Sunday, 31 July 2016


Yesterday, up to 5000 people marched through Glasgow waving flags in support of Scottish Independence. Which is of course not about flags.

Still, no harm to them, what people get up to in their spare time is a matter for them. Personally, I had a barbecue.

And I am in no doubt that there are many other people who were more inclined to my own sort of Summer recreation who, nonetheless, asked the question again, would vote in a referendum for Independence. Very many more.

The problem is that even very many more still isn't enough.

I did actually think that the Brexit vote might shift Scottish public opinion a bit, at least for a time. At least until it became obvious what "Scotland in/England out" would mean in practice: a devalued "independent" currency and a hard border. Actually, I think that underlying opinion has moved a bit. Some europhile No voters have given Independence a second look. Equally however, some Nats motivated by hatred of the English appear (surprise, surprise) to be no more friendly to any other sort of "foreigner".  Indeed, faced with a binary choice in that regard they would apparently opt to keep the devil they know.

But despite that (wee) bit underlying moving about the baseline figure remains about the same as it has since September 2014. A significant and consistent majority for maintaining the British union.

Now, what hasn't perhaps been given enough thought is what this means for the future of Scottish politics.

It has become accepted wisdom that the SNP would not risk another referendum unless they thought they would win. What if that is never?

There is a kind of assumption that the Nats could nonetheless remain a "competent" government and continue to enjoy an electoral advantage from being both that and "Scotland's Party".

But, actually, "Scotland", at least without the prospect of Independence, is not a political philosophy.

So far the belief that that dream is not dead has managed to obscure this. It is that as much as any underlying objective that requires Nicola to flag up the possibility of another vote at every possible opportunity. But that strategy only has so much mileage. If, as it appears, the Nats hope that Brexit would be a gamechanger, or that Trident renewal would be a gamechanger, or at least that something would be a gamechanger proves to be illusory, what happens next?

Well, to paraphrase Harold McMillan, events will happen.

We were promised at the election that closing the attainment gap in education was to be the number one priority of Nicola's renewed (of sorts) mandate. The problem is that it is one thing to recognise change is needed, it is another altogether to actually decide what that change should be, let alone bring it about. At some point change requires somebody to be offended, for any status quo has its beneficiaries. And change in Education will require quite a lot of those with an interest in the status quo to suffer that offence: the teaching unions, Local Authorities, who knows possibly even some parents.

So far, since 2007, as they attempted to hold their fragile "Yes Coalition" together, the SNP have been anxious to avoid any offence to anybody. The price of that has been complete stasis in public policy making. You would genuinely struggle to think of any bold initiatives in any of the devolved areas of responsibility. And these devolved areas of responsibility are about to get much much wider.

I give but one current example, the rail strike. For the last month, members of the RMT have been engaged in industrial action over plans to remove guards from many commuter services. The travelling public are increasingly furious about the disruption to their daily lives while the unions are increasingly furious over management's unwillingness to negotiate. But this is not a nil sum game. If the unions win, fares will go up. If they lose then ultimately fewer people will work on the railways and, as they would have it at least, the travelling public will be less safe. So, what is the view of the Scottish Government? No idea. The silence from the transport minister has been deafening. For to express a view would offend somebody. Except that, slowly, that silence is actually beginning to offend everybody. Or at least everybody paying attention. As a lot more will be once the holiday season ends.

And that's the problem with current SNP strategy. It is not just nature that abhors a vacuum, so does politics. We have already seen this to a degree in the way that, in an attempt to install a proper opposition, May past, the electorate pushed Labour aside in favour of the Ruth Davidson Party.

At a certain point even those who might still wish for Independence will conclude that, if it's not, however regrettably, going to happen, Government has to be about more than just sitting about doing as little as possible in the hope that one day opinion on the National question might actually experience the hoped for gamechanger.

And yet if something, anything, is to be done by the SNP Government? Just consider the current SNP deputy leadership contest. Do the candidates agree with each other about just about anything other than independence? Yet each seems to have their own discreet group of supporters believing that the view of their candidate alone represent the "true" opinion of the SNP. It'll take more than the talents of, even, Nicola to maintain the unity of this heterogeneous group while driving it in in any particular policy direction. Don't hold your breath for the attainment gap to be closed any time soon.

And with that I'm off on holiday. Actually I am flying out from Prestwick. Currently, in an attempt to avoid another decision bound to give offence, my departure place is being subsidised by the Scottish Government to the extent of £17 million per annum. That's another area where a decision is going, one day, to be need to be made. Just so long as it's not before next Saturday. I would be offended.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

I will survive?

