Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Dark days.

I recent times I have written my blog from my desk at the window of  my rather over grandly titled library. I say rather over grandly titled because while the room is undoubtedly lined by my books it is also the repository for various other junk for which a place cannot be readily found elsewhere in the house.

Nonetheless, it does have a desk and a window beyond that desk which looks out to the garden.

So, for six or so months past I've been able to look out as Spring came, the trees grew slowly greener and fuller and colour slowly emerged among the flower beds.

Tonight however I am looking out in to darkness, knowing only that for nearly three months things will only get darker still.

And that kind of marks my mood about the state of our nation.

Brexit is an utter disaster. It is a policy regarded as such not just by the current Prime Minister but by every living Prime Minister. And not just by the Prime Minister but by the de facto deputy Prime Minister; by the Chancellor and by the Home Secretary. By the leader of the Scottish Tories and the Tory Secretary of State for Wales. By the vast majority of opposition Members of Parliament of all political stripe. By the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Parliament. By the Treasury. By the EU certainly but also by every one of this Country's other major allies. By almost all independent economic forecasters in this country and in the wider world. Indeed by almost anyone with an informed opinion.

And yet we are told it must be persisted with. Because we had a referendum and, to lift the nihilistic words of a different sort of nationalist, Mhari Black, in a different context this week, on one single day, by a narrow majority, the electorate were prepared to sign up to the proposition:



I've never got the outrage at the Nats wanting another Referendum. I've certainly mocked their demand that such events should happen daily until they got the right result but it would surely have been unrealistic, indeed undemocratic, to have suggested that on 19th September 2014 the SNP should have wound itself up as a political Party and accepted that their cause was done. In that same vein, I never accepted, even had we lost on that September day, that my side would have had to have given up and join "Team Scotland" (copyright A. Salmond) to make the best of (or more likely share the blame for) the economic calamity that would have followed. I argued back then for "Unionists" legitimate right to insist that we'd been right and they'd been wrong, on through as many elections as followed, at least until the deed was actually done. Somewhat ironically, having located that very blog, I recall the nationalist outrage which followed.

So I don't accept that we, the electorate, are somehow mandated in the legitimacy of the options available to our elected representatives by a vote on 23rd June 2016, any more than those victorious on that day were obliged to accept such a vote from 6th June 1975.

But, to be clear, you cannot deny the electorate forever. You have to have the courage to confront them with their own folly. That you can't have prosperity without immigration. Or, for a Country of our size, economic influence without allies. Or allies without a means of shared decision making. Or shared decision making without an arbiter over what these decisions mean. That it is a deal or it is no deal, and a deal cannot simply be dictated by only one side.

So we need politicians with bravery.  Politicians on the Tory and Labour side to stand up together to declare "THIS IS MADNESS!" even in the knowledge that, under our first past the post system, they take a risk with their own long term careers.

But I get, as much as anybody gets, the draw of what is unfairly dismissed as Party tribalism but more accurately categorised as Party loyalty.

My mother died on the 13th of April 1979 during the General Election campaign of that year. I was but a boy of twenty but my folks had both been big Labour people locally (my father had died three years before) and the Party, at that time, looked after me, literally, as family. As it has, through personal and political ups and downs ever since. I'd find it exceptionally difficult to leave the Labour Party.

And I had a similar exchange with a pro European Tory post 23rd June 2016. "Let's try and persuade Ruth to lead a new Party" I proposed, by no means entirely frivolously. "I hate this, but I'm still a Tory. And so is she." was the response. On both sides we know this. Other people, comrades on my team, colleagues on theirs, matter to us across the divide. For they are family. And blood is thicker than water. People we might hope would only feel disappointed by such a development but we fear would actually think betrayed.

But perhaps there is an alternative. We now have a fixed term Parliament and a Brexit process to be concluded within it. Would it be beyond the device of woman and man to declare, in numbers and on both sides, for free votes on that process? Impossible? Except you see that's essentially what happened in 1971 when we first decided to join the EU. John Smith ended up voting with Reginald Maudling and Tony Benn with Enoch Powell. As, today, Diane Abbott might vote with Jeremy Hunt while Jeremy Corbyn joins Jacob Rees-Mogg. On this one issue alone. And somehow, a very British way, we might yet muddle through.

