Saturday, 20 May 2017

Changing the conventions of Scottish politics

British politics is about conventions. One of the most important of these is the one about a political manifesto. Few of us read manifestos. But this is not really their point. A party does write a manifesto to persuade people to vote for it. How many voters read manifestos? Rather a party uses the manifesto to justify what it hopes to do in the future. This is really why we are having a General Election at the moment. There is a convention that if something is in a party’s manifesto, then the House of Lords will not block it. The British public by voting for a government shows that it gives its consent to that party’s manifesto. It does this even if almost no-one reads the manifesto.

The fact that something is in a manifesto then has a peculiar force. It turns it into government policy backed by the electorate. It is for this reason that it is usually worth digging around a manifesto to see if there is anything of importance.

In the present Conservative Party manifesto there are some sentences that I think are of crucial importance.

We have been very clear that now is not the time for another referendum on independence. In order for a referendum to be fair, legal and decisive, it cannot take place until the Brexit process has played out and it should not take place unless there is public consent for it to happen. This is a time to pull together, not apart. (p.32)

This might seem just like a repetition of what Theresa May has been saying since the SNP said that they wanted another independence referendum. But remember this is now not merely a Prime Minister expressing an opinion this is a manifesto commitment that will be backed by everyone who votes Conservative. If Sturgeon later questions Theresa May’s right to say “not yet”, then May can simply point to her manifesto and the backing of the British people.

It’s worth looking in some detail at the wording of these sentences. The phrase “fair, legal and decisive” has been heard before. It is from the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012. At this point the SNP and the UK Government agreed that the independence referendum would deliver a “fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”. The Conservative manifesto is reminding us that crucially we have already had an independence referendum. The result was decisive. What does this word “decisive” mean? It means that the independence referendum of 2014 settled the issue. It was final. It was conclusive. If you disagree I suggest that you get hold of a dictionary and look up the meaning of the word “decisive”.

What the SNP frequently fail to realise is that having the referendum of 2014 changed the convention. Until that point no-one had ever asked the Scottish electorate whether we wanted to stay in the United Kingdom. Our saying that we did want to stay changed the political convention in Scotland.

At some point in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher said that if the SNP won a majority of seats in Scotland they could have independence. David Cameron thought that the mere fact the SNP had won a majority in the Scottish Parliament was enough for him to have to give in to SNP demands for an independence referendum. But conventions change. It may seem unfair that this is so, but this is how British politics works. The convention about when and whether Scotland can have an independence referendum has changed. It has changed because we have already had an independence referendum and the result was decisive.

There is no right to an independence referendum in international law. If there were then the vast majority of Western democracies could be prosecuted. But there is a convention in British politics that we govern by consent. If it became clear that Scotland really wanted another independence referendum then the convention is that the UK Government would allow it. This remains the case. But we are not in the same circumstance that we were in when the SNP asked David Cameron. The SNP signed up to the Edinburgh Agreement and agreed to respect the result. It is obvious that the SNP never did respect the result. They were campaigning for indyref2 the day after indyef1. But the UK Government signed up to the Agreement too and Theresa May is justified in respecting the 2014 result and recognising that the result was decisive. It is this above all that has changed the convention of Scottish politics. It must take into account that the Scottish electorate exercised its right to self-determination in 2014 in a way that it has never done before or since. No mere election can overturn this act of popular sovereignty in which the Scottish electorate expressed a clear wish to remain a part of the UK. Having had a decisive referendum a second one precisely thereby becomes harder to justify. It is this above all that justifies Theresa May's decision to say "not yet".

But when might there be a second independence referendum? Here the Conservative manifesto adds a few interesting words. Brexit must be “played out”. What does this mean? The sentence could have said simply that the Brexit negotiations must have been completed. But "played out" implies something further. The manifesto is suggesting that it won’t be enough merely to complete the negotiations, we will also have to see how Brexit is working in practice. The reality is that “play out” is vague enough to justify any sort of delay that Theresa May might wish for. At any rate we shall have to exhaust Brexit before we even approach indyref2. This means not merely 2 years starting from March 2017, but perhaps 4 years or who knows how many years. 

But Nicola Sturgeon is going to have to wait not merely for time, she is also going to have to wait for “public consent”. This again shows that the convention governing a Scottish independence referendum is being changed. The most important point to realise is that the Conservative manifesto implies that the SNP do not have “public consent” right now. If they did have “public consent” how could Theresa May justify delaying the referendum? But the Scottish Parliament recently decided that it did indeed want to have a second independence referendum. There was a vote and the SNP joined with the Scottish Greens to form a majority. The Conservative manifesto is arguing that this does not amount to “public consent”. Mere elections are not now enough. 

What would constitute “public consent”? I have no idea. This is the beauty of the Conservative manifesto commitment on Scottish independence. Not only is the time frame vague, but so also the idea of “public consent” is vague. Taken together it amounts to this. You can have your independence referendum when I decide you can have it.

In Britain we govern with consent. But the fact that we had a decisive referendum on Scottish independence has changed the game. The SNP are going to have to demonstrate an overwhelming desire in Scotland for an independence referendum before they get one. How might they do this? For instance, when next there is an election for the Scottish Parliament, the SNP could put in its manifesto an unambiguous commitment to a second independence referendum. They could then explicitly say that this election is about independence rather than attempt to hide this. They could then win a large majority. If all of these things happened and public opinion polls showed a consistent desire for an independence referendum then our new Scottish political convention might well be to grant it. But the independence referendum of 2014 has created a higher bar than previously for the SNP to jump over. Merely winning an election is not enough. They have to overcome the will of the people that was expressed in 2014. This anyway is the view that Theresa May is putting forward in her manifesto. The act of doing so in itself changes the Scottish political convention.

