rogue regime yet to be invented? For it certainly wouldn't deter the various rogue regimes in actual existence. Those "in love with death" are hardly likely to be put off by the thought of .......dying. Mutual assured destruction presumed an element of rational calculation on both sides. That cannot now be presumed to exist among our modern enemies.

Now, that having been said, I am no pacifist and I can see the case for the Nation to have the potential to launch a devastating counter punch in (admittedly) pretty unlikely circumstance but more importantly not to leave itself open to nuclear blackmail. It seems to me however that there are various other, cheaper, delivery systems by which this blow could be delivered.

So, I am not in favour of Trident renewal.

All very conventional thinking by a member of the Labour Party, widely shared by others. Even shared by many Lib-Dems and even a few Tories

But what has any of this got to do with my usual subject of discourse, the constitutional debate in Scotland?

In the course of a twitter discussion last night I replied to @RossMcCaff thus

The odd thing is that, without the need to defy the SNP, we'd probably not renew Trident.

This appears to have led to complete apoplexy on the part of the cybernats who seem to think I was suggesting Labour would purchase a weapons system just to spite them.

It seems to me however that they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of their own Party.

For all they are posturing at this election as little more than a slightly more left wing version of the Labour Party, even conceding that, improbably, to be true, the SNP is fundamentally something more than that. It is a Party which is in favour of Scottish Independence and, as such, is hostile to the very idea of the "United Kingdom".

Nonetheless, the SNP maintain that they would be happy to lend their support to a Labour Westminster regime and expect everybody else in the Country to be too polite to mention the Nats more fundamental goal.

What they fail to understand is that that hostility to the United Kingdom inevitably has a consequence for any Party relying on them for support in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Labour is scarred by the experience of the 1980s when we paid a heavy price for being seen to be weak on the defence of the Country. So any straightforward Labour majority administration would have to proceed cautiously in the area of the "abandonment" of the nation's strategic nuclear defence. However one legacy of Blair is that it is difficult now to argue that we are not willing to use military force in pursuit of our perceived interests. Some, myself included, might say possibly even seen in some quarters as too willing to fight or at least too willing to perceive these interests.

Given that legacy it would be more difficult to criticise an uncircumscribed decision not to renew Trident as being other than based on the rational, military case I myself start off with. Certainly a lot more difficult than it would have been in the 1980s.

But, of course, a decision made by a Labour administration reliant on SNP support would not be seen as an uncircumscribed decision. It would be seen as a decision taken by the government of the United Kingdom to appease a Party hostile to the very existence of the United Kingdom.

Frankly, if you take off tartan spectacles for two minutes, you appreciate that this would be political suicide in the rest of the Country.

And this is indicative of the wider difficulty that the predicted SNP landslide causes for Scotland. 

That landslide, if it happens, will undoubtedly deserve a response from the rest of the Country. But that response would need to be a collective response. It couldn't conceivably be seen as the self interested response of one Party seeking to secure the support of those hostile to the Country's very existence. If Labour voters in England and Wales gained the impression that the Labour Party is selling out the interests of the Country to secure the temporary, but essential,  support of those who don't even want to be in the Country then it wouldn't be long before they took their electoral support elsewhere.

That's what the Nats don't seem to grasp. Or perhaps, despite their surface rhetoric, they do. For nothing better would suit the interests of Scottish Nationalism than the emergence of a significant English Nationalism.

That's also why, perfectly logically, a Labour Party that had not won the election in England and Wales could not conceivably take office based on the support of the SNP. Not spite, or pique, or contempt for the views of "Scotland". Simple electoral calculation.

The decision on Trident renewal is only one obvious example to demonstrate that.

If Labour is the largest Party we will take power. If we are not, but the Tories can't construct a Commons majority, there will have to be another election. And if we get a repeat result? It would be up to the Unionist Parties to devise a solution.

The SNP can be a British left social democratic Party or an anti British separatist Party but if it remains the latter it can hardly expect to be an essential pillar of the "British" government. The key is in the title.

You can't have your cake and eat it. Even in today's Scotland.


Sunday 19 April 2015

More Numbers

In my last blog I tried to explain the crucial question of numbers of seats in a post election situation.

One person who does not underestimate that precise issue is Nicola Sturgeon.

Her question to Ed in Thursday's debate was whether Labour would join with the SNP in "locking David Cameron out" even if Labour was not the largest Party in the Commons.