For Brexit, or at least a hard Brexit, would be a disaster.  And yet unless something happens that is precisely our destination. Through personal weakness on both sides of our two major Parties, those who perceive that coming disaster only too well are currently trapped, by tribalism or loyalty, in a way proving it impossible to prevent.

Something has to give or those judged most harshly by history will not be the true believing Boris Johnsons or John McDonnells but the Commons majority who saw it all coming but, for reasons of the moment, chose to look away.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Written Constitutions

Think back to your Higher History.

The whole of Hobsbawn's "long 19th Century" (1789-1914) was about insurrections against absolute monarchies. In 1789, 1830, 1848 (in spades), 1870 and at various other points in between "the people" rose up in "revolution". But, while their protest was invariably about particular urgent grievance, their demands invariably included "A WRITTEN CONSTITUTION!" Not so much to prevent these grievances from recurring but rather, if they did,  to provide a non revolutionary means for their resolution.

For revolutions might be glorious things, even on occasion necessary things. But they involve violence. Violence in which people get hurt. Even, if they succeed, people "hurt" on the winning side who do not live to celebrate the victory.

How much better if matters can be resolved at the ballot box within a commonly based agreed set of rules (for that is all a constitution ultimately is) and with an ultimate independent arbiter in the form of a Supreme Court?  A Court constituted in accordance with...... the Constitution.

Nobody gets hurt (except perhaps reputationally) and certainly nobody gets killed. And that surely has to be progress.

So that is why the Nineteenth Century's long march towards progress involved the steady adoption of constitutions. It is also why, within my lifetime, as they emerged from fascist totalitarianism in southern Europe, or communist authoritarianism in central and eastern Europe, that almost the first step of every Country was to adopt a constitution. For, today, every democracy in the world, (except four, a point I refer to in my footnote) has a written constitution. And it is also why the first act of any right wing coup, in any previous or temporary democracy, is to "suspend the constitution".

It is against that background that events in Catalonia have to be judged.

After the death of Franco, Spain became a democracy. And it adopted a constitution. Which was put to a national referendum in 1978. At which referendum it was approved overwhelmingly, including by 91.4% of voters in Catalonia.

And that constitution  included the declaration that Spain was indivisible.

There are, as there almost inevitably are, provisions for that constitution to be amended. But in respect of this provision it hasn't been.

And it is against that fact that events in Catalonia need to be judged. For as much as the establishment of a constitution is an aspiration (over more than 200 years) of the left and ultimately an achievement of the left, then the ability of any person or interest or faction to defy a democratically approved constitution can only be a defeat for the left. For while that defiance might on one occasion be about unilateral secession, it might on another be about freedom of speech, or religious observance or sexual equality.

And yet that is precisely what is being attempted in Catalonia. Even if some of the partisans of a unilateral repudiation of the Spanish Constitution don't appreciate that. I say some, because as with the dark underbelly of Scottish Nationalism, I'm sure many realise exactly what their politics truly are but just prefer to keep that quiet for the moment.

But I want to finish by talking about the first written constitution, which inspired so many others, that of the United States of America.

What was the American Civil War about? Today it is thought about being to free the slaves, Except it wasn't. Initially it was simply about the "right" of the southern states to unilaterally secede from the union, contrary to the Constitution. Emancipation followed only after nearly two years of actual fighting.

So let us be clear. That's the parallel. Anybody who supports the unconstitutional events in Catalonia have but one exemplar, Jefferson Davis. And let's be equally clear, any true democrat, Scottish or otherwise, should be standing with Lincoln. Not so much for the Union but for the Constitution. For all of us, but particularly those of us on the side of progress, benefit from there being a constitution. Don't ask me, ask those who died before me for that very principle.

Footnote. The four Countries are the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Israel. The second and third follow "our" example, The final one? These people are Israelis, They've presumably concluded they'd spend so much time arguing over what should be in their constitution that it was easier just to not have one at all. 







Monday, 11 September 2017

Tax (again)

I've written about tax before and you'll gather from that that I am not antipathetical to targeted tax increases BUT

We are twenty years on from the Devolution Referendum when 63% of the Scottish people voted for a devolved parliament with tax raising powers and yet we have never used these powers.