If the Conservatives win a large majority in the UK then the commitments in their manifesto will be backed by the British electorate. Scottish independence would destroy the UK. It concerns all of us. There is nothing in the manifesto to suggest that "public consent" applies only to Scotland. Perhaps we are moving to it being a matter for the UK as a whole. We shall see. These things evolve. 

It is clear then that the Conservative manifesto could hardly be more Pro UK. It can act as an anchor guaranteeing our position rooted in the decision of 2014 being decisive. It is vital then that as many parts of Scotland as possible show that we support the Conservative stance on a second independence referendum. It is essential too that we reject the Lib Dem idea that there should be a second EU referendum, for this crucially undermines our stance on Scottish independence. 

Ever Scottish constituency that is Conservative is demonstrating that it does not consent to indyref2. It also demonstrates that we agree with the Conservative manifesto commitment to preserving the United Kingdom's unity. 

Theresa May is changing the conventions of Scottish politics. She is gradually making it harder and harder for the SNP to break up our country. We must back her and we must show her that we support this. Even if just once, lend the Conservatives your support for the sake of preserving Britain. This is our chance to tell Nicola Sturgeon that we are sick of her continual threats. This is our chance to shut her up. 

The SNP must be made to accept that we said “No” and that just as Brexit means Brexit so too “No means No”. There is a word for someone who doesn’t accept this. For too long the SNP have tried to ride roughshod over the fact that we said “No” and that we do not consent to their continual attacks on our country. On June the 8th it really is time that we sent the SNP a clear message. We reject your attentions, we reject your assaults and your refusal to respect our decisions and our wishes. You do not have our consent. Show them this by voting Conservative. If enough of us vote Conservative we will be able to stop indyref2. Theresa May will be able to point to every Conservative Scottish constituency to remind Sturgeon that she still lacks “public consent” and she will be able to point to her manifesto as justifying her “not yet” strategy indefinitely. Every Conservative vote anywhere in Scotland is one more that will help our Theresa May continue to stand up to Sturgeon. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

May points the way

Recent experience has taught everyone with an interest in politics not to rely too much on opinion polls. However, the present General Election campaign is unusual because there has been an actual poll which has acted as an hors d'Ĺ“uvre to the main course on June 8th. We don’t know if the May 4th Local Election results will be completely mirrored in a few weeks’ time, but it is unlikely that they will be overturned. Of course, this is no time to be complacent. Much can still happen in the weeks ahead. But it is sensible to use the Local Election results to develop strategies.

It is becoming ever clearer that Brexit negotiations are going to be difficult. This need not be the case. It is perfectly possible for both the UK and the EU to reach a deal that is beneficial to both sides. The UK wants very little indeed. We want something close to free trade. We’d like a reciprocal arrangement about the right to live and work in the EU and the UK. There’s nothing much else we want. There’s indeed nothing much else we’ve ever wanted. We don’t want to be ruled by the EU but we’d quite like to continue trading freely with them.

Unfortunately it is becoming obvious that the EU is seeking to punish Britain in some way. This is in part psychological. It is the sort of behaviour that happens after a divorce. The EU also worries that if Britain succeeds in leaving and all goes fairly well, then this will encourage other countries to leave.

We don’t know how these negotiations are going to play out. Maybe the EU position will soften behind closed doors. But it’s always best to take people at their word. At the moment the EU is acting as an unfriendly power. They don’t wish Britain well. On the contrary, they are trying to harm our position economically. They wish to damage us diplomatically and harm our   international relations. If that is not unfriendly, what is?

The EU is taking positions that could potentially injure the UK with regard to Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and perhaps Scotland. They would like to see our economy hurt by their demands for ever higher exit fees. They think it would be worth it if UK trade with the EU was decreased even at the expense of their own trade.  It may be that the EU is not interested in mutual self-interest, but only in how best to punish Britain.  This is the mentality of a wife wrecking her ex-husband’s car.

We shouldn’t exaggerate this situation, but nor should we underestimate it. The EU has shown itself to be what it always was. Thank goodness we are leaving. Who wants to be in a group that is held together by threats, extortion and bully boy tactics?

But then this is a time when we are going to need strong leadership. Theresa May has been nothing if not polite to the EU. She has made it clear that Britain wants to maintain a friendly relationship. But even she has been frustrated by the negativity and hostility coming from the EU.

The next few years are going to crucial for the UK. We will either come to a mutually beneficial arrangement with the EU or else we will have to walk away from the negotiations with no deal and carve out a new path on our own. Theresa May realised this and for this reason called an election. She knew that her majority was not going to be enough to make the crucial decisions that she would need to make. It was EU intransigence that forced her hand.

Can you imagine the alternative to Theresa May leading.  Jeremy Corbyn gained two E-grade A levels and left school at 18. Theresa May has an Oxford degree and went on to work for the Bank of England. There is a gulf between the intellects of May and Corbyn that is immediately obvious whenever they speak in the House of Commons. Corbyn just isn’t up to the job of being Prime Minister. He has extreme left-wing views which have nearly destroyed the Labour Party. If given the chance he would destroy Britain and perhaps even take a perverse joy in doing it. Above all the Left is about self-hatred.

Tim Farron won’t be Prime Minister, but his party could along with the SNP form a pact that would enable Jeremy Corbyn to rule. It’s hard to imagine anything worse than Corbyn negotiating with the EU, but what if everything he did was controlled by Lib Dem and SNP votes. Imagine how the EU would react to a “coalition” of Remainers who would just love to have a second referendum on EU membership. Oh please hurt us some more Mr Farron would tell Juncker. We deserve it. We dared to leave the blessed EU. Oh please take us back. We have repented. Only we are not worthy of membership. Do you really want such a man having anything to do with the EU negotiations?