The second part of that formulation is key. I said before that if Labour is the largest Party in the Commons then whoever else wants to support us becomes a matter them. Given the unconditional statement of the Nationalists that they would never (again) vote with the Tories to bring down a Labour Government and assuming they stand by their word, if Labour is the largest Party, then their support or abstention would amount to the same thing. We could effectively ignore them. As indeed we could largely ignore the Lib-Dems on important votes. Having lost (it appears likely) more than half their MPs as a result of coalition, I doubt if they'd be anxious to face the Country any time soon on the basis of having "no confidenced" an incoming Labour administration.

So while, if Labour is the largest Party despite an SNP landslide in Scotland, that will undoubtedly raise strategic problems for the Labour Party, it is unlikely to make any great difference to Ed or indeed David Cameron's decision making on 8th May.

Cameron will resign, Ed will accept the Queen's offer to form an administration, and we'll get on with running the Country. No doubt from time to time we will lose the occasional Commons vote when the Tories and Libs make common cause and the Nats abstain but we'll still be the ones exercising Executive power.

But, if there is an SNP landslide, how likely is it that Labour will be the largest Party and, if we are not, what are we likely to do then?

Let me answer each of these questions in turn.

In 2010 the Tories won 306 seats and Labour 258. All other things being equal therefor Labour needs to win 25 seats from the Tories to become the largest Party. But 41 of Labour's seats were in Scotland. Suppose we lose all but a handful of these, say 35. Suddenly that 25 figure becomes 42. And then let us assume, I think not unreasonably, that the Tories gain disproportionately in England from the travails of the Libs. That figure creeps up towards 50. Not impossible but a pretty big task.

Let's however assume we do well. Better than any poll currently suggests even. Forty five gains from the Tories and (say)  five from the Libs, coupled with Thirty five losses in Scotland  brings us out at perhaps 273.

However forty five  losses to us but twenty gains from the Libs still leaves the Tories on 281.

Now, even if the Tories can somehow corral the Liberal rump and the DUP into alliance they are not back in happy coalition land. With fifty seats or thereabouts The SNP would  genuinely hold the balance of power.

The arithmetic is easy. Our 273, their 50, the SDLP, Plaid and a couple of odds and sods and there is easily the basis for an administration.

The problem is not the arithmetic.

The SNP does not believe in the continuation of the United Kingdom. Many of their elected representatives don't just wish to quit this country they positively hate it. Is it realistic to expect the good people of England and Wales to have the Government of their Country dependent on the good will of those who quite openly maintain that it shouldn't exist?

It is nothing personal (alright it is not just personal). "Scotland" would not have been snubbed. Those who wanted to breakup the United Kingdom against not only overwhelming objection of England and Wales but, as recently demonstrated pretty clearly, the objection in Scotland itself, would have been snubbed. Think about it even briefly indeed, given that weight of opinion on the continuance of the Union, it would be political suicide for Labour to get into any other situation. Never mind reaction south of the border, in Scotland, having been squeezed from the nationalist side in 2015, we would almost certainly find ourselves squeezed on the unionist side in 2016. Ruth Davidson might even end up as leader of the Holyrood opposition.

And then there is the question of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Once a Government is formed it can't just resign. It remains in office until a vote of no confidence is passed against it or until statutorily dissolved FIVE YEARS LATER.

The opposition, in whatever combination or even simply as a result of the minor Parties sitting things out, can vote against that Government as often as they like, preventing effective law-making or even the exercise of executive power. The principal opposition Party, however, unless able to see how they might form an administration of their own, would be likely to trigger a confidence vote only if they saw likely victory at any subsequent election. Even then, assuming the Governing Party was not willing to, absurdly, abstain on such a motion against itself, the minor Parties could actually keep that Party in office essentially against its will and, more importantly, against the perceived desire of a large part of the electorate. But, let's not forget, that is the precise effect of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. To prevent a government, once formed, resigning and triggering an election.

Nonetheless you can't help but conclude that a hostage government of that nature would eventually face a horrific electoral reckoning.

So I return to what I said in my last blog. If, as appears, I entirely concede quite possibly, that, as a result of results in Scotland, neither of the big Parties, even with the Libs, can form a stable administration, then the Tories will remain in caretaker office over the Summer and, when it suits us, Labour will, with, apparently, the support of the Nationalists whether they like it or not, use the self same Fixed Term Parliaments Act to trigger another election.

Dogs can't be wagged by ther tails. It's as simple as that.