There are two reasons for this. The Labour reason and the SNP reason.

The Labour reason was initially quite simple. While Labour was in power at Holyrood, we were also in power at Westminster. The political reality always was that a Scottish Labour Government could not imply, by raising taxes here, that a UK Labour Government was itself not raising sufficient tax to fund public services properly. Not just not raising it, to be clear, to fund public services properly in Scotland but logically also failing in that task UK wide. And that political reality was particularly the case when, during, the whole of that period, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Scottish Labour's easily most favourite son.

The SNP reason is also straightforward. Raising the basic rate of Income Tax is electorally toxic. They know that from experience.

At the first ever Holyrood election, in 1999, the SNP stood on a slogan of "A Penny for Scotland." This envisaged the basic rate of Income Tax being 1% (a penny) higher than that in the rest of the UK. This didn't even involve a tax rise. The UK Labour Government was that very same year proposing a 1% cut in the basic rate and all the Nats suggested was Scotland foregoing that cut, using the additional revenue raised on increased public spending.

The problem was that, put to the test, "Scotland" proved a good deal less keen to "properly fund" public services than past rhetoric (not just by nationalists) had suggested. The Nats got a significant rebuff and by the 2003 election, John Swinney, the then leader, had ensured that the policy did not reappear.

Which it hasn't since.

And indeed, by the 2011 election, the SNP reason had become also the Labour reason. Neither Party stood on a manifesto suggesting raising the basic rate. Nor indeed did any other major Party.

But since then there have been two significant developments.

Firstly, in 2016, Labour did stand on a platform of raising the basic rate by I%.

And, secondly, last week in her Programme for Government, Nicola said

Ahead of publishing our draft budget for 2018‑19, we will publish a discussion paper on Income Tax to open up the debate about the best use of our tax powers. It will:
  • set out the current distribution of Income Tax liabilities in Scotland
  • analyse the implications of different options around Income Tax, including the proposals of other parties represented in the Scottish Parliament
  • set out the importance of the interaction of Income Tax policy with the fiscal framework
  • provide international comparisons of Scotland's Income Tax policy
  • better inform the Parliament and people in Scotland about the choices open to us to invest in our public services and support the economy in the context of austerity and Brexit
The briefing which accompanied this was clear. The Nats would consider the blunt weapon of raising basic rate tax but only if the other Parties were prepared to also dip their hands in the blood. And, by implication, if they weren't, then the SNP wouldn't act unilaterally. Despite being the Government.

Now all of this leaves Labour in an awkward position.

You see, we didn't win the 2016 election. Indeed we didn't even come second. Now, at the time, this was attributed to "circumstances" in general. And, to be honest, that's probably what was the main cause. But we also benefited in 2016 from nobody thinking we were ever likely to win and so being bothered to much to pay attention to our tax policy. 2021 is likely to be a very different election.

And in 2016 nobody thought there would be a UK General Election for five years, so the tax policy of the Scottish Labour Party wasn't of any interest as any sort of exemplar for our likely UK tax policy. In 2021 we will be within a year of such an UK event and, you see, even John McDonnell didn't risk a basic rate increase in our "left-wing" UK manifesto earlier this year. And so that question would then be asked. Including if we'd still maintain higher taxes in Scotland if there was a Labour Government at Westminster.

And you see, the reason Mr McDonnell was not proposing to increase the basic rate (or indeed the income tax of anybody earning less than £80,000) was that he got that this would have been incredibly electorally unpopular. Which indeed is why no Chancellor of any Party has done this since Denis Healey in....................1975.*

But, and it's a big but, the idea of raising income tax is not unpopular within the Scottish Labour Party. Indeed its popularity internally is probably in inverse proportion to its unpopularity with the electorate. Because extra revenue means extra spending. Particularly potentially spending on public sector wages and local government jobs. Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a desired outcome of the public sector trade unions, who are our principal funders, and of the many local councillors who co-ordinate much of our activist base.

Now, because they are against "austerity" and would pay more tax to end it, they assume that this view is shared more widely. Regrettably however all the evidence suggests that it isn't. Which is what is got in spades by Nicola. For she also now has a significant cohort of Party members who would equally like higher taxes and more public spending but she has been careful not to commit to actually doing this, just to consulting about considering doing so. Which ultimately she won't. No matter what you think of her she is not stupid.