In the tough times ahead Britain needs Theresa May’s strength. It must be credible that Britain’s leader would walk away from a bad deal. No one could be in any doubt that Mrs May would do just that. There no way that a government that depended on the votes of Farron and Sturgeon would walk away. But it is precisely and only the threat to walk away that might just bring sense to the EU. It might get us a mutually beneficial deal. The Farron/Sturgeon ultra remainer stance would just encourage the EU to increase their demands still further. The EU will exploit any weakness either to give Britain the worst deal possible or else to make us come begging to remain. Mr Farron isn’t going to stand up to the EU. He agrees with them.

Since last June when the UK unexpectedly voted to leave the EU, there has been a continual rear-guard action by disappointed Remainers. I think this has encouraged the EU to think that the UK is divided. But whatever the rights and wrongs of the continuing Remain campaign it has now gone too far.

First we had a court case demanding that Parliament would have its say. Well Parliament did have its say. But that wasn’t enough. Now there is a tactical voting campaign which has the ultimate goal of stopping Brexit. These people just won’t take no for an answer. Nothing except overturning the Leave vote will satisfy them. Some Remain supporters would even prefer that the SNP were elected if it stopped Brexit. They would see the break-up of Britain as a small price to pay if only the bits could stay in the EU. Sorry folks, but Ultra-Remainers are becoming anti-British.

The UK is now at one of those crucial moments in history. Once more we are up against it. Europe appears united and less than friendly.  We have a tough fight on our hands. Now is not the time to side with those who are hostile to Britain.

As always the British public gets it. There has been no surge of support in the local elections for the Lib Dems. Most people have moved on from last year’s debate. We all now want to get the best deal possible for Britain. It is for this reason the electorate will look with distaste at Mr Farron’s party. We know that Jeremy Corbyn hates Britain because he has so often sided with our country’s enemies. But the Europhile Lib Dems are in danger of siding with the EU at a time when we need every Brit to act in the national interest. When the EU is unfriendly to Britain it is downright unpatriotic to agree with them. I suspect the Lib Dems will find out that this doesn’t play very well with British people.

UKIP have done their job and there party no longer has a purpose. If UKIP could only win one seat in 2015 it is highly unlikely that they will win any seats in 2017. Only an emphatic Conservative victory can deliver Brexit. But voting UKIP in certain seats could still prevent a Conservative MP being elected. Again the results in the local elections show that the British electorate gets this. I never much cared for Farage. In the end Leave won the referendum despite his efforts not because of them. But the present UKIP leader is simply a buffoon. Better by far if UKIP finishes the job it started by ceasing to be. UKIP supporters can either help the Brexit process by voting Conservative or hinder it and perhaps hand victory to the Remainers by voting UKIP.

In Scotland Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP all lost seats at the local elections. The Conservatives made massive gains. It is absolutely clear that the momentum is with the Tories. Neither the Lib Dems nor Labour have enough support to challenge the SNP. But the Conservatives do. We need one Pro UK party which everyone gets behind. Only in this way can we turn our Pro UK majority into a majority of seats.

It would be better by far if Labour and the Lib Dems were wiped out in Scotland. This would make the choice clearer. You either vote for the Pro UK party or you vote for the anti-UK party. Once this choice becomes obvious then we can defeat the SNP. Divided we simply won’t be able to do so.

Theresa May will continue to stand up to Sturgeon. But she needs the votes of Pro UK Scots to show that we support her in telling the SNP that there will be no indyref2 anytime soon. If you are happy to have a second independence referendum next year, then vote for any other party than the Conservatives. Neither Farron nor Corbyn would be able to stand up to Sturgeon as they would depend on SNP votes and cooperation at Westminster. There is a simple conclusion. Every single Conservative vote anywhere in Scotland makes indyref2 less likely. That’s your choice. That’s your responsibility.  

Ruth Davidson is a moderate. The Scottish Conservatives are a centre party, with policies that most moderate Lib Dems and Labour people could live with. She is becoming a major force in British Conservatism and will act as a moderating force on those who would be tempted to take the party away from the centre. Theresa May too wants to create a Britain that is fair and which helps those who are struggling. But both Davidson and May know that only a UK with a strong economy can bring about social justice. How else are we going to be able to afford increases in public spending?

Our negotiations with the EU need a strong leader. If Theresa May wins a large majority, she will be able to show the EU that Britain is united and that we really are leaving. This may be the key to getting the best deal possible for Britain. Alternatively if the EU continues its present hostility we will need a leader strong enough to walk away. This will put Britain on a radically different path. We will then have to make the UK much more attractive for business and trade. We will have to develop relations with the whole world in order to become an offshore beacon of free trade in contrast to the EU’s protectionist customs union. There are attractions to this path, but there are also obstacles and pitfalls along the way. We need a pathfinder, but then we are fortunate for we already have her. Only Theresa May can lead us to our goal. 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

It's swing that wrecks the SNP

At the last General Election in 2015 I voted for the Lib Dems. This was partly because I thought they had done a good job as part of the coalition government, but it was mainly because I had become convinced that tactical voting was the best way to keep the SNP out.

I live in the Gordon Constituency in Aberdeenshire. It’s very rural and more prosperous than most parts of Scotland. For a long time the seat was held by Lib Dem Malcolm Bruce, who is popular in the area and who did a good job as an MP. My MP now is Alex Salmond.

The SNP won in Gordon with 47% of the vote. What this means is that theoretically we could have stopped Mr Salmond if all Pro UK voters had voted tactically. If you add the totals for the Lib Dems, Labour, Conservative and UKIP they surpass Mr Salmond’s total. The same can be said for nearly every seat the SNP won in Scotland. Unless the SNP won more than 50% of the vote they could have been beaten. So in a possible world where all Pro UK people voted tactically the SNP might have won almost no seats instead of 56.

This is the logic behind tactical voting campaigns. It looks sensible, but sorry folks this is not how real world elections work.