The weird thing about Corbyn's continued limpet like attachment to the Party leadership is that it is difficult to see where it sees itself going.

Bevan's maxim "Never underestimate the passion for unity" still has considerable traction, indeed it is effectively Owen Smith's entire campaign strategy. But, equally, we cannot expect that that passion to be shared by those Johnny come lately "conditional" members and supporters who Corbyn has undoubtedly already rallied to his tattered flag.

So Corbyn's survival is a very real possibility. But to what end?

There is no way back for the 172 resignees. They could not possibly remain collectively on the back benches and then face their local electorate come a General Election in the position of encouraging confidence in a candidate for Prime Minister despite having publicly declared no confidence in the same person's inability to be (even) Leader of the Opposition. That is of course assuming they hadn't been reselected in the meantime.

The Party would inevitably split. In a much more significant way than in 1981.

And that split would start with many more advantages than the "Gang of Four" had then. Not just in the number of Labour MPs it would take with it.

Tribal voting is much less of a factor thirty five years on. In 1979, as Labour lost, 36.9% of the electorate still voted Labour. In 2015 that figure was a mere 29%. But, just as significantly, in 2015, the Tories actually WON the election with a smaller proportion of the the electorate than that which had led Labour to defeat (by a margin) in 1979. There are a lot of unattached voters out there and Scotland shows that even life long loyalty can prove to be anything but given the right set of circumstance.

Money is also much less of an issue. Labour in 1981 retained a considerable advantage over any pretender to the title of, at least, principal opposition through the guaranteed income from the Trade Union link. Since then, not only has Trade Union money declined as Trade Unionism itself has declined but Party funding has also moved more generally on, not just in relation to the relative importance of "Short money" but also in the willingness of well to do individuals to intervene, for philanthropic motivation or otherwise, in the political process.

And there is even a "cause" in the way the SDP never really had a cause except by way of a general disgruntlement with the Labour Party. That cause is Europe and more broadly an embrace of, rather than a retreat from, the modern world. If not the EU precisely then certainly the EEA or, better still, the "special associate" status being discussed in some German quarters.

You can see such a project, embracing the Lib Dems, and dependent on the right surrounding circumstances and leadership, getting to 30%. Not enough to win but probably enough to finish off Labour.

But, oddly, that's not really my point.

For my point is, to go back to where I started, what would the prospects for RLabour (to borrow an adapted phraseology from the Scottish Independence campaign)?

We would still have assets. Firstly, and not unimportantly, the brand. The brand means quite a lot to some people, me included. It might be ridiculous, sentimental or whatever but I'd find it quite difficult but to vote anything but Labour. You can relatively easily see Tony Blair or Kezia Dugdale endorsing the new Party project I outline. As the former famously said, to his one time reassurance of the wider electorate, he wasn't born into this Party, he chose it. The latter, at best, only ever had it as a second choice. But Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and so many, many, less prominent others now serving as Party Officers, local Councillors or even (just) humble door knockers ? They were born into our Party. They would find it very difficult to belong to any other.

And secondly, it is undeniable that to a certain constituency: public sector trade unionists; that part of the very poor who are politically engaged at all; young people legitimately motivated by generational inequality, Corbynism has a genuine appeal. A Coalition of the Angry as I have previously described it. The 18% who expressed the preference for Corbyn over May as Prime Minister in the recent poll are presumably these people. Even stripping out those faced with having to make a binary choice and those who simply don't know that much about him, there is probably still a core Labour/Corbyn vote concentrated in what remains of our heartlands, South Wales, South Yorkshire, The North East, Lancashire, the industrial Midlands, Inner London. Assuming at least that UKIP don't point the anger of the coalition of the angry in an entirely different direction, as they undoubtedly partially did on 23rd June past.

But lets again return to where I started. Suppose Labour somehow scrapes vote to "victory" over any new initiative? So what?  We might have won the battle for the minor places but Mrs May's carefully centrally positioned Tories would still be holding up the Gold medal and belting out the National Anthem.

And eventually, if not after the 2020 General Election, then after the 2025 one, or at least the 2030 one, Labour would either finally die or realise that we need to track back towards the centre in order to win. And that no number of rallies or marches was sufficient consolation for failing to do so.

So I finish with the question I started with. What, even in his own terms, is the point of Corbyn surviving?