Saturday, 12 October 2019


I've been to busy to do much blogging but to be honest I've also been at a loss as to what to blog about.

I know this is the weekend of the SNP Conference, so there will be once again much puffery about another Independence referendum over the next few days. But it has been clear for months, if not in truth forever, that whether there will be second such vote will depend on the outcome of the next Holyrood election. Which the Nationalists propose to hold in 2021.

And that to be honest suits the SNP. For their wiser heads know that virtually all polling indicates that, currently, they would lose such a contest. That's why they have quietly, last month, introduced the Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill for the precise purpose of postponing for a year the next Scottish General Election. Which, without this legislation, would otherwise be in May 2020.

If Nicola was serious about an early referendum what better way to advance her cause than by seeking and securing an express mandate for it in just over six months? Instead she is running away. The only strategic outcome the SNP leadership seek from their Aberdeen Conference is, for internal Party management reasons, to give the impression they are serious about an early contest when in reality they are quite the opposite.

I'll only say three other things in passing.

The first is to observe that, given it is an open secret that the date of his next court appearance will be 18th November, the Alex Salmond Indictment is likely to be served next week. It would be quite entertaining if that happened during the Conference.

The second is that by the next SNP Conference in the Spring there is every likelihood Salmond's trial will be over. So the possibility that this will be Nicola's last conference as Party leader seems strangely overlooked by the press.

And the third.......I'll come back to the third. For it is connected to my other theme today, inevitably, Brexit.

Predicting the next week is not easy because of the opacity of what is happening in the EU/UK negotiations but there seems at least a possibility that Boris will get a deal. For the purpose of what I say below, I will assume that to be the case.

Boris with a deal is a very different creature from Mrs May with a deal. Those Tory MP's who believe that "No deal" is actually the best outcome are truly small in number. The vast bulk of the "hold outers" on the May deal did so in the belief that someone else could get a better deal. Their problem is that this someone else was......Boris. So that argument goes away. And indeed some of them might actually persuade themselves that Boris's deal is better, although in truth it is at best only likely to be (slightly) different. The killer argument however for more or less all the Tories to get behind a deal is twofold. The alternative to Boris's deal is not no deal. It is extension. And extension leads not to a second referendum (there is still no Commons majority for that) but certainly to a General Election as a result of which a second referendum might become inevitable.

And also, if you think things through, the Tory manifesto at that election would be for the Boris deal, so those still opposed could hardly stand as Tory candidates. Indeed they might not be given any choice in that matter.

So everything says the Tories get behind a deal and while they might lose the DUP in the process they get back almost all the rebels and, it would appear, (this time) peel off sufficient Labour MPs to get the deal through the Commons.

So then what?

Well, obviously an election.

Although when might be a different matter. A done deal requires a sitting Commons to pass the necessary supporting legislation. So dissolution before 31st October seems unlikely. Dissolution after 31st October however takes the date of the Election into December. Never mind how the public might react to Christmas being "spoiled", the prospect of the weather intervening becomes a real prospect, even more so in January and February. Certainly there was a February election in 1974 but it was on the very last day of the month. So my money would be on March. That would also give the Tories the opportunity to promote the more popular of their policies, possibly even setting legislative bear traps for the opposition in the process.

But the other question is what happens to the opposition. Labour will probably stick with Corbyn and resign itself to disastrous defeat. One thing however is certain. If Corbynism, in truth essentially the politics of perpetual opposition, survives the man himself as the dominant strand of internal Labour opinion, then, if there hasn't been a realignment on the centre left before the election, there will most certainly be one afterwards. Even assuming Labour, initially, remains the principal opposition Party in the Commons. Not perhaps a big if but certainly a small if.

But here I come back to where I started, Scottish politics.

The assumption has been that the 2021 Holyrood election will at the very least deliver an SNP plurality and thus a continued Nationalist Government. A fair assumption. For while the nationalists conduct of the devolved administration has been pretty mediocre, as outlined most recently even by their Common Weal allies, Scottish Labour is currently in an unelectable condition, while the Tories remain toxic in urban west central Scotland. Where most people actually live. And the two together as an alternative administration is inconceivable.

My own suspicion is that the more managerial Nats wouldn't mind a 2021 result that denied them the votes for a second referendum (which they fear they would lose), so long as it delivered them the votes to remain in office. They are for playing the long, "inevitability", game.

But realignment would be realignment. A specifically anti populist, fact based, politics of the centre left. The politics of John Smith and Donald Dewar.  To actually get things done. That's my third point. And where better to put that to an early test than in Scotland in 2021?