I woke up to a surprise two years ago when it turned out that David Cameron had won a majority of 12. No-one had predicted this. The talk throughout the campaign had been of coalitions. A year later I woke up to another surprise. The UK had voted for Brexit. A few months after this the impossible happened. Donald Trump was US president. In each case polling, betting and pundits got it spectacularly wrong.

I was delighted that there was a Conservative Government with a majority in 2015. Suddenly there was the prospect of a referendum on the EU, which was something that I had wanted for many years. I was pleased too that the Lib Dems had been reduced to 8 seats. I think UK democracy works best as a two party system. A third party just muddies the waters. But then I began to reflect that I hadn’t actually voted for the Conservatives. I felt like a mug.

The fact is that if only a handful of extra Lib Dem MPs had been elected in 2015 there would not have been a Conservative majority. If only a few more Labour MPs had won we might have ended up with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister forming a loose “coalition” or pact with anyone else who would vote for him. The Lib Dem candidate I had voted for might have been part of this coalition, might have prevented the EU referendum and might have been part of a pact involving the SNP.

During elections most parties say that they won’t make pacts. They are competing against each other so naturally avoid talk of working together. Talk of pacts also implicitly concedes defeat. But there are 650 seats in the House of Commons and if a party doesn’t have more than half of them it has to do a deal even if that deal is only on a vote by vote basis.

It is for this reason above all that it is pure folly for Conservative supporters to vote tactically for the Lib Dems or Labour. The MP elected by this means might well end up in a loose coalition with the SNP and this coalition might be enough to put the Conservatives in opposition. Any Conservative supporter who votes for another party could in part be responsible for this.

It was this that dawned on me on the morning after the General Election in 2015. I’d made a mistake. The Conservatives had done better than expected. If Conservative voters up and down the country had voted tactically they might well have lost. Tactical voting may seem like good tactics, but what if it led to Jeremy Corbyn ending up as Prime Minister backed by Lib Dems and the Scottish nationalists?

My experience of campaigning for tactical voting in Scotland in 2015 was not a pleasant one. I write from conviction. I try to write in an interesting and creative way. But I was arguing for something I didn’t really believe. I was supporting a party that I disagreed with. I was being insincere. I regret it now. It was unfair to the Lib Dems who I voted for. It was also unfair to the Conservative candidate who deserved my vote.

I discovered while campaigning for people to vote tactically that I met resistance. Labour voters frequently told me that they could only vote Labour. Indeed as members of the Labour Party they had no choice but to do so. It’s part of the deal when you join. They were happy for people to vote tactically for Labour, but they would not reciprocate. The whole tactic comes up against human nature. It is a possible world tactic that doesn’t take into account real world psychology. Tactical voting only really works in a two way marginal where two parties are very close and miles ahead of anyone else. It doesn’t work in safe seats and it doesn’t work where a number of parties think they have a reasonable chance. For this reason apart from in isolated instances tactical voting doesn’t work.

One of the main problems involved in a tactical voting campaign is determining which candidate to vote for. I remember advising people in 2015 about which candidate had the best chance of defeating the SNP in each particular seat. People produced pictorial guides based on the result in the previous election or on local poling. I was asked to share these pictures. Sometimes they took the form of a wheel at other times they took another form. I spent quite a lot of time sharing these guides. But there were disputes. Some people disagreed over who had the best chance. The wheel sometimes changed. Right up until the final day there were disputes about whether a Conservative, Lib Dem or Labour candidate had the best chance in this seat or that seat. But all of these disputes were completely meaningless. Tactical voting failed dismally in Scotland in 2015. It hardly had any influence on the result whatsoever. Scottish nationalists quite rightly mocked our wheel. It made us look stupid, because it was stupid.

Oh but if only more people had voted tactically it would have succeeded. One more push and it will work next time. But this is simply to fail to learn from mistakes. It is to fail to take into account the psychology of elections and to recognise how they are decided.

The mistake that people who are politically active frequently make is to suppose that the whole population is like them. They aren’t. Most people don’t think that much about politics. It bores them.

Huge numbers of people vote the same way every time. They won’t read your tactical voting guide, because it’s not on TV, it’s not in all the papers and it’s not on a leaflet dropping through their letter boxes. None of the parties who campaign will be telling voters to vote tactically. None of the people knocking on doors or phoning you up will tell you to vote for another party. All you are doing is talking to a few thousand Pro UK activists, who are too few to make any difference.

Elections are not decided by tactical voting, they are decided by swing. The mood of the country changes and sweeps to power one party or another. Theoretically the Labour landslides of 1945 or 1997 could have been stopped by tactical voting. But do you really think this might have happened? To suppose so is simply to misunderstand human nature and how elections work.

It is the momentum of a campaign that decides the result. In the present election if the mood of the country becomes overwhelmingly in favour of electing Theresa May this will affect every seat. The Conservative vote will increase more or less uniformly. This is why the swingometer is a good general guide. Increasing the share of the votes for the Conservatives is by far the best way to decease SNP seats in Scotland. It is for this reason that every Conservative vote counts.

Around a third of Scottish voters will vote Conservative at the next election. This might win them 8 seats. But every percentage point increase swings more and more seats to the Conservatives from the SNP. This is the way our electoral system works. First past the post rewards vote share. The Labour and Lib Dem vote share in Scotland is simply too small for marginal increases to make any difference.

What matters in all elections is momentum. The SNP gained such a degree of momentum in 2015 that they won seats where previously they had been nowhere. Alex Salmond had a 25% swing in Gordon and the SNP had a 30% swing overall. Sometimes the swing was still higher. Ultra safe Labour seats went to the SNP.  No amount of tactical voting could ever have made a difference in those circumstances.
But the crucial point is that swings between elections can go both ways. A Conservative surge in 2017 could win seats where on paper they have no chance.
It is this that tactical voting guides forget. Even if the Conservatives were third or fourth last time round, given a large enough swing they could well win those seats. Tactical voting guides would tell Conservatives to vote for the party that came second last time round. But that might actually increase the chances of the SNP candidate being returned.