But of course Labour is currently in a leadership contest where the selectorate is not the general public but rather these same "anti-austerity" forces. So the temptation will be to play to the gallery. Particularly as neither candidate will want to be characterised as "to the right of Kezia Dugdale".

However, this would be a strategic error. Because we are now in a three cornered fight here. And winning the 2021 contest is frankly unlikely to be delivered by simply being to the left of the SNP. And who is to say they would by then be our main rivals anyway? Ruth Davidson has to date been characterised as a one trick ("save the union") pony. A criticism to her credit that she takes on board and is trying to remedy. But the danger is that Labour gratuitously provides her with another string to her bow. "Vote Tory and not only will you remain in the UK, you'll also pay no more tax than anybody else in the UK". And Ruth Davidson isn't stupid either.

Now, Labour might be prepared to take that on, to make the case for higher taxes and higher spending. For Scottish public sector workers to be (even) more relatively numerous than English public sector workers and better paid into the bargain**. And for that to be paid for, significantly, by higher taxes on Scottish private sector workers. But we shouldn't labour under the misapprehension that this will be universally popular (sic) with the Scottish electorate. No matter how well it might play within the Scottish Labour Party.

* That's not the same as raising the total income tax take.  George Osborne (!) did this between 2011-15 by significantly reducing the threshold at which higher rate (40%) tax fell to be paid.

** In writing this blog I have tried to get a figure for what percentage of Scottish Government revenue expenditure ultimately goes on wages. I have been unable to find this. But 65% of UK Government expenditure is spent in this way despite the UK Government also having current responsibility for the big ticket item of almost all  Welfare and Pension payments. So it is not unreasonable to assume the Scottish figure to be significantly higher. 








Sunday, 3 September 2017

Kexit

So, in keeping with the dubious allegiance she showed towards the Labour Party throughout her short lived career, Kez has departed the scene at a time of maximum disadvantage to us. As it was described to me, not so much "Forced out" as "F****d off".

Having risen like a rocket she has come down like a stick. Although a stick that will no doubt float about among the flotsam and jetsam of the Scottish quangocracy for some time to come.

Unlike some of the press speculation, I'm not sure she will (re-?)join the SNP. She's far more use to them as a poundshop Henry McLeish and I suspect that's the role they'll want her to play at least until she can announce a Damascene conversion to Nationalism in the event of a second referendum. She's still quite young, so she might indeed live to see such an event.

Anyway, good bye and good.......no, just goodbye.

So, to the future.

I admitted long since that I abstained in the last Scottish Labour leadership contest as unfortunately I simply didn't think that "being a nice guy" was sufficient for Ken McIntosh to garner my support. I genuinely wanted neither candidate to win. This time however, although I will be supporting Anas, I would be genuinely content for either candidate to win.

There is an old joke that the Scottish Labour Party has more factions than members and there is some truth to that but left/right is only one divide and actually by no means the deepest of these. There is, for example, the West against the rest divide. Then, within the West, the Glasgow against the rest divide. Then, in Glasgow, the South West against the North East divide. Then, in North East Glasgow, the North against the East divide. Detailed political followers of the City will know that to be true. Then there's the divide between those who have "chosen" to support the Labour Party and those who were born into it. Between the thinkers and the doers. Between the secularists and those of a religious persuasion. (This latter group used to be code for Catholics but now includes Muslims and even practising adherents of The Church of Scotland). Between those who think prioritised gender politics are an essential element of Socialism and those who......don't. Probably most importantly, between those who hate the Nats more than the Tories and vice versa.

And that's before you even get started on the Green/Grey divide. Never mind the relative newcomer of Brexit.

But these divides have always been there. Even the apparent new European kid on the block for those of us old enough to remember Alex Mosson's "Europhile" challenge to Janey Buchan's "Eurosceptical" (I put that kindly) position as Glasgow's Labour MEP.  (Asked exactly what his platform was, the future Lord Provost famously replied "I'm standing, that's my platform").

The point is that we've always generally all got along well enough so long as we respected the equal commitment of our comrades to "The Labour Cause".  And I am in no doubt of Richard Leonard's commitment to that cause. He might not be widely known to the general public but he is well known inside the Labour Party (he was the Chair of the Scottish Labour Party!) as a serious thinker and, when required, actor. It would be fair to say that within the "Labour and Trade Union movement", his own activity has been more focused on the latter part. But that's not unimportant. For the unions to remain willing to sign the cheques it is important for them not to think they are writing blank cheques and "Richard Leonard of the G&M" will undoubtedly provide that reassurance. He is more than capable of doing the job of leading the Scottish Labour Party and an entirely credible candidate for the position of First Minister. Indeed his current relative obscurity might even be an advantage in allowing himself to be portrayed as a genuine "new start".

And, for the avoidance of any doubt, he is no sectarian. He was Anne McGuire's election agent! He worked for the GMB, hardly a hotbed of Trotskyism, and he has been at pains at the very start of his campaign to emphasise that he is a member of no internal organised faction.

So he'd be fine as Leader and, win or lose, will be an important player at Holyrood for years to come.

But I'm voting for Anas.

Partly, and this is also a factor in many of Labour's internal squabbles, simply out of personal affection. And indeed that his dad and I were and are great comrades. I also like the idea that within a generation we could go from it being controversial for Glasgow to elect Britain's first Muslim MP to no-one batting an eyelid about a potential Muslim First Minister.

But it's also because of Anas's character and record. Sure, he became an MP at an early age because of family connections, but these things happen. Danielle Rowley is Alex Rowley's daughter. Katy Clarke is Agnes Davies's niece. Karen Whitefield, Peggy Herbison's great niece. That's not a point against any of them but one very much in their favour. Nobody suspects that any of them might one day go off in the huff and join the SNP.

But Anas has never been someone to sit back and rely on patronage or birthright. He is a hard, hard worker. Always on the doorstep whenever a by-election requires it. Always willing to pitch up to speak at Party events or even just to swell the attendance by his promised presence. And he's a political strategist. Co-proprietor, with James Kelly and Frank McAveety, of Labour's survival in Glasgow in May 2017 and further revival in June. A revival which, had the former leader given them the resources, would have been more robust still.  A guy who has worked hard at his shadow health brief backed by meticulous research and helped by his being acknowledged as one of the best debaters at Holyrood. A man with, genuinely, few internal enemies. And in the Scottish Labour Party that in itself is some achievement.

But I want to just issue one word of caution to him. It will be a mistake for him to run as the "unity candidate" for it would imply that Richard Leonard is not. Anas is merely the more experienced candidate, the better prepared candidate and, when it comes to the bigger battle in 2020 or 2021 simply, at this time, the stronger candidate. Because, actually, as I say, the left/right divide inside the Scottish Labour Party is not nearly as significant as some would make out. I'm genuinely struggling to see what differences the two candidates will have within the devolved policy competencies or, indeed, on the constitutional question. And also a word of caution to Richard Leonard. Avoid at all costs becoming Jeremy Corbyn's candidate. That's not a comment on this specific leader but on any potential UK Leader. This must be a contest fought in Scotland and only about what's best for Scottish Labour. Simples.

One final point and that is about the deputy leadership. If it does indeed transpire that the contest for the top job is between two men there will inevitably be pressure on Alex Rowley to stand aside in favour of a (gender) balanced ticket. That would be a mistake. If credit for our revival in the west lies where I've suggested, then our revival in Fife is undoubtedly significantly Alex' achievement. Why should he go when he's done nothing wrong? There must be however an argument for adopting what it appears might be the UK solution to this same issue and having two deputy leaders. We have many well qualified potential candidates for that second role.

Anyway, I've quite enjoyed returning to the blogging so I suppose I ought to thank Kez for that.
Oh, and for one other thing. I am in no doubt that her conversation with Nicola on 24th June when she indicated that Labour might support a second Independence Referendum was a significant factor in Nicola deciding to call for one. With all the fatal consequences for the SNP which followed. So, I suppose, accidentally, perhaps Kezia's tenure did ultimately serve the interests of the Labour Party. I'm sure she'd be happy to know that.

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? ....no 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.

38%

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

Care

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.

Anyway.
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.