The way to increase swing is to campaign for what you believe. Tactical voting suggests that all parties in Scotland are the same and it doesn’t matter who wins in a particular seat so long as it isn’t the SNP. This is not true.

Half way through the election campaign in 2015 the Lib Dem candidate I was supporting declared that she wasn’t a Unionist. I was shocked. I almost reversed my position. It turned out that she like most Lib Dems was a Federalist. This is the line that Labour takes too. They want to give still more power to the SNP. I don’t.

I keep coming across Labour and Lib Dem voters who are sympathetic to independence or who are wavering. Some Lib Dems in particular seem to prefer the EU to the UK. Many former Labour and Lib Dem voters now support the SNP. In order to try to win them back both the Lib Dems and Labour tend towards making concessions to Scottish nationalism. The Left in Scotland agrees with the SNP about most things. They think the solution to every problem is to spend more money that we don’t have. At times I can barely distinguish a Labour supporter from a Scottish nationalist. They both just go on and on about Tory cuts. It is because Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP agree about so much that it is so easy for left wing voters to end up supporting independence.

Every Conservative vote will increase the share. No Conservative vote is wasted. It doesn’t matter where you live. Each vote will strengthen Theresa May’s hand when she stands up to Nicola Sturgeon. Every percentage point the Conservatives gain pushes them to the tipping point where they begin to gain massively from the SNP.

Tactical voting will make next to no difference to the election in 2017. All it does is hinder the momentum that the Conservatives are building. We are building support for the Scottish Conservatives so that we have a Pro UK party that can take on and then surpass the SNP. Every Pro UK vote that comes our way is one step towards that goal. Join us. Help us. Just watch us.

I am going to campaign positively for what I believe this time. Stuff your wheels. They are broken. 

Saturday, 29 April 2017

A united voted for a United Kingdom

Once more there is a General Election. I’m rather tired of elections, but it could have been worse. I could be writing once more there is going to a Scottish independence referendum. A few weeks ago indyref2 appeared to be getting closer by the minute. Then it got kicked into the long grass by Theresa May telling Nicola Sturgeon that she would have to wait. Now the whole thing may depend once more on the outcome of the General Election. It’s time to think clearly.

There are only two people who can become Prime Minister. Either we keep Theresa May or gain Jeremy Corbyn. We know from past experience that opinion polls and betting odds are a poor indicator of the future. They are about as accurate as weather forecasts and just as likely to give you a surprise. For this reason it’s necessary to accept that Labour could win the General Election. What would happen if they did?

Given the present political makeup of the UK, it is basically impossible for Labour to win an overall majority. They have one seat in Scotland. This means that for Labour to govern they would require the support of other parties. This might or might not be a coalition. It doesn’t matter. Relying on the votes of other parties informally is still relying on them. If Labour had to depend on the votes of other parties it would have to make concessions to them whether there were a formal coalition or not. Which other parties would Labour depend on? Whose votes and MPs would Labour need to form even a minority government? Well obviously this would depend on the result. However it is worth noting that the Lib Dems have nine seats while the SNP won fifty six seats in Scotland in 2015. Realistically this means that in order for Labour to rule they will require the support of the SNP. This was the case during the last election campaign in 2015 when the SNP had only six seats. It is still more the case now. Simple arithmetic tells us that Labour cannot win on its own.

A Labour victory might not mean a coalition with the SNP. Whatever the parties say now, we would only find out if there were to be a “Progressive coalition” involving the Labour, Greens, SNP and Lib Dems when the General Election is finished. But whatever arrangement came about whether it was called a coalition or not, it would require some sort of deal. What do you suppose the SNP price would be? What does Nicola Sturgeon want most in the world? I cannot imagine Jeremy Corbyn being as firm with her as Theresa May has just been. This is not least because Corbyn has recently said he was “absolutely fine” with indyref2. This is a man who apparently has such a loathing of Britain that he consistently sides with our enemies. He would be delighted if Northern Ireland left the UK. Perhaps he would be equally delighted if Scotland left too. But even if he were the firmest of leaders, if his party depended on SNP votes to rule, what choice would he have but to agree to Sturgeon’s demands? This is the logic which saw Ed Miliband depicted as a puppet on the end of SNP strings. It applies still more so today.

If you want to keep indyref2 in the long grass, therefore you had better hope that Theresa May remains Prime Minister. It is likely that this hope will be fulfilled. I cannot imagine a time when the British public elect a far left Trotskyite IRA/Hamas sympathiser to lead them. Labour Party MPs themselves have frequently tried to get rid of him. They have in huge numbers expressed that they have no confidence in Mr Corbyn? Now these same MPs are trying to persuade us that the British public should nevertheless have confidence in him leading our country. This strikes me as just a tiny bit hypocritical.

Labour MPs may eventually get their wish. If Labour loses badly, even if Labour loses at all, surely Corbyn would go then. Or would he? No doubt the majority of Labour Party members would still vote for him to lead their party. I sometimes think the problem with Labour is not so much its MPs, many of whom are quite sensible, but its supporters, most of whom are not. It is simply not sensible to elect Jeremy Corbyn as your leader, not once, but twice.

The British public do not want socialism. We never have. When Labour has been moderate it has periodically been elected. Until Labour Party members come to accept that socialism is the problem rather than the solution, they will find themselves outside the mainstream pushing towards the edge of the extreme. By ditching socialism and becoming a social democratic party Labour may deserve another chance. But until that happens voting for the far left is as irresponsible as voting for the far right and morally as dubious.  

Even if Theresa May remains Prime Minister, even if she increases her majority this may not be enough to keep indyref2 in the long grass. This will depend partly on how the campaign goes and the main issues that arise. Obviously Brexit is still a main UK wide issue. Theresa May is looking for a mandate for her approach to leaving the EU. Perhaps this will also be an issue also in Scotland, but whatever people’s various views on the EU, there is still only one issue that dominates Scottish politics and it is not Brexit.

Until recently momentum was building towards indyref2. It was unstoppable. Then it stopped. Theresa May said “No, not yet, you are going to have to wait”.  Finally someone was firm with Scottish nationalism. A Prime Minister said "No" and Sturgeon found herself impotent. That’s where we are now. Theresa May can theoretically maintain this position for years.

The SNP have no right to an independence referendum whenever they want. The right to self-determination in international law is balanced by the right of nation states to maintain their territorial integrity. No-one thinks that the USA must allow its various parts to leave by means of a vote. Nor indeed does international law require any Western democracy to grant a constituent part a vote on independence. There is hardly a single one that would. The reason is that the international law regarding self-determination was developed in the context of decolonization and simply does not apply to long-standing democratic nation states. 

SNP supporters who continually go on about self determination likewise appear unaware  the fact that Scotland by a large majority decided to stay in the UK was in itself an act of self-determination. We did determine, because we did choose. Most commonly such historical choices are seen as once and for all. To continually re-run such votes would lead to international instability. 

However, although it would be possible and certainly legal for the UK Government to decide that the UK was constitutionally indivisible and that therefore there would never be indyref2, it is unclear that this is politically acceptable and fitting in with our traditions. Given enough support for the SNP over a sustained enough period, it is unlikely that a UK Prime Minister would continue to block indyref2 indefinitely. “This isn’t Spain, you know”. We govern with consent.

Scottish voters can either help Theresa May maintain her “not yet” stance or we can hinder her. It has never been more vital for Pro UK people to show Theresa May that we support her response to Nicola Sturgeon’s indyref2 demands.

But doesn’t voting for any Pro UK party show that we support Theresa May’s stance. No obviously not. Voting for Labour or the Lib Dems is a vote to kick Theresa May from office. This is not usually described as support. Quite the reverse.

Voting for Labour or the Lib Dems in Scotland is not going to help the situation. Neither of these parties can rule on their own. Each would require the votes of the SNP. Remember when Labour had nearly all the seats in Scotland. The SNP still used this fact to justify independence on the grounds that England voted Tory, while Scotland voted Labour. Both the Lib Dems and Labour favour giving still more powers to the Scottish Parliament while loosening still further the bonds that hold the UK together and calling the result federalism. Both the Lib Dems and Labour are responsible for starting the whole mess that is now called Scottish politics by demanding that we have a Scottish Parliament in the first place. It was Labour who first played the nationalist card by saying that Conservative rule was illegitimate in Scotland because we didn’t vote Conservative. This card then destroyed them.

There is only one truly Pro UK party in Scotland. Only if we vote for the Conservatives do we show that we support the stance that Theresa May has taken about indyref2. The Conservatives are in second place at the moment in Scotland. Every vote increases their share of the vote so that it becomes closer to the share that the SNP holds. If the Conservatives could increase their seats even by a few it would show that the SNP were past their peak and that Theresa May’s “not yet” stance is popular. Rising support for the Conservatives can be used by the Prime Minister to continue her block. Conversely if the Conservatives did badly in Scotland it might be difficult for her to maintain this stance as long as she wishes.

In this election I don’t believe in tactical voting. It amounts to propping up the declining Labour and Lib Dem vote when polling suggests that Conservative candidates have the best chance of defeating the SNP all over Scotland. Voting for the the Lib Dems or Labour hinders the key Pro UK goal of creating a united opposition that could go on in time to defeat the SNP. Moreover, every single Labour or Lib Dem MP is potentially part of a loose “progressive” coalition containing the SNP. The price of this so called progress would be indyref2. If a Conservative votes tactically for a Labour or a Lib Dem MP, it could be this MP's vote that gives the Lib/Lab/SNP pact the majority needed to topple Theresa May and Sturgeon the leverage she needs to demand indyref2.

Obviously I would prefer any Pro UK MP to be elected rather than a Scottish nationalist, but I don’t intend to spend the whole election attacking only the SNP. This negativity hurts the Pro UK cause. I will campaign positively for what I believe and vote for the party that I prefer. I suggest that you do likewise. 

But remember if all Pro UK voters united behind the Conservatives we would surpass the SNP and there would be no danger of our facing a divisive and damaging second independence referendum. It's time to stop voting tribally. It's time to vote for the party that has the best chance of standing up to Scottish nationalism. 

I tire of the Scottish electorate. Huge numbers of Scots who don’t want independence or don’t want it anytime soon still vote for a party that would like to have indyref2 next year. If you don’t want independence, never vote for the SNP. It’s as simple as that.

Huge numbers of Pro UK Scots were delighted when Theresa May stood up to Nicola Sturgeon, but many if not most will still say, I couldn’t vote for a Tory. Scottish politics is distorted. The vast majority of Scots vote for left of centre parties. It is this that justifies the SNP’s claim that England votes for the Right while we vote for the Left. Only when there is a Left/Right balance in Scottish politics will we once more be safe from Scottish independence. We can bring that day nearer in only one way and that is by voting for the Conservatives. A vote for any other party helps the SNP.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A single transferable Pro UK preference

Over the years I have had minimal interest in council elections. I simply want whoever runs the council to do their job as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Ideally I would like as little party politics as possible involved in how local services are run. I would much prefer it, for instance, if I put all my rubbish in one bin and that bin went out once a week. I don’t want my council to try to change the world. In fact I want them to do as little as possible, do that little well and charge me the smallest amount the can.

However, in Scotland all elections are different. Every election is an expression of public opinion about the only political issue that matters to all of us. That is their importance and the reason why I intend to first write about the local election and then at a later date turn to the General Election.

So long as public support for the SNP remains high the issue of Scottish independence will always be on the agenda. The key task for Pro UK people is to gradually whittle away at that support. The goal is first to create a strong opposition and then to take power away from the SNP.

At present Theresa May has said that there will be no indyref2 any time soon (always use indyref2, the SNP don’t like it as it reminds them that they lost). The SNP will have to wait at least until Brexit is finished and we all have had a chance to see how it works in practice. This gives us some time. The ideal situation is to make the SNP go into the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2021 having to campaign explicitly for indyref2. Let all pro-independence parties make a clear, unambiguous manifesto commitment to indyref2 and see how the electorate responds. For too long the SNP have been pretending that a particular vote, in a General Election, or for the Scottish Parliament, is not about independence. They then later decide that it in fact was about independence. In fact all votes in Scotland are always only about independence.

Theresa May can only maintain her “Not yet” strategy so long as Scottish public opinion allows her. It is crucial therefore that we take every chance to demonstrate that we agree with her. This is where council elections become important. They are not about bins, they are about the future of our country.

The council elections in Scotland will take place on May 4th. The method of voting is by the Single Transferable Vote. This means that you can put a “1” in the box next to your first choice, “2” in the box next to your second choice etc. It is possible to have only one preference. Alternatively you can vote for as many or as few parties as you like.

I don’t believe in negative campaigning, nor do I believe anymore in voting tactically in a First Past the Post General Election. I think voters should always vote for the party they support. I think campaigns to vote tactically against the SNP perversely help the SNP. The reason for this is that such campaigns are inherently negative and they get SNP supporters backs up. This encourages a “we will show them” mentality. At the last General Election I supported tactical voting. I was wrong. I think it contributed to the SNP winning nearly all the seats. 

I know that some people I like and respect will disagree with me about tactical voting. To an extent it depends on where you live. If a constituency is a marginal where only one of the Pro UK parties can challenge the SNP, then voters will naturally vote tactically. But elsewhere the vast majority of voters will not vote for a party they disagree with and rightly so. There is something dismal about it. Better by far to vote for a party you believe in. At least your choice is positive.  

However in a Single Transferable Vote context it is perfectly reasonable for me to express a preference. This is, after all, what this sort of voting is designed to show. Well I will be campaigning for the Conservatives, both locally and nationally. They will be my number one choice. I hope that they will gain the maximum number of council seats in Scotland. But I will use my 2nd and 3rd preference votes. The reason for this is that I want to maximise the Pro UK vote. These two preferences will go to the Lib Dems and Labour. I would far rather see Lib Dem and Labour councillors than those who support the break-up of the UK. Obviously if you support the Lib Dems or Labour, you might consider doing something similar with your party in first place and the other Pro UK parties in second and third.

If there are any minor Pro UK mainstream parties left on my ballot paper I might put them as my 4th or 5th choice. This would depend on them being moderate and sensible. Also if I know for certain that an independent councillor is Pro UK such a person might be worthy of my vote.

But above all it is vital that Pro UK people don’t vote for independence supporting parties at all. Better by far to leave a blank rather than add the SNP, the Scottish Greens or one of the far left independence supporting socialist parties.

The Scottish Greens I think gain a certain degree of support from the fact that many voters are concerned about environmental issues. Because of this they think it won’t matter if I vote for the Greens. They won’t win power, but at least I have shown that I care about the environment. We have just seen how foolish this sort of thinking has turned out.

The Scottish Greens won six seats at the last Scottish Parliament Election. They used those seats to support the SNP demand for indyref2. I strongly suspect that many Pro UK people voted for the Scottish Greens, perhaps not even being aware that they would support independence. The Scottish Greens themselves were vague in their manifesto about indyref2. They said that indyref2 should only happen if it was clearly the “will of the people”. 

It’s time that we taught the Scottish Greens a lesson. If their Scottish Parliament seats were spread between the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems, there would be a Pro UK majority in the Scottish Parliament. Pro UK people must never vote for independence supporting parties. If you do, they will use your vote to push for independence.

It baffles me frankly why the Greens should support Scottish independence. What has it to do with the environment? German Greens don’t support independence for Saxony. If the Scottish Greens could be shown that supporting independence is costing them votes, then they might change this policy. Environmentally concerned Pro UK Scots should show the Greens that supporting independence costs them votes.

Long term I think the best chance of getting rid of the SNP as the party that governs Scotland is to vote for the Conservatives. I believe the Conservatives are the strongest Pro UK party in Scotland and the most committed to maintaining the UK. It would be better in the end if there were only one Pro UK party in Scotland. We could all then unite behind it. That party has to be the Conservatives. They have the best leader, both in Scotland and in the UK. They have shown strength in opposing the SNP and not giving into SNP demands. They deserve our thanks rather than our opposition. It is for this reason above all that I do not favour artificially maintaining the Lib Dem or Labour vote in Scotland by means of tactical voting in a First Past the Post General Election. It prevents us from reaching the goal of a Pro UK party eventually supplanting the SNP. 

If the same party ruled Scotland as the UK there would no longer be the argument that Scotland votes one way while the other parts of the UK vote another. The SNP are above all else the Tory hating party and use that hate to gain support. Pro UK people must show that this hate belongs in the 1980s and with a dead prime minister who hasn’t ruled for decades. If Scottish politics could once more be about a choice between centre left and centre right, as it was some decades ago, then we would have defeated the SNP. 

Long term I want Scotland to get back to normal party politics. My goal is that independence becomes a dead issue.  But to do this we have to criticise each other. This is necessary in order to avoid being entirely negative only about the SNP. We should criticise what we disagree with across the board and be positive about the party we most support. Personally, I don’t believe that Labour can be resurrected in Scotland perhaps not in the UK either. Kezia Dugdale can't quite seem to quite make up her mind whether she really supports the UK and I've heard other Labour people claim that they would prefer independence to a "hard Brexit". Labour are too concerned with winning back their voters who defected to the SNP. Their default position is to make concessions to Scottish nationalism. It is this mindset going back 30 or 40 years that has left us vulnerable to the SNP. 

The Lib Dems have become the Remain Party. Sorry folks this is a bit like being the Communist Party in East Germany after the Wall came down.  In the end the little band waving red flags, longing for rule from the USSR, looked a little pathetic. Better by far to move on. It might in the short term bring some votes from disappointed Remain voters, but long term it is a blind alley. Campaigning to rejoin the EU, which would mean accepting Schengen, the Euro and national humiliation (Oh, please let us back, we can't manage on our own), is untenable. I also think that campaigning for a second EU referendum crucially undermines our position in Scotland. But then I have come across far too many Lib Dems who appear to prefer the EU to the UK and far too many who would like to weaken the UK's bonds still further and call it federalism. 

I think it would be far better if all Pro UK people voted Conservative. That is why they will be my number one choice. But I am willing to work with other Pro UK parties. We must agree to differ. We disagree on some issues, but for the most part still agree on the crucial issue of maintaining UK unity. I support the Conservatives, but will be pleased to see Labour or Lib Dem candidates win seats from Scottish nationalists whether of the green or yellow variety.  For this reason I hope all Pro UK people use their Single Transferable vote to vote for other Pro UK parties as 2nd, or 3rd choices. But if there is one message that we should all communicate as widely as possible, it is this. Don’t express any preference for independence supporting parties. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

What if the SNP held indyref2 without permission?

Nicola Sturgeon loves to make threats.  How often have we seen her put on her angry face, screw up her fists and start talking in her thickest Ayrshire accent about what she will do if her demands are not met? Her colleagues follow the leader. Every few days we see a story in a newspaper involving the latest SNP threat. Perhaps they will do this. Perhaps they will do that. Many of these stories are, of course, just kite flying. They want to see how Scottish voters will react. They want to keep everyone guessing and make everyone nervous.

Don’t be nervous. Don’t be worried about what the SNP will do to us. Rather let them begin to be worried about what we might do to them. The SNP have ruled Scotland since 2007. They reached the peak of their power in 2015 when they won nearly all the seats at the General Election, but they lost their overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2016. Who knows, they may win it back next time round. But then again they may not. Parties rarely remain in power for ever. Eventually voters want to give the other guy a chance, if only so that they can see someone else’s face. So who knows how Scottish voters may eventually respond to Nicola Sturgeon’s threats? Most of us don’t want indyref2 anytime soon, if at all. Well we live in a democracy. We might decide to respond to her threats by voting for someone else. If enough of us do so, there will be no more threats. 

There are other ways we could respond also. If the SNP get to fly kites so too can we. Look at the following as a thought experiment. I’m not sure if it is feasible or even desirable, but it is an option.

There has been the suggestion from Scottish nationalists that they might hold an independence referendum without the permission of the UK Government. Apparently it might be possible for the Scottish Parliament to vote for this even though such a referendum is a reserved matter and therefore outwith the powers of a devolved parliament. I have no idea how serious this suggestion is. Let’s assume that some nationalists, perhaps Nicola Sturgeon herself, are considering this option. How might we respond?

Well in my view Pro UK political parties should have nothing to do with this sort of illegality. They should not turn up at the Scottish Parliament for any such vote. They should moreover suggest that if the Scottish Parliament is to be used illegally, they might decide to never turn up again. The Scottish Parliament has not passed a law in the last year. It is turning into something of a talking shop with no purpose. Well one response from sensible political parties would be to ignore its existence.

The UK Government could decide that if the Scottish Parliament is being used to do things that are illegal, indeed seditious, it would be better if it ceased to be. This could be carried out simply by repealing the Scotland Act of 1998. A simple majority of MPs at Westminster would be sufficient. This would be perfectly legal.

What if somehow the SNP succeeded in organizing an unofficial/illegal independence referendum? Well such a referendum could only be advisory. Then again aren’t all referendums only advisory? The result of the EU referendum could have been rejected by the UK Parliament. So therefore, logically,  could the result of the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. Likewise any second referendum result could be rejected. The UK Government then could promise that it would ignore the result of an illegal indyref2 on the grounds that the vote was illegitimate.

How best should Pro UK Scots react to such an unofficial/illegal referendum? My view is that we should boycott it. Imagine if there were a debate about Scottish independence, but only Nicola Sturgeon turned up. Imagine if every single person in the audience was a Scottish nationalist. Imagine if there was no equivalent of Better Together. There was no Mr Darling making the case for the UK, no Mr Murphy standing on Irn Bru crates, no nothing. Imagine if people like me and also newspaper journalists ceased to write about the Scottish independence referendum apart from to remind Pro UK people to ignore/boycott it. What would be the result of such a campaign of ignoring what the SNP wanted? Would their referendum look more or less legitimate? Would anyone think that it advised anyone about anything?

The ideal situation would be that that the SNP won 100% of the vote on a 40% turnout. If all of the Pro UK parties worked together we could achieve this for them. Sturgeon would have turned herself into Kim Jong-Nicola, the latest incarnation of “She who must be obeyed”. But she would not have achieved independence.

Democracy requires an opposition. Without an opposition it ceases to be a democracy, but rather becomes a laughing stock. So let the SNP play by the rules. The mood in Scotland has changed. We don’t want a second independence referendum. We don’t want to go through all of that division and hate any time soon, if ever. I may only be kite flying, but there are things that Pro UK people could do that would make the SNP’s position untenable. We could delegitimise Scottish politics. Push too hard and my guess is that we might do just that.